Learning to be a website designer

Since 1996 I have done nothing but work as a website designer, making a fairly secure living by developing websites for clients across the US and Canada, Europe and Australia. One of the most common questions I get asked by people considering a career in website design is simply where to start. It’s a daunting question and one that I don’t have all the answers to but I’ll do my best to help.

Are website design schools a good investment?

When it comes to website design, there are plenty of schools, classes and courses that promise to help you learn the fundamentals of website design but are they really worth the investment? I don’t think they are, unless you’re a book learner with poor personal management skills who require a lot of oversight … in which case, website design isn’t going to be a career you seriously want to consider as it’s a fairly solitary career path.

Now, that’s not to say that website design schools are a bad idea, in fact I think that they’re a fantastic training ground for people to get a fundamental background in the technologies, but they’re only as good as the people they have teaching. There so before investing in a college or university website design course, talk to recent graduates as well as people who are in their senior year at the school. Ask them if they’re working in the field, look at their portfolio and be assertive. Schools cost a lot of money, make sure that you’re getting the best education possible.

How to learn website design, without a school

Website design is actually a fascinating career path because everything you need to learn to be a website designer is available for free, even the software you need to be an effective website designer is available as a free download! There are few other careers that I can think of that all your tools (minus a fairly basic computer and internet connection) are free.

So where do we start?

Learn about basic document structure

The first thing you need to do in order to build web pages is forget everything you think you know about websites. Building effective websites is about learning to build effective documents, not attractive pages. That means you’ll need to understand the basic HTML structure of a document before you begin to worry about how it looks.

Learning basic HTML structure is boring learning, most people don’t get past this stage but step one to having a career in website design is about understanding basic tags such as theparagraph and line break tags. Remember, web pages are documents, just like Microsoft Word documents. To be an effective designer, you need to learn how to structure a document.

Learn how to style a document

Styling a document is a lot more fun than laying out a document, this is where your creative talents as a designer start to come in. Adding a cascading style sheet (CSS) to your website allows you to affect color, font sizing and much more. Practice by adding basic CSS to a well structured document and changing how your document looks.

There are plenty of free CSS tutorials on the web, one of my favourite authors is Bavotasan who shows off some amazing CSS tricks such as How to Rotate Images with CSS3and how toCreate a Black & White Thumbnail in WordPress.

Learning website design with a mentor

As I mentioned earlier, website design is a solitary profession. A lot of time is spent alone infront of a computer, but there’s no reason that learning has to be done alone. Just like learning a new language, one of the best ways to learn website design is with a mentor so find a site designer that you like and send them an email to ask if they’d consider mentoring you through the initial stages of learning, the worst they can say is no.

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