Web design is a career path where both artistic and analytical individuals can find meaningful work. This is because the duties of a web designer and a web developer often overlap -- creating hybrid roles that have remnants of both disciplines. Anyone interested in web design should expect to use general, visual and technical skills.
While general skills may not be specific to programming languages or website development, they are essential for getting the job done.
Designing a website, even a relatively small one, can easily encompass hundreds of elements -- pages of content, logos, images, videos and other components. To successfully launch a site, a designer must be skilled in both time and project management. These skills help keep projects on track and ensure that sites are launched efficiently.
Although the debate continues on how to deal with search engine optimization (SEO), a quality web designer knows how to make a website rank high in search engine results. To accomplish this a designer understands what a search engine 'sees' when it crawls a site. Designers must be skilled using Google Analytics and other important SEO tools.
A web designer must have a good understanding of how to make a site look attractive. While a degree in graphic design isn't wholly necessary, a working knowledge of layouts, design elements and multimedia programs is.
Understanding of Layout Practices
Web designers are highly knowledgeable in the areas of color schemes, typology, fonts, site usability and CSS. They skillfully utilize a site's 'real estate' - the area viewed in the browser - to create a visual impact while organizing and creating the site's information architecture. Layout and design workers need to be experts in Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash software.
This field deals with the creation of the images and graphics that define a site's look. Graphic designers often have a two or four year degree in graphic design and are highly knowledgeable in typefaces, fonts and color schemes. They are also trained in image manipulation, advertising concepts, logo identity and creation, and webpage scripting. Skilled in graphic design software like Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign, designers who focus on graphics may not need a high-level knowledge of web coding.
The definition of multimedia continues to evolve, but it typically includes video production, Flash presentations, animation, and Podcasting. Essential skills include creating, editing, compressing, uploading and embedding videos. Besides being comfortable with major video sites like YouTube, multimedia designers need to know how to create SEO-friendly tags, titles and content for a video. Editing programs like Corel Video Studio, Sony Movie Studio, Apple Final Cut Pro or Adobe Elements are commonly used in multimedia creation.
Many multimedia designers spend a significant portion of their time using Adobe Flash. This popular software program adds interactivity and creativity to a website with minimal coding skill. However, highly successful Flash creators have a strong understanding of the scripts and commands that power the more complex Flash presentations.
Podcasting remains an important element of the multimedia skill set. Individuals create or edit podcasts using high-end audio editing software which outputs the podcast audio file. An understanding of RSS is essential since podcasts are pushed onto the web with RSS.
Web specialists tackle the nuts and bolts of the scripts and languages that make a website.
Although programming languages tend to be the domain of web developers, web designers with a working knowledge of common languages have a competitive edge. Web programmers write the site's interactivity for forms, apps or ecommerce using languages like Java, ASP, PHP and .Net. They are also skilled in the concepts of databases. Designers who have these skills are able to create, troubleshoot and use databases to build dynamic websites. Most skilled programmers have a four-year degree in computer science, but ambitious designers can learn a programming language without formal education by using online tutorials and assisting in open source projects.
Content Management Systems
Halfway between programmers and HTML experts are content management systems experts. Content management systems are simply an extension of the WYSIWYG concept. With these systems a web designer can create a site without a lot of working knowledge of PHP or any other programming language. Designers who are experts in popular content management systems like WordPress or Drupal need to be comfortable creating themes, using plug-ins or add-ons, and installing open source modules.
Since the technology that drives the web changes rapidly, web designers should expect to need ongoing training or education to keep their skills current. This includes on-the-job training, online courses and possibly even additional certificates or degrees. Without a natural curiosity for web technology, an individual can easily become overwhelmed trying to keep their web design skills current.