Week 22: Succeeding As a Web Designer

A mere 5 months ago, I began (with great delight) my adventure in learning the art and business of Web Design by  beginning my studies at Vancouver’s BCIT. I recall in the early weeks learning the basics of how HTML and CSS work, and the late nights I would spend trying to recreate from memory what I had done in class that day, desperately seeking to understand just how the stuff worked.

Looking back at the material as I was transferring all of my notes and project files from the school computer to my portable hard drive, I realized that the amount of information we were presented with is actually quite astounding. From the basics of a web page (HTML and CSS) to making it more interactive (JavaScript, jQuery, AJAX, PHP), discussing SEO, designing for User Experience, planning Information Architecture, Miller’s “magic” number in site navigation, designing for mobile and Responsive design, and fleshing stuff out in content management systems and frameworks like WordPress and Drupal – the sheer volume of information, retained or forgotten, is staggering. A web designer has to know A TON of stuff.

As I exit the relative safety and security of the classroom, eagerly seeking to enter the workforce with all the zeal a new graduate might have, reality sets in. While providing many of the skills necessary to find employment in a competitive industry, the classroom can only come close to offering the one thing many employers seek: experience.

Still, I feel prepared to enter the world of professional web design and development, and to find success. I have received a good deal of advice from friends and potential employers which I take to heart, and am happy to share.

First, do as many projects as you can. Only in doing – and in the process learning to solve problems you may not have expected to come up – over and over, can you gain that experience. Not to mention the pieces to add to your portfolio.

Second, if you unsure of your design skills, find good designers and work together. It will improve your own design as you learn from them, and it will make your portfolio look that much nicer. Two projects with identical code (even if it is amazing code!) are not equal if the design is lacking. I am fortunate that I know several excellent designers with whom I might collaborate. This is one area where schooling can be the most beneficial – the beginnings of your professional network.

Third, stay in contact with potential employers – you never know when they are a man short for a project and need to sub-contract a smaller job. If you are on friendly terms and they are familiar with and confident about your skills, this can lead to more work, or even full-time employment should that be your aim. These contacts are invaluable – maintain them!

Finally, and much like the first, try new things. Do small projects on the side just because you want to learn how to implement that a jQuery tool that you have just discovered. Replicate a site just to see if you can. Do things that are fun and interesting. Keep learning and growing your skills. These things will become part of your arsenal of skills that will keep you working.

And with this post, a transition begins – no longer will I be recounting the learnings of the technical web design classroom. Rather, this present blog will likely become a resource for web design, in one form or another. I do not know, nor can I anticipate how this site will evolve. You might find code snippets, or links to great resources that I have discovered and wish to share. Only time will tell.

I hope that you will continue to read as I make my into the world of a professional web designer and developer.