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A web design job will vary from company to company, but if you’d like to find one (and build a career in web design long-term), expect to work on projects that vary from planning designs, pitching clients, drafting wireframes and mockups, and creating beautiful, flexible websites that people just like you use every day.
This no-holds-barred guide will tell you everything you need to know* about finding a web design job and creating a lucrative career as a web designer. We’re breaking down the process into five steps.
Think of this as a sort of crash course to the web design lifestyle. Bookmark it to come back often, or you can download our handy printable web design guide to take with you.
*Maybe more than you even wanted to know!
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1: What Is a Web Designer, and What Do They Do?
- Chapter 2: The Skills You Need to Get Started
- Chapter 3: Salary 101: What Can You Expect to Make?
- Chapter 4: Landing Your First Web Design Job
- Chapter 5: Freelancing as a Web Designer
- Chapter 6: How to Learn Advanced Skills
- Chapter 7: Final Thoughts
Chapter 1: What is a web designer, and what do they do?
Web designer: a definition
Not to be confused with web developers, web designers are creative, digital professionals who craft the overall vision and plan for a website. Web design is less about using code to bring a website to life, and more about determining a site’s layout, color palette, fonts, and visual themes.
There are some other differences between web designers and web developers as well, but that’s the “short story” answer. Another way of understanding web design work is to consider what projects web designers work on, which brings us to…
What does a web designer do?
MediaBistro defines it (charmingly) like this:
“These visual architects are responsible for the overall awesomeness of a website’s look—its layout, colors, fonts, icons, buttons, the whole shebang.”
Anywhere online that you see elements of visual design, it’s likely a web designer has played a part in the process. The web design role might include the following tasks or responsibilities:
- Designing web pages or whole websites
- Designing site navigations
- Mocking up mobile-first and/or responsive websites that look good on all sizes of screens
- Coding pages or sites using HTML and/or styling those projects via stylesheets and CSS (this is increasingly part of the role, though not universal—see the next chapter on skills)
- Project managing, including overseeing teams and/or clients
Chapter 2: What skills do you need to become a web designer? And how can you learn them?
Web design skills can be broken down into hard and soft categories. Let’s start with the necessary tech and visual design skills, which fall firmly into the “hard” skills camp:
- Layout and navigation principles
- Color and typography
- Responsive / mobile first design
- Design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch
- Wireframing / prototyping approaches, practices, and software
- HTML & CSS*
Additional soft skills to consider:
- Time management/project management skills
- Client relations/communication skills
- Knowledge of digital marketing best practices
Chapter 3: Web designer salaries: What can you expect to make?
According to Indeed, as of January 2019, the average web designer salary in the U.S. is $47,049.60 ($22.62/hour).
We’ve broken that number down further in our Web Design Salary Series article, but keep in mind that it will vary according to certain elements—location, experience, expertise, etc. To determine what you can reasonably expect to make, Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth tool is a great way to plug in specific details about your own circumstances to calculate a likely salary (and the right number to give when asked your salary requirements). You may also want to explore how to calculate your rate for freelance web design work.
The truth of the matter is that web developers on average do make more money than web designers. But if you’re a creative looking for a financially stable career, shifting into tech as a web designer is a smart move long-term. Here are some other helpful reads:
- 5 Ideal Tech Jobs for Creatives (That You Probably Haven’t Thought of Before)
- 10 Tech Jobs that Pay $100k or More
Chapter 4: How to find your first entry-level web design job
Do the work first. Seriously, that’s our best advice. Web design portfolio sites are essential to landing that first job. Skillcrush students often ask us: If I don’t have any clients, then how can I build a portfolio?
Step 1: Create mock projects
It may feel like a catch-22, but as web designers, your skills (and aesthetic eye) are as much your trading card as your resume. Cue the mock project.
Create a website design for a friend or mock-up a brand redesign for a company you love. Build a custom email newsletter for an imaginary campaign. The point is, there are plenty of web design projects to add to your portfolio that don’t require a paying client. In the end, those projects (and the time you spend on them) will pay off.
Step 2: Make sure your portfolio looks the part
Even your own portfolio can serve as an example of your skills. If you design it yourself, it’s an immediate demonstration of your skills and vibe. And since it’s one of the first things a hiring manager will look at after your resume, that’s huge. Here are 15 portfolio templates to get you thinking.
Step 3: Perfect your elevator pitch
Anytime you’re entering a new industry or trying to shift between roles that don’t exactly correlate, you’re going to need a stellar pitch. It should explain who you are, what sets you apart, and why (despite perhaps a lack of experience) you can solve the problems a company has. Here’s our guide to writing the perfect personal pitch.
Step 4: Don’t forget the personalized cover letter and resume
Because you’re new to the field of web design, never apply to a job without writing a custom cover letter. Take the time to research the company, notice any trends in the projects they work on or even problem areas (what could they be doing more of?), and include those observations in your letter. Consider mentioning a personal experience you’ve had with the company, too. The more original, the better.
When it comes to your resume, it’s got to look as good as your portfolio and the projects you’re showcasing. If you’re comfortable enough in Adobe to design your own resume, go for it! Or save yourself some time and try one of these free creative resume templates instead.
Step 5: Look for jobs that don’t require too much experience, but don’t be afraid to apply if they do
Most sites including LinkedIn, Glassdoor, and Indeed will let you filter by experience level to find entry-level web design roles, so start there. Still, a few words of advice: don’t let a requirement like “2-3 years of experience in the field” stop you. Women are less likely to apply for roles unless they’re 100% qualified, but men do it all the time. If you can prove you’re the right personality for the team and a proactive learner (like, say, you taught yourself web design in your free time via a Skillcrush course online), those requirements may not be so required after all.
Those steps should get you started. Here are a few more resources as well:
- 8 Pretend Projects to Add to Your Web Design Portfolio When You’re Just Starting Out
- 7 Beautiful Web Design Portfolio Site Examples
- 9 Jobs You’re Qualified for If You Only Know HTML & CSS
And don’t forget to download the takeaway version of this guide, The Beginner’s Guide to Landing a Junior Web Design Job.
Chapter 5: Freelancing as a web designer
Freelancing is no easy feat, but when done right it has some obvious advantages (the first of which is, you know, extra money…). You can use freelancing to build up your web design portfolio when you’re just starting out or to add some passion projects to your arsenal if the work you do full-time isn’t your normal design style. It’s also a way to try your hand at new web design challenges or even to dabble in web development projects to pick up some new skills.
But finding freelance clients and knowing what to charge them isn’t as straightforward as most of us would like. Fortunately, there are some clear cut places to start.
To this day, Smashing Magazine has the best “get started” guide for freelancing as a web designer. Here, also, is a guide to setting your rate as a web designer (and web developer, too).
And here are some other articles and resources to get you started:
- The 9-Step Guide to Making a Great First Impression on a Client
- 9 Free Email Templates to Get You Out of Sticky Client Situations
- Skillcrush’s Rate Calculator for Freelance Web Design (Download)
- 50 Resources and Tools for Freelancers
- 5 Mistakes New Freelancers Make
- 14 Things You Need to Know About Paying Taxes as a Freelancer
- How to Get Your Clients to Pay You More (Video)
- The Ultimate Guide to Freelance Contracts (Download)
Chapter 6: Taking your web design skills to the next level
Like we mentioned before, even if you’re currently a web designer (or you’re a graphic designer who’s naturally gravitated toward digital projects), there are plenty of ways to kick it up a notch. The first and most obvious approach is to pick up some web design skills.
If you don’t know how to code yet, now’s the time. Learning to code isn’t hard and you can get started right away courtesy of programs like our own free bootcamp, which is both interactive and flexible (so you can tackle it after regular working hours).
But there are other directions to go as well. Increasingly web designers are exploring roles in UX/UI (User Experience is one of our most popular courses at Skillcrush!) or even studying up on digital marketing, including elements like SEO and social media strategy.
Chapter 7: Final thoughts
The fact that you’re here and made it this deep into this guide shows you’ve got the tenacity to launch a career in web design and believe us, that’s half the battle. If you’re ready to take the plunge, consider signing up for Skillcrush’s Visual Design course. In the meantime, don’t forget to download our Beginner’s Guide to Landing a Junior Web Design Job to take some of these tips with you anywhere.
Kit Warchol is the Head of Content for Skillcrush and writes for magazines and sites including Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Girlboss, and others in her spare time. After teaching herself to code at the height of the recession (heyo, 2009), she worked as a web designer at various tech startups, then took a Senior Project Development role at the University of Southern California before diving back into writing full-time. Before joining us, she served as the Editorial Director of Career Contessa, a career advice site for women.