Hack College Presents: How To Become A Web Designer

web designer

With the world moving online, web design skills are quickly becoming integral for businesses to succeed. As the industry grows, new roles are popping up all the time. A career in web design combines technological skills and creativity. The brightest web designers express their individuality through their work and glean inspiration from their peers. If you are able to keep up with new technology and enjoy creating products on a digital canvas, this might just be the field for you. This guide will tell you how to become a web designer, by the book.

Part I. The Web Design Industry

An Overview of Design Careers

  • Web Graphic Designer: There are two types of web graphic designers: front-end and back-end. Front-end designers build websites using software like Photoshop and Fireworks with some knowledge of HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Back-end developers take these comps and turn them into working websites. Some smaller businesses prefer to hire someone who can do both, but there are employers who feel their front-end designers should not be doing any back-end coding. Ideally, having knowledge of both will help you fully understand your work.

  • Web Developer: Web developers create and maintain websites with more knowledge of programming than their web designer peers. Those with an eye for design and functionality tend to be more successful. This job requires expert knowledge of software programs, web applications, programming languages, and design principles. The projected job growth between 2010 and 2020 is 20%, making this a highly desirable career for tech types.

  • User Interface Designer: Designers in this niche customize websites and applications in order to create an improved, user-friendly experience. A background in web development is usually required, along with expert knowledge of programming languages and proficiency with graphic design tools. As companies and consumers become dependent on online environments, UI designers will continue to become more integral.

Career and Salary Outlook

With more businesses moving online and customers following suit, the future of web design is promising. Job growth over the next seven years is projected at 22%, much faster than the national average.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary in 2010 for web designers was $47,820 and $85,430 for web developers. Those just starting out can expect to make around $40,000 annually. Like most professions, the more skills you have in your toolbelt, the more money you can expect to make. But, money should not be the key motivator behind a design career. Because this field is evolving rapidly, it requires strict dedication in order to keep up.

Part II. Top U.S. Web Design Programs

Find a web design school near you.

There are many web designers and developers who are self-taught. While practical experience is invaluable, nothing can replace a formal education. Most schools don’t offer a specific degree in web design, instead folding it into a broader graphic design program. A solid graphic design program will teach you fundamental design principles as well as cutting-edge industry trends.

These programs don’t come cheap and often require students to foot the bill for computers and the latest design software. However, the right education and connections will build a solid foundation for a successful career.

Rhode Island School of Design

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design

  • Specialized Degrees: Undergraduate students may receive a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design, one of the schools most popular programs, and then go on to receive a Master of Fine Arts in Digital Media. A Master of Fine Arts in Graphic Design could be paired with an alternate undergraduate degree program for a more well-rounded education..

  • Industry Perception: According to the RISD Career Center, 96% of alumni are employed one year after graduation, with an additional 2% pursuing an advanced degree. Most employed alumni are in positions directly related to their field of study and 25% are employed in positions indirectly related to their major.

  • Annual Tuition and Fees: $41,332

  • Financial Aid: Students may receive grants, scholarships, loans, and participate in a work study program. About 40% of students receive scholarships from the school ranging from $1,500 to $38,000 per year, based on need and talent.

Pratt Institute

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design

  • Specialized Degrees: Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design/Illustration, Design and Interactive Media, or Graphic Design. Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communications Design or Digital Arts. Master’s degree programs in Communications Design.

  • Industry Perception: If you’re keeping score, you will be pleased to know that U.S. News and World Report’s 2013 guide to America’s Best Graduate Schools ranked Pratt’s graduate communications design program twelfth, and it landed among the top design schools according to Business Week and College Crunch.

  • Cost: $38,980 per year for undergraduate programs and $33,522 per year for graduate programs

  • Financial Aid: Scholarships, grants, loans, and a work study program are available based on need and merit.

Parsons The New School for Design

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design

  • Specialized Degrees: The school offers an Associate’s Degree in Graphic Design online. Bachelor’s Degrees range from Communication Design to Strategic Design and Management. A Master’s Degree in Strategic Design and Management and a Graphic and Digital Design Certificate Program are offered online for those looking to continue their education.

  • Industry Perception: Students receive immense support with career counseling and job placement.

  • Cost: $19,913 per year for undergraduate programs and $20,423 per year for graduate programs

  • Financial Aid: Students applying to any program are automatically considered for scholarships based on merit. The New School for Design also participates in federal and state financial aid programs.

Savannah College of Art and Design

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

  • Specialized Degrees: Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in Graphic Design are available online, as well as an Online Certificate Program in Digital Publishing.

  • Industry Perception: Ranked one of the top schools for Graphic Design by College Mapper. According the SCAD website, an average of 80% of SCAD alumni responding to a survey were employed in their fields or had been admitted to graduate school within six months of graduation. Employers of SCAD alumni include Apple, Hallmark, ESPN, and Turner Broadcasting.

  • Cost: $31,905 per year for undergraduate programs and $32,670 per year for graduate programs

  • Financial Aid: SCAD allocates scholarships money to new and current students. The average need-based scholarship or grant award is $5,692.

Carnegie Mellon University School of Design

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education

  • Specialized Degrees: The school has an undergraduate program in Communication Design and a graduate program in Communication Planning and Information Design.

  • Industry Perception: Carnegie Mellon is ranked among the Top 200 World Universities by Times Higher Education, and the school was named one of the best for graphic design by College Crunch.

  • Cost: $45,760 per year for undergraduate programs and $35,664 per year for graduate programs

  • Financial Aid: All incoming students automatically receive consideration for scholarships based on merit.

Minneapolis College of Art and Design

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and the National Association of Schools of Art and Design

  • Specialized Degrees: There are undergraduate and graduate programs in Graphic Design and Web and Multimedia Environments, a Graphic Design Certificate Program, and an Interactive Design and Marketing Online Certificate. High school students can get a sneak preview with the Pre-College Summer Session for Graphic Design.

  • Industry Perception: The school is recognized as a leader in art and design education. Alumni include George Morrison, Rob Roy Kelly, Esther Bubley, Andrea Carlson, Paul Shambroom and Ernest Arthur Bryant III.

  • Cost: $17,775 per year for undergraduate programs and $16,375 per year for graduate programs

  • Financial Aid: With more than 88% of students receiving financial assistance, the school awards more than $5 million in aid every year. Depending on the academic program, students may qualify for grants, loans, scholarships, and a work study program.

California Institute of the Arts

  • Accreditation: Accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges

  • Specialized Degrees: Bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in Graphic Design are available. A specialization in Motion Graphics is offered at the graduate level.

  • Industry Perception: The Institute was named the most artistic school in the country by Newsweek

  • Cost: $40,552 per year

  • Financial Aid: Grants and scholarships are awarded based on need and merit.

Part III. Launching a Web Design Career

Whether you are self-taught or a recent graduate, getting organized is the first step for a successful job search. Despite this being a technology-centric trade, good communication and writing skills come in handy.

  • Résumé: Because you are a designer – or trying to be – having a résumé that shows creativity will catch the hiring manager’s eye. You might have a beautifully designed portfolio, but without a matching resume, no one will notice. Check out Web Design Ledger for inspiration.

  • Portfolio: As a creative professional, having a solid online portfolio is key for reeling in job offers. This space should display your work, résumé, and contact information. Similarly, social networking sites like Dribbble allow you to connect with other designers and promote yourself. Linking to these sites will help employers get a broader sense of your personality and work.

  • Internships and Jobs: Taking on small web design jobs for friends and family will build your portfolio and add interest to your résumé. Coroflot, Modis, 37signals, and Krop are great places to begin your job hunt.

5 Tips From Top Designers

  1. The future is undoubtedly going to be about more mobile devices and touch screen developments, and these are going to be more and more integrated into everyday life. – Simon McFarlane, owner of web design and development company Clearbytes

  1. In order to succeed as a designer, you must have strong people skills: you must be able to communicate a thought, frustration or message clearly and efficiently. – Preston D. Lee, web designer and manager of GraphicDesignBlender.

  1. Build something for real and promote it. Get people to use what you build — there’s no better marketing than that. – Jason Fried, president of 37signals.

  1. Start building a web presence as early as possible, even before seeking a junior position. Buy a personal domain and set up a simple portfolio, with an “About” page that gives a snapshot of your personality and talents. If haven’t done client work, do pro bono projects for friends until you have work samples to show. Displaying them publicly shows that you have pride in your work. – Darren Hoyt, interface designer and developer.

  1. Create a core portfolio of work, begin networking locally and online, and keep learning. – Chris Spooner, web designer and owner of Blog.SpoonGraphics and Line25.

If you still need more advice, Smashing Magazine’s Expert Advice For Students and Young Web Developers is a wealth of knowledge.

Navigating Your Career

Whatever your background, staying abreast of emerging technology and honing your creative skills will help secure your place in this fast-paced industry. As you dive in, don’t forget to learn from your mistakes. Embracing the bumps along the way transform you into a well-rounded, knowledgeable designer.