How to be a Web Designer: My Story

howtobeawebdesigner1

One of the most common questions I get asked about web design and development is how I came to do what I do. Did I go to school to learn how to make websites? Where did I learn the ins and outs of WordPress? Here’s the first in a new series, starting with my story, sort of like X-Men Origins.

Since I started messing around on the internet back when I was around 13, I’ve always tinkered with HTML and CSS. From an early starting ground of Geocities, to wanting my livejournal posts to look prettier, I became pretty competent with how the whole HTML thing worked.

I didn’t go to school for web design or development, I actually studied “Interactive Arts” at University – it’s basically Fine Art with a modern slant. Throughout my degree, which was very much self led anyway (read: we did whatever the fuck we wanted), I started building websites. I wanted to make a website for one of my projects which is where I discovered self-hosted WordPress sites.

I spent a cold, grimy, Saturday afternoon in Manchester during my third year of University installing and setting up WordPress on an old domain. Luckily Adam was out with friends, my first foray into WordPress was sooo frustrating. Lots of swears. But, when it was there? And working? Ah. I was kinda hooked from then on in. 

While looking for work as a fresh-from-university-graduate (with a ridiculously unemployable degree), I stumbled across an advert for a Front End Web Developer. I didn’t even know that that was a thing! The job description seemed to fall inline with what I’d self-taught myself over the years, so I applied.

I interviewed, did a website building test, and got the job. While not technically qualified, I proved I could do what was needed which was, apparently, more than a lot of the graduates in the actual web design/development field could. Plus, my two bosses had completely irrelevant degrees too, and they both ran web design/development companies.

I spent a happy 4 years working at Common Agency in Huddersfield, learning as I went, and becoming somewhat of an expert at Wordpress simply by trial and error. Common Agency turned their sights more towards app development, and I started getting itchy feet for something new. I quit the day job in 2011 to concentrate on my own freelance web design and development career, and to work more on my brand, Finest Imaginary.

The rest, as they say, is history.

I’m still learning how to be a web designer/developer, the learning never stops. That’s one of the things I love about this side of my career, there is always something new to learn. Technology has moved on so much since I started being a web designer/developer, there was no such thing as RWD (or we didn’t have a name for it, at least) or mobile optimisation back then, and I’m pretty sure I used to build my earliest websites with iFrames and tables. Erk.

The moral of my story? Don’t think that not having a formal education in something means that you can’t be successful (unless you want to be a surgeon or something, then it’s pretty necessary). If you want to be a web designer then just get stuck in. Make websites. Learn stuff. There’s a wealth of free, brilliant advice and tutorials available on the internet, I’ll be sharing my best resources next time!

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  • The start of your story is very similar to mine, Kim. I got into web design and development back when I was about 15 by creating a site of my own in … *gasp* Frontpage! The learning curve was pretty steep – not just HTML, but all the tech stuff like buying a domain and hosting – it was all so new to me!

    Definitely agree with your final statement about formal training. I landed in web design much like yourself – landing a job with no commercial experience, but bags of enthusiasm and some personal projects behind me.

    The learning really does never stop! Sometimes I have the slight fear that if I don’t keep learning and pushing myself that I’ll get left behind! How do you deal with things like that?

    I’ve since moved on from web design and started specialising in email design/build/marketing – it’s been an interesting journey – i kind of love how same but different working in email is vs. web.