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Website Designer  What They Do

Just the Facts

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dotA company or organization's website is its face to the world. It takes a professional website designer to ensure that face makes a good first impression.

Website designers tend to focus on one of two main areas. One is the overall design and appearance of the website. This requires a solid foundation in graphic design. The other main focus is on the development and programming side. This means writing the actual code to make the site function properly.

Some solo web designers do both programming and design, while many subcontract the code writing out to programmers and developers. In larger firms, these design and development roles tend to be carried out by separate teams that work closely together.

"We strictly do the design aspect and a lot of the simple programming," says Oai Truong. He's the owner and founder of a website design company. "If there are e-commerce or database applications for the web, then we outsource that to a number of people that we work with, and most if not all of them are one- or two-person companies working from home."

dotThose in the industry say that all web designers should have some level of graphic design skills as well as programming skills.

"We don't hire anyone here who doesn't have a formal education in graphic design," says Truong. "Even if they're going to be a web designer we believe that they still need to be educated in traditional print graphic design as well to really be a strong web designer."

Web designers have to be comfortable with technology, but they also have to be good at dealing with people.

"If you're going to run your own business in particular, or even if you're going to do client interface, you've got to be able to handle people well," says website designer Julie Matthews Burnette. "One of my strongest skill sets is I can read a room better than anyone I know -- I can get a sense of the client and what they want and what they're agitated about and address that."

dotWebsites have come a long way since the birth of the World Wide Web in the 1990s. So have the tools and programming languages used to create them. They're much more complex. This means website designers are always learning.

"I think the complexity has moved along," says website designer Dean Watkiss. "The demand for improved interactivity, database programming, graphic design, all of that has increased. I'm challenged all the time with the new technologies and the new scripting."

dotWebsite designers often work from home. Their clients might be nearby or on the other side of the world. Technology makes location of client and designer almost irrelevant.

"We have one member who's a fantastic web designer in Sudbury and he's doing work all over the world," says Hilary Ashworth. She is with a website design association. "It is a job where you don't necessarily have to be in the same location as your client -- you can do all of the work online, virtually."

In addition to doing contract work, web designers also can be employed by design companies, advertising companies and almost any business that wants to use the Internet.

"If you're going to run your own business... you're a salesperson, and you have to be doing that," says Burnette. "So being a people person, if you're going to run your own business, can be very helpful. If you're not a people person it's best to go to work for a bigger company that has 'people-people' to go out and talk to clients."

dot Burnette says she gets business in three main ways. The first way is repeat business. "The clients I worked with seven or 10 years ago are coming back now because they need new work done or they want to tweak their brand or whatever. The second thing we get are referrals from the people we've worked with before, and the third way is I get random leads off the Internet."

It's finding creative solutions for those clients that Burnette most enjoys. Web designers get to exercise creative muscles that those in some other professions might not.

"I love being creative," says Burnette. "It just makes my life worth living. Before I did this I had a career in banking, and I hated it. I was the right brain trying to do the left brain stuff."

Website designers spend a lot of time at the computer. All of that sitting and staring at a screen takes its toll.

"You have to make sure you get up and you push away from the computer every half hour or so just to basically let your brain drain," says web designer Dean Watkiss.

"You get so much on your mind, you've got seven or eight different jobs to do, you've got piecemeal jobs, you've got big jobs, and so you have to push away at times. When you come back to it, then you're fresh."

At a Glance

Create interesting pages to publish on the Internet

  • You need both technical and creative skills
  • Web designers can work long hours
  • A graphic design program is recommended