The Most Important Skills for Your Web Design Career

Rob LathamWeb Careers

Web Design Careers

There’s a feeling you get when you land on a well designed web site. It draws you in.  Navigation is effortless and natural. It has high visual appeal, and just plain looks good. A web site like this doesn’t happen by accident. It was carefully envisioned and crafted by a Web Designer with a unique combination of talent and skill. If you see yourself in a career as a Web Designer, there are some skills you will want to work on building before sending out your first resume…

What Your Future Employer Wants

Your future employer wants you to be savvy. According to dictionary.com, a savvy individual is someone who is “experienced, knowledgeable and well-informed1Source: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/savvy. I would add to that description the word “capable”.  Being capable means not only having knowledge, but also the ability to apply knowledge to create a solution to a problem.

The most sought after Web Designers are part programmer, part graphic designer and part marketing guru all rolled into one. Let’s break those down individually and then wrap them up with some intangibles at the end of the article.

Web Programming Skills

There are more programming languages, frameworks, platforms and buzzwords in Web Design that you can throw a stick at these days.  It would be impossible to master them all, or even to have a basic understanding of them all.  Most employers understand this, and don’t expect you to know everything. There are however, a few important technologies that are common to just about every web site, web application and web property out there. These are the ones to make sure you understand and command. More than anything, we must have the perspective that we are “lifetime learners”, and that as technologies and market priorities change, so must we.

“…we must have the perspective that we are “lifetime learners”, and that as technologies and market priorities change, so must we.”

Core Web Programming Skills

  • HTML/HTML 5
  • CSS
  • Javascript
  • jQuery

These are the “core” technologies that most web sites and applications are built on. HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language) is a markup language used to describe data and relationships using tags. This “meta” data is interpreted by web browsers and presented to a user accordingly. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) describes how HTML elements are to be displayed on screen, paper, or in other media 2Source: https://www.w3schools.com/css/css_intro.asp. CSS makes the layout and presentation of web pages more flexible and efficient across mulitple platforms and devices. JavaScript is a cross-platform, object-oriented scripting language used to make web pages interactive, and to programmatically control meta data and objects on a web page 3Source: https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/JavaScript/Guide/Introduction. And lastly, jQuery is a fast, small, and feature-rich JavaScript library that makes many routine Javascript programming tasks easier 4Source: https://jquery.com/.

Building From Your Core

Once you have mastered the core Web Programming Skills, you will likely branch into areas of specialization depending on your career focus and employment. Some of the more common specialty Web Programming Technologies for Web Design include JavaScript frameworks like Bootstrap and Angular, as well as Server-side programming languages like PHP and ASP.NET. Most web sites and web applications are deployed on Apache or Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server), so some understanding of those platforms will be necessary as well.

Learn Web Programming Online

There are many great online resources for learning the basics of Web Programming. Codecademy.com offers some great free lessons on HTML and JavaScript, as well as an intensive “Build Websites from Scratch” program for only $199.

Build Websites from Scratch

Graphic Design Skills

You might think that Graphic Design Skills are all about making a pretty picture, and you are partially correct.  A Web Designer should have an understanding of and an appreciation for design aesthetics. I like Google’s definition for the word “aesthetic”;  – a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement. This article started with “There’s a feeling you get…” Part of that feeling is created by a design aesthetic that was thoughtfully planned according to the priorities and even branding of the organization the web site represents.  The design aesthetic represents and reflects who they are.

“aesthetic”;  – a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement

So before you run out and enroll for the latest Photoshop course (and by all means do), also consider studying some solid graphic and material design principles. Material Design is a set of disciplines and guidelines for creating things that humans interact with, like web sites. Material Design for web sites incorporates color, typography (fonts and typefaces) and user interface elements. The folks at Material.io provide a great overview of the concepts in material design, as well as some great design resources.

 

JPG vs PNG

A Web Designer should know the difference between a JPG and a PNG, and other image formats, and should know when and how to use them (or not). When it comes to photos, the old adage “less is more” is quite appropriate.  A great web site is one that looks good, draws you in, quickly provides answers to your questions, and loads fast! A photo-heavy web site will take longer to load than one that uses typography, color and placement to present information. When photos are necessary, not all photos are created equal.  It is important for the web designer to know the difference between a photo created for high resolution printing, which includes just about every photo created by every camera and smart phone in the universe, and a photo that is optimized for viewing on a computer screen or mobile device. Part of the discipline of designing a great web site is knowing how to get the best quality from a photo, while keeping the file size as small as possible for the target screen.

On to Photoshop

Depending on the nature of the website being designed, the Web Designer will need to use various graphic applications to create logos, banners, ads, promos, and other “composite” graphics to be used on the site.  By far the most commonly used application for creating web graphics is Adobe Photoshop.  Other Adobe applications for creating web site graphics are Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign. There are also other graphic design and photo editing applications that work quite well as long as you understand the concepts of JPG vs PNG in the previous section.  The Adobe family of design tools has a large user base, many free online tutorials, and a number of online communities to share questions and ideas. Adobe also has a training web site dedicated to learning the Adobe Creative Suite.

Marketing

What does a web designer need to know about marketing? Everything humanly possible without losing your sanity. For most organizations, the very reason for having a web site is to fulfill a marketing need.  That need is to get a product, service, mission, philosophy, religious or political movement in front of as many people as possible. That is marketing. The role of marketing in web site design is to incorporate as many marketing friendly elements as possible into the site’s structure and design in order to maximize it’s exposure to a target audience.

All About SEO

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a complex set of tasks which involve keeping websites and other types of content at the top of the ranking in search engines like Google and Bing 5Source: https://digitalmarketinginstitute.com/en-us/blog/12-04-2018-is-content-marketing-the-new-seo. SEO has become increasingly more complex as the major search engines (led by Google) have sought to even the playing field and provide more relevant search results to web surfers. These are just a few of the things that must be considered when optimizing a web site for search result placement:

  • Keyword Relevance
  • Page Load Speed
  • Mobile Device Compatibility
  • Meta Description Relevance
  • Photo Tagging
  • Quality of Content
  • Freshness (Age) of Content

The Digital Marketing Institute provides some good resources and information for students on their website about SEO and Content Marketing.

Intangibles

In the world of STEM learning and career development, intangibles are often referred to as “soft skills”. Soft skills are the things that are learned as much through life and experience as they are the classroom. These are a few of the soft skills a great Web Designer should have:

Communication

Good communication starts with listening, and ends with understanding. A great Web Designer is able to listen to others (customers and organizational leaders) in order to understand their priorities and needs for the site. A great Web Designer can express ideas and concerns in a professional and respectful manner.  A great Web Designer can win consensus among all parties involved in the project in order to bring clarity to the design of the site.

Responsibility

Trust is a big part of being a Web Designer. The organization(s) you work for will trust you with their image and their voice in the public forum. That kind of trust has to be earned, and it is proven over time through responsibility. Be responsible to handle sensitive information appropriately, to do what you say you are going to do, and if you can’t, communicate it to the project stakeholders as soon as possible.

Attitude and Altitude

Be like a plane. Simply put, your attitude is your position relative to your surroundings. Your altitude is how high you can soar above the crowd. If an airplane does not maintain a proper attitude and sufficient altitude, it will crash. So will you.  As a plane must keep it’s nose up, keep your head up when things are challenging.  As a plane maintains a sufficient altitude to avoid obstacles, you can rise above things that get in your way.

Be a Team Player

In one way or another your Web Design career will require you to work with people.  As the saying goes, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I have found it to be a good habit to value and respect others. As you show people you value them and their ideas, they will listen to your ideas.

About the Author

Rob Latham

Rob Latham is an IT and Web Development veteran, having held positions in software engineering from application developer to product manager of multi-million dollar software applications, overseeing all aspects of product development and market delivery. Rob currently acts as Stemsco's Director of Innovation, advising the organization on technology direction and IT pathways.