Professional Web Design Qualification

  Teasle 16:19 07 Nov 2005

Hi there,
Is any one able to tell me if there is an IT standard qualification for Web Design and if so whether it is possible to study for it by distance learning?

  Forum Editor 17:26 07 Nov 2005

this is always an interesting question. As far as I know, and I'm happy to be proved wrong - there's no nationally recognised professional web design qualification, although there are various design courses you could take.

I've been designing websites commercially for many years now, and in all that time I have never acquired (or needed) any kind of official qualification. Certainly no client has ever asked me if I have such a thing. I taught myself from the beginning, first by learning how to hand-code in HTML, and as the years passed I picked up other skills as and when I needed them.

I've always believed that although you can teach the technical aspects of site construction, site design is an entirely different thing, and to a large extent your success or failure in that field depends on whether or not you have an innate sense of design. Many people don't, and although they can pick up many design do's and don'ts they will probably never become designers in the true sense of the word. I say that in no way to infer any sense of elitism - it's a simple fact of life.

If you feel you have design flair then the answer is to learn about the technical aspects - which you can do by following some of the many online tutorials - and practice. I can't stress the value of hands-on practice enough, to my mind it's the key to becoming adept in this field.

I'm not sure if all that is helpful, or if any of it is, but it's my own experience, gained over quite a long time in the business.

  Teasle 18:30 14 Nov 2005

Thank you for responding. During the last couple of years, I have been teaching myself website design by borrowing books from the library; starting with hand coding and then using a free copy of Fusion, working my way through the functions in the various versions. As I am self-taught, I have no idea where I am at in regards to the industry standard. I would like to be good enough to start my own business doing web design for small local businesses and would like to become more professional about it all.
I received a leaflet through the door from which gave details of a webdesign course which seems to meet my needs. On passing the course, you become a member of The Association of Certified IT Professionals (ACITP). I was wondering whether this is a nationally recognised qualification as their leaflet states, hence my enquiry.

  Taran 11:38 15 Nov 2005

The key phrase "nationally recognised qualification" is your stumbling block.

In all of my web work I have never been asked yet for proof of formal qualifications. Clients seem far more interested in my proposals, design/layout suggestions, rationale behind language choice, ease of maintenance and updates over the long term, previous work for other clients and so on.

Many of my students have gone on to become web developers, but only one does it full time. Most choose to do it as one facet of their business and they get a good grounding in several web technologies but specialise in just one or two, and most of them operate from a firm base in software engineering - pretty handy in data-driven sites...

A degree does not necessarily give you an instant appeal in employment, but it can help. Ditto to the course you mention.

Frankly, my own view of these courses is a bit bleak. Training centres make their money from course fees, teaching sessions and so on. They certainly aren't going to tell you that membership of The Association of Certified IT Professionals is not, in fact, going to put meat on the table on its own.

Web designers are ten a penny and more are being churned out every year by a lot of well meaning academic institutions. It seems that many people who have FrontPage or Dreamweaver consider themselves web designers by default (that is not directed at you personally) and skill levels now, I find, are heavily diluted in most areas with one or two shining stars here and there.

As Forum Editor suggests, design skills are as if not more important as your ability to turn them into a user interface.

If you are FULLY comfortable with HTML, go all out for XHTML, CSS, XML, PHP and MySQL database administration. After that consider a specialisation in MS SQL and ASP.NET or ColdFusion.

Offer your skills for little or no cost to several small businesses in your local area and build up a portfolio of very impressive sites where you can demonstrate that your layouts and presentation are, in fact, entirely sympathetic to the products/services being offered and not just an attempt to jazz things up. Too many people do it the other way and try to force a business into an unsuitable layout.

Demonstrate that your sites are multi-browser compatible and search engine friendly; that they are disability and section 508 compatible and possibly that they can also degrade to handlheld devices, where required.

On short, concentrate on producing clean, fast, reliable work and word will spread. Good work speaks for itself and if you couple it with effective requirements analysis your projects will shine. Bad work will haunt you for years.

I'd plug away and concentrate on developing a strong foundation of relevant language and implementation skills and a clear understanding of why businesses need what they do and how to best achieve their goal state. I've yet to see a web design course that I'd be happy to recommend to anyone interested in chasing a career in that field.

There are a couple of excellent SitePoint books you could look into:

Build Your Own Standards Compliant Website Using Dreamweaver 8 click here

No Nonsense XML Web Development With PHP click here

DHTML Utopia:
Modern Web Design Using JavaScript & DOM click here

The CSS Anthology: 101 Essential Tips, Tricks & Hacks click here

Build Your Own Database Driven Website Using PHP & MySQL click here

The PHP Anthology: Object Oriented PHP Solutions click here

I don't normally recommend books, but the SitePoint books break most of the rules and actually manage to deliver excellent, relevant content in an easy to understand language.

I can't think of a web designers course I'd recommend to you, but there is still a lot of work you could do to strengthen your arm.

Best of luck with it.


  Teasle 22:58 15 Nov 2005

Hi Taran,
Thank you so much for responding with such a detailed and useful response. I concur with everything you say and will certainly take a look at the books you recommend. I had made a start already, as you suggest, by designing a site for a small local family run business and have volunteered to help with the running of our village website.
My situation maybe a little different to the norm (or maybe not)in that I have health problems and never intend to take on huge amounts of work and make a fortune, but the few projects I do take on, I just want to know I am giving them the best I can.
I haven't made my mind up about the course yet but haven't dismissed it completely (as I probably would if I had good health), as there are still aspects of it that appeal to me such as a personal tutor, no strict time limits on completing and contact with others from the web design world.
It surprised me to read that web designers are ten a penny, as I was told by the college representative that visited, that the government had contributed towards the funding of these web design courses as web designers were deemed to be in short supply in the very near future.
BTW the representative did indeed explain that the "that membership of The Association of Certified IT Professionals is not, in fact, going to put meat on the table on its own" which I thought was very honest of her.
Thanks once again. It is much appreciated.

  PurplePenny 23:07 15 Nov 2005

I agree completely with Taran about the Sitepoint books. Well worth the money. If you buy from the website they subsequently give you discounts on both new books and new editions of books you already have. (You can also now get them at PC World and, I think, Amazon.)

I'd add one more to Taran's list:

HTML Utopia: Designing without tables using CSS. click here

  Taran 11:08 16 Nov 2005

Web designers are indeed ten a penny; anyone who says otherwise is living on a different planet to me. The "ten a penny" phrase is directed towards those who believe their abilities are greater than they actually are, and this is where the dilution of skills often takes place. I hope that doesn't sound elitist - it certainly isn't intended to come over that way. The trouble is, it's no good being a PHP whiz if you can't produce a layout that effectively wraps your client's products and services, and it's no good thinking of offering dynamic sites if you can't tell your PHP from your ASP, as it were.

I get people through my doors most weeks asking for employment as web/graphics designers. It gets quite depressing at times to have to turn them away - I don't like being the one to dash hopes. I know other people who operate web and graphics studios encounter similar circumstances.

Most colleges will provide distance learning options for the bulk of their courses. Most also offer Dreamweaver and FrontPage courses from beginner through to data-driven sites, and they will also offer courses on either Fireworks or Photoshop (sometimes even both) to get your image designing up to speed. Since these courses are usually short, often 8, 10 or 12 weeks long, they tend to run back to back or sometimes even two or more concurrently, and if you explain your circumstances you should find ample support and a pace to suit. I lecture for a large college and we regularly offer extended courses to those who need more time to complete for whatever reason.

Understand this - colleges are funded to a large extent by enrolments, not by exam passes, so if a tutor can get you signed up by offering a flexible working arrangement and a distance learning option where possible, he or she will do just that. Don't think it's entirely mercenary either - most tutors would rather see you take a suitable course and help you through it than have you not attend at all, regardless of funding. The courses I'm thinking of are often very inexpensive and sometimes even free.

Anyway, I'm going off on one here. Suffice to say that we are in a situation these days where everyone knows someone who thinks they can design websites, and the days of well paying web design jobs are a thing of the past.

Your situation will be helped by the fact you say you want to do this on a casual basis (I hate that word but you know what I mean), but the market for web developers is vastly overcrowded and the only way to really succeed is to have a very strong ability in a specialist area that people will need on a regular basis. Perhaps you would like to offer e-commerce sites, or document management systems, or just a few pages for your average local business. Either way, the considerations and decisions you will have to make share some remarkably common ground.

PurplePenny was right to suggest the HTML Utopia SitePoint book - it's superb and lifts the lid on one of lifes mysteries in easy language.

I can only really wish you good luck, and repeat that my own thoughts of the course you mention are less than complimentary. It certainly won't instantly turn you into an effective web developer, but I have noticed that some of the people who pass it seem to think that they are. Only your own efforts, time and the experience gained over it can do that.


  Taran 10:43 17 Nov 2005

Aside from local learning options (and I can guarantee there will be some) have you looked at the excellent W3Schools site click here

They have more good material on their site than you will know what to do with and it's broken down into stages of increasing complexity using easy language.

Interestingly, they also offer an HTML, XML and ASP certification program. This is relatively inexpensive is done through distance learning.

I've no idea what prospective clients may think of the resulting qualification(s) but since the course you mentioned here to begin with is not exactly top of the list of those requested by clients anyway, you would still be on a useful learning curve for less outlay and have something to show at the other end.

I'd also suggest that the W3Schools option could be more beneficial to you in certain areas. Their information is bang up to date and the site and its contents are linked to by universities all over the world, and for good reason.

On that note, take a look at some university websites. Many have resource links which are worth their weight in gold. Leeds University (which I have absolutely nothing at all to do with) have this page click here which links off to many useful resources. Others have similar resource lists.

The web is your greatest asset here. You can access more free information and teaching material than you can shake a stick at.

You can become Macromedia approved and Microsoft approved by undertaking their respective training programs. The Macromedia Certified Professional Program click here is a serious udertaking and is, by default, worth having. Ditto to Microsoft.

Finally, have you looked at the superb VTC site click here

They produce a very wide range of training materials delivered online and on CD ROM. I've seen several Dreamweaver courses of theirs from absolute beginner through to advanced data-driven site developer and I was very impressed. Source material/files are included and you can go through the same steps again and again until you are entirely comfortable.

I can't stress enough that the course you are doing is not going to turn you into a web designer and most clients won't know a thing about the certificate you get at the end of it. Mention Macromedia though, or Microsoft, and watch their ears prick up.

Best of luck with it


  Teasle 11:25 17 Nov 2005

Thank you all so much for taking the time to respond.
I will definitely be looking into all the links you suggest before signing on any dotted line. You have given me lots to consider and many avenues to explore before I commit myself, and have more than exceeded my hopes on the response I would get when I started this thead.
I can't thank you enough.

  Jules23 14:12 19 Aug 2006

I am looking at moving into web design work, though I am just am amateur for now. I'm wondering if membership of the British Computer Society will look good on my CV.
I completed the Advanced ECDL course through work - which I realise doesn't help much in itself! - but it entitled me to six months of free membership with BCS. I am now considering whether there are benefits in paying the annual subs to renew my membership.
Any thoughts would be very welcome.

  Forum Editor 14:23 19 Aug 2006

Whilst a BCS membership will do you no harm, prospective clients won't really pay much atention to it when deciding on who to pick as a web designer.

What counts is experience and flair, not necessarily in that order. I've found that clients place far more emphasis on what you can do, rather than on what qualifications you may have. Get in plenty of practice, design some sites for imaginary clients (or some real ones if you can), and then you'll have a portfolio to show.

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