Getting Started in Web Design
Since starting out in the web design industry 4 years ago, I have come across lots of things I wish I knew when I started out and I want to share these little titbits with those just starting out.
I was recently asked by a couple of people who are just starting out on how to get a job and how to get in work, as times are tough at this moment in time and a lot of companies just don’t want to take a chance on new talent due to the need for them to hit the ground running in the job.
Below I’m just going to go through a list of things I think any new designer should do to get them ahead of the game.
This is a must nowadays, it’s a great place to point possible employers to and it showcases your work to the best of your abilities as you have no client restraints on your design.
On your portfolio I can’t stress enough though that you don’t just show your work, pick your best work and showcase it. There is no point in showing 15 portfolio items if 11-12 of them don’t look that great in the end, pick your best work and show it off. Having a portfolio with 3-4-5 great designs will go a lot further than a portfolio with 15 items and only 3-4-5 good items within it.
This has always been a topic of discussion within the design industry as to whether web designers should know front-end code, but for me it’s a must. These 2 languages for the most part aren’t difficult to learn and there are plenty of tutorials out there for you to learn from.
My reasons for saying you should know this stuff is that it will help you improve your understanding of design, some stuff simply can’t be coded into a website as well as giving you an understanding of the layout of a website.
An extra thing for this is that will help you stand out from other designers and in today’s market a lot of small design firms, might not have the scope to hire 2 people when they can hire 1 to do the job, you could be that one.
Learn a CMS System
This isn’t necessarily a must for you, but again it will help you in the job market.
I didn’t know any CMS stuff when I started my first job back at BT, but within a couple of weeks I was churning out fully working websites on the Joomla CMS, that allowed all the clients to maintain and update their own content.
There are a few CMS systems out there to use, too many for you to consider trying to learn them all, but they do all work in a similar way, so if you pick one up you can transfer than knowledge and pick up another fairly quickly.
I now have experience of 4 content management systems, one I won’t even mention as it was a horrendous piece of kit, but the others are WordPress, Joomla and Umbraco. For those starting out I would recommend WordPress simply because the knowledge base out there is far superior to any other CMS and you should be able to fix any issue you have with just a quick Google. But other suggestions would be Joomla and Drupal.
One thing you will notice is that there will be people who knock each and every CMS but don’t let that phase you, use the system that suits your needs and you find the best to use, everyone has their own preference.
This ties in a little with your portfolio, getting work to display on the portfolio can be something that is hard to come by, having started out with freelance work recently I can testify to that fact.
My suggestion is get in touch with some local companies, charities etc, give them discounted rates or in some cases do the websites for free, just to boost your portfolio. My one word of caution on this is that if you’re doing a website for free, don’t let them have the world, give them the basics, you don’t want to take on a free project and then spend a huge amount of your free time doing work for nothing, do simple 4-5 page brochure websites, that will hone your skills and benefit both parties.
Also, don’t be put off by rejection, the worst people can say is no to you, but always stick to your guns on pricing, when I first started out I priced a small 4 pages website to my dentist for £150 and he tried to get me down in price, looking at it now, he was getting a hell of a deal at £150 without me reducing it more.
Get yourself on Twitter, I have found this to be invaluable in recent times, you will find the design community are some of the most helpful people around.
It’s also great for networking, I can count maybe 30-50 designers who are great to talk to online, be it random chat or design work and on top of that I have been offered work from several of them over time too.
I hope I haven’t rabbled on too much, but I wanted to put across some advice to new people joining the industry that I wish I had when I started out. I learned more in 3 months at my first job than I did in 3 years in higher education and I do worry that the skills they are teaching at University and Colleges are not really what’s needed for those starting out.