So you want to be a web designer

From time to time I get asked by friends: "How do I get into web design?". There's often a sub question to that as to "what package should I use?". This is often the case if the person comes from a graphics design background. If you ask anyone who's anyone in web design what package do they use, the answer will often boil down to:

"Notepad* and a range of browsers"

*subsitute favourite text editor here.

The reason is simple: pretty much all web design packages get in the way once you know what you are doing. And let's not talk about the quality of the markup they produce. However, for the beginner there is an even more important reason. A development package will normally hide the detail of the implementation from you. This is not what you want if you intend to become a web professional (whatever that means).

The following are some further thoughts of mine on getting into web design.

Web Design is not Graphics Design

This is the most important point to make about web design. Graphics are only a small (and probably least important) part of web design. Designing for printed material is rather different to designing for the web. First of all there are less unknowns about the format that the end user will be seeing the design in. This might be a small leaflet or a giant street side advert. In any case it is usually predefined. This is not the case for the web design. You are desiging for the web, but you have no control over the tool the end user will be using to display your design. It could be anyone of at least 4 major browsers, 3 desktop platforms, infinite screen sizes and resolutions as well as anyone of about a zillion mobile or small screen devices. (Note: iPhone <> Mobile <> small screen.)

The focus of web design is always to complement the content in such a way that it enhances the user experience of reading that content without getting in the way.

Unfortunately too many sites add so much cruft within and around the content that a whole new market has emerged to help you read poorly designed content.

Back to basics

So you are going on a web design course: what now? I would say the absolute first step, before day one of your course, is to get some cheap hosting space where you can upload your web files.  Then after each day on the course, sit down at home and hand craft a page in HTML and CSS. You can then use these pages to form a kind of static blog of your progress through the course. I would expect page one to be a black and white page, whereas page 15 to be a page full of extra and uneccessary cruft and perhaps page 100 to be something approaching best practices on web design.

If you are wondering which host to use, I can recommend NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. They are free to get started with and exceptionally cheap to use for running small and infrequently visited websites (sorry, but don't expect to turn into the next Google or Facebook anytime soon).

Wordpress - the web designers package?

Having thought a little bit about what package to recommend to the budding web designer, I've settled on Wordpress (or any other open source blogging platform). Blogging is always a good idea whilst learning a subject as writing down your thoughts is a great way of clarifying the concepts you are learning.  It is still vital that you hand craft your static pages as suggested in the previous section. However perhaps by day 50 of your static blog you can start moving content into Wordpress. And by the end of your course you are hopefully self sufficient in Wordpress.

The other benefit to using Wordpress is that by doing this you will become familiar with the internet's defacto standard blogging platform - a great bonus when looking for work.

Further reading

I hope to write some more posts about getting into web design, but until then here's some links for further reading about web design: