Web designer

 13 March 2013

Web designers use text, images, graphics, sound, animation and video to create websites.

Web designers create the look and feel of a website. They work on both the visuals and the site's functionality. Image: University of the Cr
Web designers create the look and feel of a website. They work on both the visuals and the site's functionality. Image: University of the Cr

What do web designers do?

Web designers design and produce websites. They are responsible for the way the website looks and feels to use for its audience – often called the 'end user'.

Some web designers are also involved in building the underlying programs which make the website work properly. They use computer coding to do this, and may be called a 'web developer'. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably.

A ‘front-end’ developer or designer generally works on the look and feel of how a website appears for the user. A‘back end’ developer works with server technology such as databases, which operate in the background.

Effective websites need to be appealing and easy to use, and are a key ingredient in the success of many businesses. With so much business conducted over the internet, from shopping to banking, employment opportunities are growing. You might be designing a large website with hundreds of pages, perhaps for an online retailer, or a site with just a few pages for a small business.

What is the job like?

Your work will involve:

  • designing aspects of the look and feel of a website, perhaps including the fonts,  text,  images, buttons, menus, and navigation
  • ensuring usability – making sure these things are as easy to use and access as possible
  • effectively interpreting a client’s or manager’s brief, and preparing a prototype site (often called a 'wireframe') based on their needs
  • writing content, laying out and coding pages
  • using various software packages such as Adobe Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash and others, depending on the needs of the project
  • delivering the website on time and to budget.

Web designers create pages that users see on their screen using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), supported by more technical languages such as PHP and JSP.

Web designers use a combination of creative and technical skills.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is another important language used by web developers to manage the layout of page content, defining details such as fonts and colours.

You might also use scripting languages such as JavaScript to add functionality to the site, such as different menu styles or graphics. Your work could also include hosting and maintaining the website, and analysing how it is accessed and navigated by users.

It is also important to keep up to date with constant changes in software and hardware. Increasingly, people are accessing the internet on smartphones and tablets. Good web design takes account of these trends. 

You might be employed by a software company or large or small design consultancy, or work in-house as part of a large organisation. There are also good opportunities for freelance work once you are experienced.

How do I become a web designer?

To be a successful website designer, you need a combination of creative and technical ability and skills.

You will need to:

  • enjoy working with computers and the internet, as well as learning software packages
  • be interested in what makes different websites usable, effective and successful (from technology through to visual design)
  • enjoy working as part of a team with other specialists such as graphic designers, coders and writers
  • be able to pay attention to detail and listen effectively
  • be able to work well as part of a team of people who are both technical and creative. 

Web developers need a combination of technical and creative skills. Anyone with expertise and experience of designing and building websites is likely to find themselves in demand.

An understanding of database design concepts, HTML and server side languages such as PHP is also helpful.

What qualifications and training do I need? 

Further education

Relevant school subjects include IT/computer studies, graphic design, art and design, English, maths and business studies.

Experience is important in this industry, and a degree is not essential, although many web designers are graduates and some excellent degrees exist in this area.

As well as A levels, further education vocational courses can also provide entry to degree courses if you achieve a level 3 qualification (often at distinction or merit level).

Further education qualifications that are relevant to web design include:

  • BTEC Level 2 Diploma in IT– entry with two GCSEs (A-D)
  • BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in IT (Software Development)
  • BTEC National Diploma in Software Development and Web Design
  • BTEC Level 3 Diploma in IT (Web Development).

Entry to the BTEC Level 3 and National Diploma courses is usually with four GCSE (A-C) passes including Maths and English.

Degree courses

There are many different degree courses on offer at universities around the UK which include web design.

Titles include:

  • BSc Web Design and Technology
  • BSc Software Engineering with Web Programming
  • BSc Web Systems Technology
  • BA Web Design
  • BSc Creative Technology

Look at the UCAS website for course listings under 'web' and 'website', as well as 'new media', 'multimedia', 'IT', 'computing' and 'computer science'.  Research courses carefully, and visit university open days to find out more.

Experience is important. Although many web designers are graduates, a degree is not essential.

General degree courses in Computer Science and IT may also include web design and development, but they will usually focus on the back end, or technical side.

Media Production, New Media and Graphic Design degrees often feature web design and can be very relevant for the more visually creative side.

Entry for degree courses is with a minimum of two A levels or equivalent Level 3 qualification. Popular courses may ask for three A levels at high grades.

You will normally also need at least five GCSE passes at A-C, including English and Maths. A portfolio of any website designs you have done will enhance your application.

Other courses

HND courses are available, such as the HND in Interactive Media (Web Design). Entry is with a minimum of one A level, BTEC Level 3, or equivalent.

There are also many short courses in web design. Look for courses offered by your local further education college or university. Private courses may also be available, and as with any course, always check the content carefully.

Finally, there are many free learning resources available on the internet which you can use to build up your web design skills. 

How much can I earn?

  • The starting salary for a graduate web designer is around £15,000 - 19,000 per year.
  • An experienced web designer may earn in the region of £30,000 - £35,000 per year.
  • A highly experienced web designer may earn around £50,000 a year and possibly more.

Freelance rates can vary from around £150 to £250 per day depending on your experience.

Salaries vary around the UK, and are generally higher in London and the South East.

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