Experts Weigh In: “I’m thinking of making a career change into web design. Where do I begin?”
Web design is an appealing career choice for those who thrive in creative environments, love technology, like their work to be diverse, and/or want the possibility of the freelance life.
While it can be a highly competitive market, web design is unique in that people who work in this field come from a wide range of backgrounds. Some pursue traditional education while others are self-taught. An increasing number are attending bootcamp programs that teach you how to code and design, many of which promise jobs within months of graduation.
We asked some web design experts to share their advice for those of you considering making the jump to a career in web design.
Melanie Araujo, Founder, Front and Center
Start making. The most important thing you can do is to familiarize yourself with design and coding principles through practice. Each hour you spend building you’ll learn more and become better. There is no substitute for that practical knowledge, but you need to balance it out with a good amount of inspiration. Surround yourself with other designers, online and offline. Share experiences and try to apply their advice to your situation. A diverse range of opinions and perspective is always helpful for learning.
Dan Brown, Principal at EightShapes, LLC
“Web design” means a lot of things these days. The industry has fragmented and rebuilt itself so many times in the last 25 years. Deciding to enter web design means deciding what aspects of it you like best. Perhaps you like coding layout and interaction. Maybe you prefer researching users or ironing out navigation problems. Or maybe you like working with brand identities to employ color and typography in a multi-screen world.
Your first step, then, is to determine what you like best and where you thrive. A good general web design or user experience course can introduce you to a range of disciplines, like visual design, coding, information architecture, user research, even project management and product ownership. Like with any job, you’ll perform better if you play to your strengths, and to do that you need to learn about everything it takes to build a world-class web site.
Hamsa Ganesh, Designer, Hamsa Ganesh Design
Formal education in communication design will serve as a solid foundation. It helped me cultivate my design process and depict information in a meaningful manner. Unfortunately, traditional academia doesn’t allow for a fluid curriculum that web design specifically demands. Trends, UI patterns and devices are evolving at a rapid rate and the best way to learn is through practice.
But practicing to design for the web, without some concrete direction, can be intimidating. If you want to speed up this process, start by interning at a web agency for a while. Be around designers and developers that are solving problems while serving a real-world project. A few weeks in, you will get: better at asking questions, first hand exposure to web development and clarity about what you need to focus on. There are plenty of online resources for almost any web design (or development) skill you wish to take further. The journey requires ongoing commitment, but is a highly rewarding one.
Heather Payne, CEO, HackerYou
Try it out! Unlike so many other careers where you won’t really know what it’s like until you’re in it, there are tons of ways to try out a web design career in advance. You can start dabbling online using sites like Codecademy and Treehouse, or you can search for inexpensive workshops in your city. For example, Ladies Learning Code runs workshops for beginners in 20+ cities across Canada. In the U.S., groups like Girl Develop It and PyLadies run similar programs.
Once you’ve determined that you like coding, you can start exploring options for making the transitions. Coding bootcamps have popped up all over North America in the past few years, and many of them are extremely successful in terms of helping people transition into new roles in web development. Be sure to visit the school in advance, and definitely speak to Alumni to ask about their experience. A strong testimonial from an Alumni is worth more than anything when it comes to choosing the right bootcamp for you.
Adelle Charles, Lead Visual Designer, Bitly
Do it! It’s never too late.
Build up your skills by doing research, take classes. Do your research and take some time to learn as much as possible about design, user experience and code. You don’t need to be able to do everything, but you should be able to communicate with others on a team or project. Pick up some books and immerse yourself in information.
Go to school if it’s financially viable. Although I don’t think a degree is necessary to make a switch in careers, it is a fast, sure way to get there. It’s also very important to know that the Internet is an easy and free vehicle for almost anything you want to learn. If you have the drive, talent and creativity, anything is possible. Also, there are so many great ways to learn online and in person – Code School, CourseHorse, General Assembly just to name a few. If you’re looking to build up your creative skills in specific ways, I’d also recommend looking into Skillshare.
Gain experience, build a portfolio. Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get to work. Take on freelance work to build up your portfolio or even make up projects that are in line with the type of work you would ultimately want to do. Afterwards, be sure to post your work to dribbble, Behance and other networks where people will be able to see your work. Make the experience happen for yourself! A lot of talented people can get their foot in the door just by redesigning something that already exists.
Network as much as possible, find a mentor. Put yourself out there and don’t be shy. Reach out to people you admire in the field, ask questions and get involved with design meetups. Be an active participant on Twitter, Dribbble and Behance to build a network. It might feel awkward at first, but I promise people are excited to hear from you and usually very willing to offer their help and support.
Now what are you waiting for? Get to it.
Have you switched careers and entered the world of web design? Please share your tips in the comments below.