Web Design Industry Overview

The Internet has changed how people interact. Both in the business world and in the lives of those now online, the World Wide Web is changing the technology we use to communicate, whom we communicate with, and when we communicate with them. Thousands of websites are created every day, and thousands more reinvented as our knowledge evolves about what works online and what doesn’t work.

Web designers create the pages, layout, and graphics for websites. While this career path has taken a beating lately, with people in the field being laid off by the thousands, as businesses go online and the Web grows over time, so will opportunities for designing websites.

What You’ll Do

The work that Web designers do determines whether people stay at a site or leave, and do what the site wants them to do while they’re there. If the website is to generate e-commerce, sales results ultimately provide the measure of the success of the Web designer’s work. If the website depends on advertising for its revenue, then metrics like unique visitors to the website and average number of pageviews per user session will provide the measure of success.

Web design is a specialized function within information technology, and a key role in Web development. Unlike programmers, who work on technology at the back end and front end of the Net, Web designers create the look, feel, and navigation for websites. Their “front end” work includes defining the user interface (UI) (what people see and interact with when they come to a site—for example, the home page), creating catchy graphics or animated images, and choosing the style, fonts, and other visual elements to make a site appealing and help a company advance its business goals.

If you’re going into Web design, you’ll need to know a number of computer programs. To begin with, you’ll need to know HTML, which is the basic computer language for creating Web pages. To create images and animated graphics, you’ll need to know programs such as PhotoShop, Illustrator, and ImageReady. You should also be proficient with Web design programs such as Microsoft FrontPage and Macromedia Dreamweaver, and have a firm grounding in Cascading Style Sheets—a mechanism for adding fonts, colors, and spacing to Web documents.

In addition to these core skills, a number of more sophisticated multimedia design tools can help you deepen your skills. Programs such as Macromedia’s Flash and Shockwave are used to create sophisticated animation sequences and multimedia presentations that don’t take up too much bandwidth. Such programs often require special training, but the results can be spectacular. As you progress in this field, you may find yourself specializing in a particular design application.

What It’s Like

If you’re a Web designer, you’ll need to stay abreast of the rapidly changing technology in the field. New technologies, techniques, and design standards are constantly being developed in an effort to meet the ever-increasing demand for more exciting Web designs and functionality.

If you’re a prospective Web designer, you should realize that designing pages is not just a creative role, it also supports a direct business end: attracting people to the site and keeping them there, or driving e-commerce sales. A good website can be many times more effective than a brochure, delivering the exact type and amount of information that a user desires–and allowing clients to order without filling out a form or dialing a phone number. Along with orders, a site captures relevant user data: pages viewed, time spent at the site, and other information that can allow for targeted marketing, thereby improving a company’s business.

As with design in general, a Web designer’s job is to make your product (the website) functional and pleasurable for the user. At the same time, a corporate website should help sell or market whatever the business that sponsors it is selling or marketing. A Web designer working on a corporate intranet site, for instance, will want to ensure easy access to relevant information. A Web designer working at an e-commerce site will want to make sure users recognize what the company is selling and help make the process of buying it as easy as possible.

Who Does Well

Whether you work as part of a Web development team for a consulting firm, within a company, or as an independent contractor, you’ll need good people skills, imagination, and mastery of the design tools. You will interface with clients or other departments and take other forms of information, such as brochures, slide presentations, print advertisements, or other documents, and turn them into multimedia experiences; or else you’ll incorporate user data to help define and shape a website that people enjoy visiting, and which helps the sponsoring company achieve its goals.

The interactive and highly integrated nature of a website means that there is a constant cycle of creating, troubleshooting, and publishing that only you will fully understand. Other people may give you raw information or documents to publish, and you may attend organizational or departmental meetings on a regular basis, but the vast majority of your time is spent in front of your computer–creating new graphics, experimenting with animation, writing new scripts, implementing new navigational techniques, or hunting down broken or expired hyperlinks.

Web design is a high-profile role. Your work and job performance are viewed and judged by thousands of people every day. While that can be extremely satisfying and even exhilarating, it is a two-edged sword: If you make a mistake, the entire company can be affected. Still, if you are an artist at heart, have a perfectionist streak, and thrill at the thought of having your work viewed around the world, then you may love this work.