Web design is not the most noble job in the world. We don’t save lives or build houses for the poor kids of Africa. We create visual experiences on the internet. Our job has its own ups and downs and rules that not everybody agrees with and there are obviously things you should know about this career if you plan on getting serious about it. You can find here a list of things you might want to know about being a web designer that will help on easing you in the business.
Clients are hard to deal with
Well, not all of them, but the majority of them will create a lot of stress for you and you won’t be happy to hear from them again soon. They put the money in your pocket, so you always have to try and bring their vision to life. There is a very funny illustration on the internet that talks about this topic better than I could ever; you can enjoy it here. Many times you will have to deal with this situation and might design a product you are not entirely happy with. But because the client pays, you will have to finish it. Later on I will tell you why this should not be a problem.
But wait, there is more. Not signing a proper contract might cause you headaches, because the clients will try to make you work more for them for free. This is why you need to have a solid contract signed by both parties before you start working. Never skip this part. Never!
Not all clients are like that, some of them will even pay everything beforehand and then hand you some more bucks for small adjustments, but that’s quite rare. This only happens with clients who don’t know how the internet works and thinks that a web designer is quite hard to find. Therefore be aware of the “big sharks” of the internet, who’ve done this kind of job hundreds of times before and know how easily a designer can be manipulated, because he needs a specific amount of money at the end of the month – we all do; in the end, nobody works just for fun.
Get out there and make a name for yourself
It is very lame when web designers go to interviews with an empty portfolio. Nothing shows more disinterest and laziness than the empty portfolio of a so-called web designer. Don’t expect to be hired and to create a portfolio for yourself afterwards, because nobody will hire you in the first place. Don’t forget you compete with people who polished their skills by working hundreds of hours for clients and who have a portfolio full of good work and promising testimonials. What do you have besides the “I want to provide high-quality services to this company” cliché?
Sure, it might take a lot of work for free, but this will bring you something that no payment can: experience. Once you have that experience, you are ready for a bigger job, but until then you have to go out and find some work. You can find churches, groups, hobby clubs and so on; all these would be happy to extend their presence on the internet and you are right there to offer it – for a low price or even for free. That’s how everybody starts, nobody hires web designers without a portfolio. It is entirely your responsibility to create a name and a brand for yourself and you shouldn’t expect to get the big bucks until you do it.
Have a clear target
One of the things you need to do at an interview for a freelance job is to define the product you will deliver. Today everybody can do some design and why would a boss hire you when his 15-year-old son can do the same for pocket money? You have to specify what exactly it is you can deliver, from SEO to social media integration and a content management system which you develop yourself. Many clients think a website has these features included anyway and won’t even consider paying more for them. This is why you have to specify from the beginning the nature of your project and the targets.
The client is not always right
Yes, you’ve heard me right. You were not hired to be liked by the boss. You were hired to provide a good, high-quality solution. If the client knows nothing about web design, how can he give you tips and advice, like in the illustration above? If you provide a great tool for his business, which generates profit, you are very likely to be hired back even if you didn’t listen to the client’s tips. There is no doubt about the fact that you are the expert and you should decide upon most of the project. Sure, hearing out ideas is not a bad thing and it’s recommended, but following the bad ones is stupid and will never help you create a strong name. If you do what the client wants and end up with a crappy website, you might have to avoid putting it in your portfolio. You don’t want people to know you’ve made it. But what are you interested in, having a high-quality portfolio, with work you are proud of, or earning money from different projects and, when a big opportunity arises, show up with an empty portfolio or with poor websites?
Remember once you’ve signed the contract (be aware of what it stipulates), you are the one who takes the most important decisions on a website, not the client. He hired you to do what you are good at; you’re the expert, not him. If he wanted someone he could order around, he has thousands of employees to do that with.
Design for the user
This is a big one. The design is the most important part of the user experience, although it’s very easy to find successful people on the internet who might argue with me. Craigslist is the best example: no design, no brand, huge success. But this is rare, don’t think that if Craigslist managed it, you will too. Design for the user and all the time think of how they interact with a website. It might be a good idea to ask the client what kind of clients he has. What kind of people are them, what do they do for a living, how much time they spend on the internet and so on. This is important to consider when designing for the user.
Once done, leave it like it is
Once you’ve finished the product, delivered it, earned the money and shook hands, it’s done. The product is not yours anymore. Take screenshots of it in its final form and then let it go. If the client wants to destroy it with low-resolution images, a poor logo or disproportionate font, it’s entirely his problem.
You should offer guidelines and help him in the beginning, but if he can’t keep the nice design you’ve made for more than a few weeks without messing it up, it is not your problem anymore. This means he needs a Web Master who can take care of his website on a full-time or part-time job for money. Or you can do it – for money too, obviously.
Don’t send desperate e-mails few months after the delivery saying that this does not look good and you should do this another way. It is simply not your problem anymore, so let it go already!
It never works from the first time
Web design is one of those jobs which eats the energy out of you and drives you crazy all the time with simple problems that have simple solutions. A selector does not work, you can’t make the hover color brighter for whatever reason, the database shows you an error each time you use it or the content does not update if you press the required button. All these problems have been and will be the ones which drive us all crazy. Don’t expect that once you start coding, it will be done within a matter of hours. It will not! It will take days, weeks or even months, depending on the size of the project, but expect having problems and be ready to go out for short walks many times.
“No” is an answer too
Many designers avoid saying “no” because they might upset the client; but, as said before, you are not hired to be liked by the client, but to show your worth and skills by developing a solution the client will be happy with on the medium and long-term period.
It is also OK to say “no” to a client who wants to hire you only because you have a solid portfolio and can be picky if you want to. This doesn’t mean you should reject all the projects that might, at some point in time, cause you stress and headaches, but try avoiding those clients that you know you don’t like working with. Declining clients and turning down offers is something every one of us does now and then, so don’t be afraid of saying no to projects you know you won’t fit in.
Be a master of something
You’ve probably heard before of Jacks of all trades, Master of none. You shouldn’t be one of them. It is OK to have skills in multiple fields, but be outstanding in one of them. You need something that makes you perfect for a job. “Web designer” is a very broad term, a web designer can do lots of things. What kind of web designer are you? Focusing on social media integration, nice and clean designs, fresh and clean code and so on. You need to be very good in something and market yourself accordingly. The fact that you can do more is OK, but don’t rely on it too much. Nobody will hire you for a complex project if you have basic knowledge in everything needed. You have to own more than that.
Tools don’t matter that much
This might seem a strange one, but just look in the past. Facebook is the new MySpace. Broadband internet connection is the new AOL. HTML5 is the most exciting technology right now. CSS3 is the new CSS1. Flash is on its way out. ASP.net will be out in maximum five years. Terms like WAP, FBML or Perl tend to become unimportant today, because nobody needs them anymore.
The average life span for a web technology is around five years – right now; who knows in the future? Do you think that in 10 years you will be able to impress your client with a strong HTML5 portfolio? Definitely no.
The answer to this problem is constant learning and improvement. Reading and learning about new technologies and then learning how and where to use them is the way to be successful. Maybe you are not an expert today, but you have the chance to transform into one in few years time, when the new technologies appear. While the current experts will be too busy with their projects, you will have time to learn the new technologies and go out there and market yourself as an expert. This is the way you will create a strong career for yourself.
Being a web designer requires many skills not everybody can have, and the more things you are capable of, the more chances you have to get a good job. The portfolio is the most important thing for a web designer, therefore put a lot of effort into it, even if you will have to do some volunteer jobs – it could pay off in the end. Market yourself as an expert in something, not a Jack of all trades, and then try to improve all the time. This is the key to success in every career, but in web design it is crucial if you plan on doing this on a long-term basis.
More to read
There are not many articles similar to this one on the internet, but I’ve tried my best to find some close ones:
30 Things You Have To Know About Being a Web Designer on 1stwebdesigner
The Funny Thing About Being a Web Designer on ClickNathan
5 Reasons Why I Love Being a Web Designer on My Ink Blog
10 Things You Can Do To Become a Better Web Designer on VanSeoDesign
The Roadmap To Becoming a Professional Freelance Web Designer on Smashing Magazine