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Career Spotlight: Web Designer

Career Spotlight: Web Designer

The position of Web designer may be the glamour job of the Web-development field. Others involved in Web projects, such as information architects and programmers, hold jobs that many people just don't understand. By comparison, Web designers are involved in creating the icons, images, navigational tools and other features that give Web projects their public face. But don't be fooled: Web designers devote their energies to far more than the look of a Web site.

"The Web is about people first, technology second," says D. Keith Robinson, a Seattle-based Web designer who writes a design blog. "Designing for the Web is more about communication and content than graphic design.

Job Basics

Web designers often work with project managers, programmers, information architects, marketing professionals and others on the appearance and architecture of Web sites and systems, teaming up with colleagues to tackle a range of duties, from concept planning to testing. Tasks may vary from designing tiny icons for navigational purposes to planning the color scheme for a Fortune 500 company's Web presence. Web designers work in a broad variety of settings, including marketing departments, design firms, advertising agencies and other organizations.

According to the AIGA/Aquent Survey of Design Salaries 2009, the average salary for a Web designer was in the mid-$50,000s.

Web Designer Education and Training

Opinions vary widely on what the appropriate training for Web designers is. Some employers seek candidates with a degree in graphic arts and a portfolio of Web projects, while others scoff at formal training, saying the field is too new for training to be truly relevant.

"I haven't seen a class about Web design that I've liked," says Jason Fried, president of Chicago-based 37signals, a Web software company with an influential blog, Signal vs. Noise , and book, Defensive Design for the Web. "This is the type of job where you need to learn from experience.

Still, if training in Web design is not viewed as a requirement, a background in graphic design, communication or computer science can help you land a job, when accompanied by relevant experience or projects. As Robinson puts it, "Web design is a pretty open field and can accommodate people with varying backgrounds.

Breaking In

But Web designers do agree on the ticket you need to enter the field: Build something. Countless numbers of Web designers have gotten noticed by building Web sites for nonprofits, community groups or simply by creating a site surrounding one of their own interests or enthusiasms.

"Build something for real and promote it," says Fried. "Get people to use what you build -- there's no better marketing than that.

Job Skills

Before you sign up for classes in Dreamweaver or Flash, take a step back, and remember the essentials employers want to see in candidates for jobs as Web designers. These include knowledge of graphic design, project management, information architecture, human/computer interaction, writing and programming, according to Fried, Robinson and other Web-design experts. "Get the fundamentals down, and then worry about the tools," says Robinson.

Still, skills do matter, and for Web design, the essential ones include knowledge of HTML, Photoshop and scripting languages such as JavaScript or PHP. Experience with print design also helps, as many organizations require their designers to work on both print and Web projects.

Why Web Designers Like Their Work

Web designers often see their work as challenging, in part because the field is still relatively new. "You're creating things, usually making something from nothing, and that can be highly gratifying," says Robinson. "You're on the front end of a wave, working with a new medium, helping to carve it out.

There are a number of books about web design and usability, including Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug.

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