Web Design and Web Development Career Information
The Web is the ultimate playground for those with the skills and passion to shape it. Engaging and functional websites, mobile apps, and other online projects don't just build themselves. It takes professionals who know how to get the job done now while always keeping an eye on what's ahead. But careers in this field involve more than many people might realize. Everything involved in web design and web development adds up to two separate career fields that are fascinating and ever-changing.
Why Are Web Design and Development Important?
Technology is constantly evolving, and social norms are evolving with it. The online world is incredibly fluid. What is popular today might be forgotten about tomorrow. The behaviors and expectations of Internet users change.
Design is important because Internet users judge a website's look and usefulness in only a few seconds. If a website isn't attractive, engaging, and easy to use, then visitors will move on—no matter how efficient the underlying code might be.
Development, on the other hand, is important because great design means nothing if a website takes a long time to load, features don't work, search engines can't find it, or if any number of other problems prevent visitors from using it as intended.
Great online user experiences stem from the fusion of both areas.
Web Design Overview
This job is about more than making websites look good. It goes much further than that.
Doing this job well requires a combination of creative intuition with a sense for what is practical and technically feasible. Web design is built upon the fundamentals of traditional graphic design (e.g., form, composition, color, and typography), but its biggest purpose lies in crafting great online interactions and user experiences.
How It Differs from Graphic Design
Whereas many graphic designers develop end solutions that are static (such as for print media), web designers must create solutions that account for the dynamic, ever-changing nature of the Web.
Like graphic designers, web designers must combine images and type into a coherent package that produces the intended results of a planned branding or communications strategy. Often, however, they must also design web pages in a way that encourages visitors of those pages to take specific actions.
In short, it is about more than aesthetics. Carried out to its full potential, it can rightfully be called user experience (UX) design.
- Are concerned with how a website looks as well as how visitors interact with it
- Utilize graphic design skills to make a website attractive and easy to navigate
- Tend to be big-picture thinkers and possess some artistic talent
- Often have an understanding of branding and marketing
- Know how to work with typography, images, color, and layout to produce websites that visitors want to use
- Work primarily with creative software tools such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, and Fireworks
- Usually have at least a working knowledge of HTML and CSS
A typical workday for web designers depends a lot on their current projects and where they are in the process of carrying them out.
All possible tasks are too numerous to list; however, a web designer's day will generally involve a mixture of some of the following responsibilities:
Idea Generation and Fact-Finding
- Brainstorming design ideas for whole new websites or specific areas of existing websites that can create better user experiences
- Conducting research about a website's target user base
- Meeting with project managers, clients, art directors, copy writers, or web developers to gather important information, report on a project's status, share ideas, or gain approval on designs
- Assisting with the brand strategy of a client's business and website
- Assisting with the usability testing of websites they work on
Design and Execution
- Sketching out a website's architecture or preliminary site map
- Creating design mockups using creative software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator
- Creating functional prototypes of web pages using HTML and CSS or software such as Dreamweaver
- Designing logos for new companies or websites (or those that are being re-branded)
Revision and Optimization
- Refining the design of web pages by selecting appropriate layout properties, typefaces, type sizes, colors, images, and interactive elements
- Optimizing images to make them as small in file size as possible while also maintaining their visual quality
- Packaging necessary design mockups and graphic files for use by web developers
A number of factors can determine your earning potential as a web designer. Salary level often depends on things such as the geographic location of your workplace, years of experience, company size, how well you perform, and the industry you work in.
According to Salary.com's 2012 assessment of its own U.S. employer survey data, national web design salary averages break down this way:
- The median expected salary was $62,361.
- The top 10 percent earned $80,307 or more.
And some top earners in this field can even land jobs that pay 100K or more.
Important Traits and Skills
Successful professionals in this field generally possess the following:
Personal & Professional Traits
- Superior listening skills and a knack for asking good questions
- The ability to openly collaborate with all types of professionals and different personalities
- An artistic bent and understanding of design fundamentals
- A strong grasp of branding and marketing principles
- The ability to recognize the big picture and separate it from the details
- The confidence and communication skills to sell their ideas and to speak intelligently about the reasons for their design choices
- A knack for teaching themselves new skills
- A good understanding of HTML, CSS, and open web standards
- Exceptional skills with creative software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and similar programs
How To Become a Web Designer
Many professional web designers have, at minimum, received some kind of formal training in graphic design. In fact, an educational background in graphic design is often what separates the amateurs from the pros.
Good web design is built upon a strong foundation of graphic design fundamentals. Once you understand basic design principles, you are then ready to learn the stuff that is unique to web design. Learning the technical skills (such as how to use particular programs or how to write HTML and CSS) should not take priority over learning how to actually design. The tools of the job are always changing, but basic design fundamentals never do.
Web Design Training
Consider these additional points about design education:
- Web design courses can open doors that might otherwise be closed to you and give you an edge against equally talented competition.
- A good design school can help you learn why certain approaches work (or don't work) based on design theory, not just how to execute them using the current tools of the trade.
- The key to becoming a good designer is to expand upon what you learn in school by finding opportunities to practice your talents with real clients, no matter how small.
- Online learning resources provide a great way to supplement a formal education.
Benefits of Working in Web Design
The positive aspects of this occupation can include:
- Creative fulfillment—You can utilize some of your artistic talents in a practical way that can benefit numerous different people. The tangible results of your work can be seen (and used) far and wide.
- A low barrier to entry—Beyond formal education, you don't need to obtain any other credentials like licenses or certification.
- The thrill of technological evolution—The rapid pace of change on the Web can provide a lot of excitement for those who see it as an opportunity to try new things and expand upon their creative prowess.
- Flexibility—This field allows one to choose the stability and predictable schedule that comes from working for an employer or the freedom and variety that comes from being your own boss as a freelancer with different clients. Many even do a mix of both.
Certificate and diploma programs often last only a few weeks or months, but they frequently cover just the basics.
Undergraduate degree programs in design or computer science are usually more in-depth and typically take from two to four years to complete. Some people, however, need more time to finish a degree.
But everybody is different. If you've got the drive and the talent, then there is no reason you can't be doing professional-level web design or web development in less time than it would take other people to develop their skills in these fields.
What You Can Learn in School
Education requirements usually exist in the form of employers who want job candidates with a college degree. Plus, school can be a great way to learn the basic principles and skills needed for web design in a structured and supportive environment.
Programs often include training in areas such as:
- Color theory
- Form, layout, and composition
- Digital image manipulation
- Digital illustration
- Principles of information architecture
- Branding and marketing basics
- Website types (e.g., static vs. dynamic)
- Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks, and Dreamweaver
- Portfolio development
Some programs also include courses in subjects such as:
- Communication (e.g., writing and public speaking)
- Business basics
- Art history
The future outlook for web designers looks good. For instance, as a broad field, employment in graphic design is expected to grow by seven percent between 2014 and 2024. However, when you single out the category of web development, which includes web design, employment is expected to increase by 27 percent over that same period.*
Why Demand Will Be Strong
As more and more of our lives are conducted online, more and more web services are being launched and maintained. This requires more and more people with the knowledge and skills to design and develop those websites and applications.
And technology will keep changing. So as you look toward your possible future as a web designer, you need to be aware of the rapid online evolutions that could take place.
Web Development Overview
The stuff you see on screen represents only part of what makes up a website. It is the stuff you can't see "the code" that makes it all work (and which makes it possible for you to see anything on your screen in the first place).
In its simplest form, web development is the practical implementation of web design. Without skilled developers, even the most beautifully designed website layouts would fail to become functional reality. It would be like designing a sleek sports car without a muscular engine to power it.
Development is all about the hidden details "under the hood." Good web programmers and developers craft and refine code to make the websites they build perform as efficiently as possible. In addition, they must ensure that the end results work well in all browsers and on all targeted devices.
- Write the underlying code that turns a website design into an efficient, functional reality
- Tend to be detail-minded
- Program the user interfaces
- Create scripts that allow special functions to be carried out by website users
- Are able to utilize a range of programming tools to achieve the desired functionalities of a given website
- Generally have expert knowledge of HTML and a strong understanding of CSS and how to use it efficiently
Developers' tasks vary depending on the projects they're involved with and in what capacity they're working on them. Many websites require a team of web developers to produce and maintain them. And each person may bring different skill sets to the table. Still, most share similar responsibilities.
- Brainstorming implementation strategies based on web designs and required website functionalities with the goal of coming up with the simplest approaches that could possibly work
- Researching the pros and cons of using specific programming languages, web application frameworks, and coding approaches for particular projects
- Consulting with web designers, clients, and project managers to gather information, develop appropriate plans, share concerns, and provide status reports
Programming and Other Technical Tasks
- Coding server-side scripts
- Creating databases and integrating them into database-driven websites or web applications
- Configuring web servers
- Optimizing a website's code for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes
- Troubleshooting technical problems and finding timely solutions in response to user feedback
- Learning new programming languages and staying abreast of online trends and best practices
Job titles within the field of web development can vary substantially from employer to employer. So it can be a little difficult to really get a handle on just how much you might expect to make as a "typical" web developer. Salary also depends heavily on factors like your geographic location, level of experience, and the type of industry you're employed in.
According to Salary.com's 2012 analysis of national employer survey data, the U.S. median salary looks like the following (based on different job title examples):
- Senior web software developer—$86,053
- Web applications developer—$80,383
- Web software developer—$72,792
Important Traits and Abilities
Good developers often seem able to perform the impossible (probably because they are frequently asked to do so and get plenty of practice). Many of the skills required for the work can be learned, and you may already have the innate personality traits for it.
Personal & Professional Characteristics
- A commitment to the details
- Exceptional problem-solving skills
- A strong drive to always learn what's just ahead in terms of changes to the Internet
- The willingness to dig into new tools, technologies, and programming techniques before they become commonplace
- A desire to follow open web standards and to support the development of industry-wide best practices
- A knack for choosing the most appropriate tools and technologies for each individual project
- The ability to thrive on change (since web development is one of today's fastest-evolving fields)
- Good communication and listening skills
- The ability to code efficiently, economically, and effectively
- Deep theoretical and practical knowledge of at least a few commonly used programming languages and techniques, database tools, and web application frameworks (such as PHP, ASP.NET, MySQL, Ajax, jQuery, Python, Ruby on Rails, and others)
How To Get Into the Field
There isn't just one right way to go about establishing a career in web development. Successful pros have often taken very different paths to get where they are.
- When it comes to hiring programmers and developers, many employers care most about the skills you can demonstrate. But many jobs in the field also require a college degree.
- A formal post-secondary education in an area like computer science can provide a number of important benefits. It may give you more direct access to possible mentors. And it can provide you with a good understanding of the concepts behind why projects are planned, coded, and implemented in a certain way, rather than just how. This can go a long way toward making you a better problem solver.
- A college degree can separate you from competition that may be equally skilled and open the door to opportunities that might be closed to you otherwise.
Increasing Your Value to Clients and Employers
- It's a good idea to learn multiple programming languages. The more of them you master, the easier it becomes to learn new ones. This is especially true if you've acquired a solid foundational knowledge in computer science theory.
- Learning all you can about SEO (search engine optimization) as it relates to developing websites and online marketing can give you a great way to provide extra value to clients and employers who may lack such expertise.
- One way to get some good practical experience (and, sometimes, find a mentor) is by participating in an open source project. It's also a great way to learn how to be a web developer who collaborates well.
- The Internet is loaded with comprehensive online resources, including tutorials, which can assist you in learning why and how to write code in the most widely used programming languages. There are also plenty of great books on every programming language and web development concept. Plus, don't overlook trade magazines and conferences. The key is to utilize a good combination of resources, mentors, and opportunities for real-world practice.
Advantages of the Career
A few of the upsides include:
- A sense of accomplishment—This field can be highly satisfying since it often involves solving complex problems and witnessing the effects of your code almost immediately as you build something that will be used by many people.
- The excitement of continuous change—Although what is considered best practice today can quickly become obsolete, web developers tend to relish the ongoing evolution of the Web and the impact it has on their work. They look forward with curiosity and anticipation to the changes that result from innovation. They can't wait to dig into new technologies, to find ways to apply them to their own projects (where appropriate), and to contribute to their further development. There is always something new to learn, which makes this field anything but stale.
- Camaraderie—Those within the community are generally very helpful and supportive of each other. Most aren't afraid to share what they've learned. They are often open to providing tips, ideas, and links to good resources to other programmers and developers who need it. This is especially true of those who contribute to projects in the open source community.
- A variety of good opportunities—Truly smart and talented professionals are always in high demand. In fact, there is a shortage of good programmers and developers. Whether they want to make good money as on-demand freelancers or steady employees, want to start their own revenue-generating online projects, or simply want to help change the world for the better by volunteering their talents, good web developers are never short on chances to make their mark.
What Schooling Can Cover
Many web development programs cover subject areas such as:
Web Development Fundamentals
- Computer science theory (e.g., logic, algorithms, and discreet mathematics)
- Programming concepts
- Information architecture
- Database design and development
- Project planning and management
- Content management systems
- Quality assurance testing
- Online security
- Accessibility standards
- Mobile development
Business, Marketing, & Design Fundamentals
- Business concepts
- SEO and Internet marketing basics
- User interface design
- Adobe Photoshop fundamentals
Markup and Programming Languages
- HTML and CSS
Employment of web developers is expected to rise by 27 percent between 2014 and 2024.*
As with web design, changing technology will keep this field booming. Mobile applications, for instance, are playing a greater and greater role in how people spend their time online. And the wider adoption of open web standards will also continue, along with design and development using HTML 5 and CSS 3. It will pay to know how to work with these technological advances.
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on March 4, 2016.
World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), website last visited on March 11, 2015.
WaSP InterACT, website last visited on March 9, 2015.
Opera: Web Standards Curriculum, website last visited on March 9, 2015.
AIGA, the professional association for design, website last accessed on March 11, 2015.
Usability Professionals' Association, website last visited on March 11, 2015.
Guild of Accessible Web Designers (GAWDS), website last visited on March 9, 2015.