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How to get into web design

Web design

You created your own Facebook® avatar, posted pictures of your trendy bathroom decor on your Pinterest® board and stood in line for the latest iPad® device. These skills and interests could make you a good candidate for a career as a web designer.

“The web design field is a broad one, encompassing everything from gaming to social media to phone apps,” says Beth Mabee, an online instructor in the University of Phoenix web design program. Here, Mabee describes six things you can do to get started:


Know your talents.

Successful web designers share innate traits, says Mabee, who began building websites for insurance companies after several years of developing software for that industry.

“In my experience, people who are attracted to web design as a career are either artists looking for an outlet or technophiles who grew up online and want to work there, too,” she says, stressing that their personalities usually combine creative abilities with logic and attention to detail.


Keep current.

Web designers must constantly upgrade their skills to stay marketable. “IPads and tablets are selling at a much faster rate than PCs these days,” Mabee notes, “and eventually, the big money for web development will be for those devices.”

“The combination of PHP, MySQL and JavaScript is a good foundation for traditional web design,” Mabee adds. She also recommends studying Java to support Android™ apps, while languages like Python and Objective-C are useful for building sites that are compatible with iPhone® and iPad devices.

“Another hot language right now is AJAX, which links JavaScript with XML” and often is used on banking and shopping sites, Mabee explains. Students can do formal coursework in all these languages, though many web designers are self-taught.

“Some people work from books,” she says, “while others learn visually from videos at sites like Thenewboston, Lynda.com and on YouTube™.”


Be old school, too.

Web designers also should understand older programming languages like HTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), according to Mabee, who teaches both in her University courses.

“Most people don’t realize that the bulk of web design work is in maintenance — updating older sites built by others,” she explains. “You never know when you might have to fix a line of code that somebody wrote 10 years ago.”


Study art.

All the software code in the world won’t get you anywhere if your site is unattractive and difficult to navigate, so Mabee recommends studying typography, color theory and effective layout, noting that courses such as Image Editing and Implementation can help.

She also suggests reading “The Non-Designer’s Design Book” by Robin Williams and “The Logo, Font and Lettering Bible” by Leslie Cabarga.


Build your portfolio.

Web designers must have professional work samples to get jobs, Mabee says. “A web design portfolio serves as your resumé,” she explains, suggesting that you can start building your portfolio by offering free or low-cost web design services to family, friends or charitable organizations.

Once you have a portfolio to show potential employers, you can post it on tech job sites like oDesk and Dice. “ODesk is especially good for freelancers,” she points out.


Get your degree.

If you’re self-taught, an associate degree in web design could open more employment doors, especially for staff positions at large corporations, Mabee says. “I have had extraordinary web designers in some of my classes who had gone as far as they could go in their careers,” she notes, “simply because they didn’t have degrees.”

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