Considering a Web Design Job? How to Start a New Career in Web Design

Nearly everything you need to know to start a new career in web design.

If you’re considering starting a new career in tech, there’s a huge list of niches and job roles to consider, and even more paths to getting there. But one of the first choices you’ll likely make is pretty straightforward: design or development?

There are some big differences between web development and web design, but to put it simply, developers work on the behind-the-scenes code that makes a website or app function, and designers work on the look and feel — aka the colors, the style, the typography, and everything that goes into creating a brand experience.

If web design peaks your interest, you’re in the right place. Web design is a huge field with a variety of specializations, but they all start with fundamentals such as color theory, typography, wireframing, and more.

In this post, we’ll look at what it means to start a web design career in the broader sense, so you can get an idea of the high-level steps you need to take to get started in this field. This guide covers what you need to know about getting started in web design, from what skills to learn to the best strategies for landing your first web design job.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is a Web Designer, and What Do They Do?
  2. The Skills You Need to Get Started
  3. Salary 101: What Can You Expect to Make in a Web Design Job?
  4. Landing Your First Web Design Job
  5. Freelancing as a Web Designer
  6. How to Learn Advanced Skills
  7. Final Thoughts
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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 section on skills)
  • Project managing, including overseeing teams and/or clients

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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
  • Design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and Sketch
  • Wireframing/prototyping approaches, practices, and software
  • HTML & CSS*
  • Javascript*

Additional soft skills to consider:

  • Time management/project management skills
  • Client relations/communication skills
  • Knowledge of digital marketing best practices

Want to dive deeper? We recommend everyone interested in the profession master these nine key web design skills. You can also take a look at the curriculum for our Visual Design course.

* While some might argue that HTML & CSS aren’t requisite skills for web designers, companies increasingly include them in hiring requirements in order to find “unicorn” team members, i.e. professionals who have working knowledge of both design and web development practices. Meanwhile, Javascript takes your resume one step further because it allows web designers more hands-on access during the build process. Plus, all three are great skills to have when you’re working on teams where you’ll need to communicate with front-end web developers and the like.

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3. Web designer salaries: What can you expect to make in a web design job?

According to Indeed, as of January 2019, the average web designer salary in the U.S. is $46,346 ($23.30/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 — including location, experience, expertise, etc. Another thing to consider is that not all “web design” jobs will have the job title “Web Designer.” In New York, NY, a “Visual Designer” makes $79,246, on average (Indeed). (Web design is a subcategory of visual design.)

📌 Related: What *Exactly* Is Visual Design?

To determine what you can reasonably expect to make as a web designer, 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:

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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.

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 to design your resume in Adobe, Sketch, or another app, go for it!

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.

Bonus Reads

Those steps should get you started. Here are a few more resources as well:

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5. Freelancing as a web designer

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 rates as a web designer (and web developer, too).

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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 is totally doable and you can get started right away in one of our programs, like our free coding camp, 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!).

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7. Final thoughts

If you’re ready to start learning web design skills, my best advice is to consider signing up for a Skillcrush program designed to help you do exactly that. In our comprehensive Break Into Tech program, you can learn the skills you need to start a new career in web design or development, even if you have absolutely zero past experience. If you’re not ready for an all-inclusive program, you may want to dip your toe into the world of tech with Skillcrush’s Visual Design course.

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Scott Morris

Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.