So, you want to get into Web Design?

Note: This article was originally written in 2010. Facts may have changed.

So you’re looking to get into web design? It’s a dog-eat-dog world and below I’ll take you through what the industry is like, what kind of jobs you can do, what skills you need, how you can market yourself, how to communicate with clients and how to make money by charging appropriately.

The Industry

In September 2009, the United Kingdom Design Council told the government that the design industry was the largest in Europe with a total turnover over of £11.6 billion and has an international reputation for quality and value. The research which the design council also presented also showed that companies that invest in design outperform in practically every measure of business performance including market share, growth, productivity, share price and competitiveness. This was added with the fact that adding value through design brings market confidence and competitive advantage and reduces the need to compete on price. You can read more of the details, specifically, points 33 and 34.

In the current climate, many old hats are saying that manufacturing will once again bring the UK economy back to rights. This is an old view, especially with how fast things are changing in the world today, the creative industry is moving at a staggering pace. The UK design industry is known for quality and value yet other European companies are chasing and acting on new advice to move and look at creative and technology industries as a core movement.

This is where our design sector has everything to play for. Not just as a solid exporter but as the key to unlocking UK innovation and future wealth creation. Design is not a luxury but an essential ingredient for survival and growth. Rather like the bees, if we vanish so does the economic honey says Chief Executive of the Design Council, David Kester.

Working in Web*

There are many areas within web design that you can work. Our design ‘field’ is expanding on a daily basis with job titles like UX Designer, UI Designer, Visual Designer, Front-End Engineer, PHP Developer… the list is truly endless. Whether you’ve been designing since a young age or have been to college and university there will come a point where you need to decide what route to go down. Do you want to be free of pressures from above and work as a freelancer or do you want to work with a team and be part of a bigger picture and work at an agency? Both will take you on a different journey, both will be exciting and both will add in certain pressures on your life that you wouldn’t expect.

Most designers that I know of work as freelancers even when working at an agency. You will, however, have to have this approved by your manager, some allow it, some don’t. Always check your contract first.

Working in an Agency

How to get a job in an agency – Agencies expect for you to be at a certain ‘level of requirement’ before they offer you a position. Larger agencies even tend to look at you academically rather than at your portfolio pieces. Smaller agencies might look at your portfolio and offer you a position on the spot. Always have your portfolio in a good working order and then think creatively at how you can get the attention of a prospective boss. Always do your research on the company before you apply as 9 out of 10 times when you’re in an interview you’ll be asked about what you know of the company. Thanks to Google and Facebook you can now do your research in full. If you’re looking for a design job within an agency, check out their company websites or places like authentic jobs.

Life in an Agency – Depending on the company you join, your working life can vary drastically. You may be given certain perks like Carsonified who offer a 4-day working week, your own iPhone and lunch on the house every day. The alternative is that you will be a small cog in a large wheel and will be expected to put in long hours with certain pressures from above. Most of the time, life within an agency is fun. You build up great relationships with your co-workers and you become a lot like family doing the best for each other.

An Agency Wage – Depending on the company and your geo-location, a low-entry design job can usually pay a starting wage of £17k. You will find that depending on your geo-location some areas will pay more e.g. London jobs tend to pay more as a wage because the cost of living is higher.

Working Freelance

Working for yourself is great, you have no one looking over your shoulder telling you what has to be done by when. There is no boss to impress and you earn your own cash.  Sounds great yeah? Just stop and think for a second… It’s a world of uncertainty and hard work.

Everything You Do Is Work – You think you can be a freelancer and only work 9-5? Go ahead and give it a shot, it’ll last a week before your brain starts telling you that you need more hours in the day to make more money. Every single hour of every single day is a money making minute to you once you’re freelance if you don’t work you don’t earn a penny (cent – for my American readers).

Work Doesn’t Just Find You – An agency is great, you get your work set out for you. As a freelancer, especially setting out as a freelancer you have to find the work not the other way round. You have to devote time and energy to finding new work if you don’t then guess what? You don’t earn a penny (cent – for my American readers).

Staggered Earning – You invoice, you work, you invoice. Sounds easy. Until the first invoice, you sent doesn’t get paid straight away. You might want your money straight away but the companies you work for would usually have a minimum of 30 days payment terms and these days you could be looking at anywhere from 30 – 90 days payment terms. So guess what happens if you don’t keep on top of your invoicing? You don’t earn a penny (cent – for my American readers).

Being a Loner – Freelancers tend to work in a room. Your room. No one else is there and after time you’ll find yourself talking to yourself, your dog or your Optimus Prime figure on your shelf in amongst all of the chit-chats on twitter or facebook. You could, of course, move into Co-Working space but that costs more money which means you need to find more work, work more and invoice twice as often. (See the pattern?)

You have a lot to think about when you start out freelance. You need to think about setting yourself up as self-employed. Depending on who you talk to they’ll advise you to get a good accountant or take care of things yourself. And then you need clients… You might just want to punch yourself in the face.

Bit of Both?

You could, of course, go for a bit of both. Our industry is one where it almost seems the norm that most people in full-time employment will do work outside of the 9-5. This depends on the employer. Some employers dislike the fact that you could be working outside of your normal hours and it could be added to your contract that you are not allowed to work. It is always worth talking to your employer about the possibility of you doing this as you never know where the next opportunity may lie. It could benefit the company you are working for at the same time as you giving you extra money.

 

* I took out the word ‘design’ as the article was going to cover all areas of the web industry.

Apple Web Design Guide circa 1996

A great find by Graham Smith (@imjustcreative). The Apple Web Design Guide circa 1996 containing beautiful words such as the paragraph below;

The design of your Web site should be determined by the information you want to communicate. Define your content before you spend a lot of time on page design. You don’t want to invest a lot of time and effort in page layout and navigation design only to later find that your design doesn’t work for your content or purpose of your site.

Check out the original article on Graham’s website. The link to the PDF is in the article.

Personalities in Web Design

In every industry, in every workplace there are personalities. Some are funny, great or inspiring whereas others are hateful and annoying.

The web design industry is just the same as any other. We probably house the largest group of individuals that can be classed as having some kind of emotional dysfunctional disorder from one day to the next. It’s in our nature to be on the ball one day and hiding under our desks the next. Some of us need company when we’re working and others need a dark room. Some listen to music and some need peace and quiet and with this, we find the different personalities appearing. In the one industry where we have a very large community (especially in the United Kingdom and United States) that often visit conferences, meet-ups and socialise, there are still a few who just don’t/can’t get on with each other for whatever reason. Let’s take a look at the a-typical personalities in web design.

The Legend

If you imagine someone on par with how Zeus was in greek mythology then you’re probably getting close to the web industry legend. This person has been around, they’ve done everything on all levels and are well respected. They listen and still learn, they rarely bark but when they stamp down their mighty fist you had better damn well listen. They don’t talk for the sake of it, they don’t force you to listen but if you did you’d learn more in 5 minutes than you could in 5 months. This is ‘The Legend’ ladies and gentlemen, give them the respect they deserve.

The ‘I Know Better’ Person

You offer your advice but this person really doesn’t care. No matter what you’ve done and what you have achieved. The fact that you might be able to offer some valuable information, the ‘I Know Better’ really couldn’t give a monkey. He/She is so full of their own importance that they feel like you’re attacking them by offering advice instead of just listening and learning. Nothing you can do is good enough and they are not always right, but they’re never wrong.

The Belittler

Whether you’ve just started out in the industry or you’ve been in it years, this person couldn’t be any more of an ass. You’ve done something great, they’ve done something ten times better and it doesn’t stop there. You could have been perfecting your design for weeks, getting feedback and iterating and when this person sees it they laugh, they snigger and shout you down but they NEVER offer you any constructive feedback. They feel big standing on their soap box acting the big man. They forgot where they came from and where they started. This person doesn’t deserve to be in ‘our’ industry.

The Sheep

Lacking in creativity or just in awe of the so-called web-celebs, the sheep is a follower. They’re not scared of following trends but are very scared of straying from the norm. They may not have a style but they’re sure to be very inspired by the people that do. They approve of anything said by anyone, they rarely ever disagree to make sure they’re liked by everyone without realising that everyone else would just like them to have their own opinion. They never do any real harm, they’re just there in the industry, following in line.

The Grey Man

Undeniably the most dangerous person in the industry for you. The grey man stands at the back of the class, watching, listening and learning. They live for what they do and no one ever sees them. They never over indulge in industry discussion, they’re happy to go un-noticed from a vocal point of view. Every time they finish a piece of work it wow’s everyone but because the rest of the industry doesn’t know who they are they don’t stay on the radar for long. The grey man will professionally develop faster than anyone else in our industry and generally the grey man will become ‘The Legend’ at a later date.

The Helper

The Helper’s are like our industry Red Cross. They have band-aids, magic cream and more. They love helping out whether it be offering feedback or creating tutorials. They love writing and speaking to help make our industry better on a whole. They’re generally very knowledgeable and liked because they give something back when everyone else doesn’t have the time. They make money from doing what they love, giving back to the industry with those little things, that we need every day.

The Hater

The Hater is like the classroom bully but with less sense. They just can’t get on with anybody. They lack respect when it should be given and don’t really care about any opinions or views from the time-served professionals. They have to critique everything in a negative manner, nothing is every positive. Whilst these hater’s don’t give any respect to the rest of the industry, they don’t deserve any either. At some point in the future they’ll realise that they went about everything wrong and if only they’d listened and kept their mouth shut, everything probably would have turned out better for them.

Do you recognise any of the above personalities? I’ve met some of them and am happy to class some of the people I know as ‘The Legend’ status. Have you met anymore personalities that I’ve not listed above? Let me know and I’ll add them to the list.

A Better Web Design Process?

Over the past few years I’ve only refined my web design process once or twice in comparison to my logo design process which I’ve refined over and over again. This wasn’t down to me thinking I had my web design process down to a fine art by any means, this was purely due to me not seeing how I could evolve it further to either reduce the time spent on it or increase the quality and creativity of my designs by changing what I was doing.

An Old Process

The oldest process consisted of having an idea then rushing to the computer, opening Photoshop and then sitting there until I had something I was happy with. This could take anything from an hour or two to losing an entire night or afternoon. This usually wouldn’t produce the ‘best’ design either, in that time I’d have changed the layout at least 5 times and scrapped by best idea and started all over again. It really was a design nightmare from hell as when you scrap the major idea you had, it brings the overwhelming feeling that you’ve lost your groove and you’re not going to get it back anytime soon.

A Refined Process

Quick Sketches. I refined my process by quickly scribbling down my ideas into my notebook so I had something to follow before directly moving into Photoshop. Whilst this gave me a lot more direction when I was in Photoshop, I wasn’t necessarily going down the right path and 75% of the time I’d be in the same position as before. I’d get to a certain certain point and scrap my idea, this just elongated the process and I’d sit for another few hours trying to piece something together.

The REAL Process

Sketching + Iteration = The Real Deal. The previous two versions of my process were used for quite a while, it has not been until recently that I’ve changed it considerably. Over the past few months and for the foreseeable future I’ll be doing a lot of design work and something needed to dramatically change. I certainly have a time restraint for the amount of projects I have lined up and needed to change my process to better enable me to work more methodically through my designs.

Sketching is incredibly important, I can’t stress how worthwhile it is as part of your design process. It’s not something that you should think about doing, it’s something that you SHOULD be doing. Don’t care whether it’s on your notebook, the back of an envelope or in something like Balsamiq. It’s supposed to be rough, but it can be iterated upon which is the route I’m now going down. Instead of having the one initial sketch that I work on I now iterate the first sketch. Why? Because that’s it, it’s the first sketch. It’s a very brief sketch/wire frame which could be a good idea but not necessarily the best one. The quickest way for me to make this better (for me) is use the good old pencil and paper. For my most recent design I improved on a homepage sketch 4 times over the space of 24-48 hours. This gave me the time to move away from the idea and come back to it with a refreshed mind instead of sitting senselessly working on a half-assed idea.

The 4 different sketches dramatically changed over that time. If I’d tried to do the same in Photoshop it would have taken me twice the time and I may not have even came up with the final idea as I would have probably been all stressed out with forcing a design. Note: Never force design!

Doing Something Different

Over recent weeks, a range of different web design processes have shown up on dribbble with Matthew Smith, Brian Hoff and Jeffrey Kalmikoff all showing different dribbbles of their work in Photoshop. All three presented their work in greyscale, something I hadn’t done before. Matthew went on to explain the reasons for doing this as the discussion ensued across all three dribbble posts. It was an interesting take on planning out your design to keep you from adding the detail and concentrating more on layout and hierarchy.

Greyscaled Dribbbles

I liked all three concepts, Jeffrey’s and Matthew’s ‘DesignLite’ were very similar whereas Brian went to look at both the grid and layout whilst working with very minimal colour. After working on my last project where again I couldn’t help but work on the finer details too early so when I started my new project I made a point of starting out the right way.

I did my sketches, one of which you can see above. The sketches were very rough so I headed in to Photoshop and instead of immediately going in to the design I started laying out what was in my sketch in different coloured grey boxes. These boxes would simply show the position of elements I’d had in my sketch and where I thought elements could go. I noticed early on that instead of sticking to my usually definite grid layout, I started mixing things up a little. I thought about offsetting objects on the page, how the different elements would interact with the user. I felt a lot more confident about the way I was headed with the design.

As soon as I’d filled out the majority of the page with the grey boxes, I simply went back over and started replacing the boxes with the actual designed elements. This reduced quite a lot of time as I was happy with the layout BEFORE I even looked at the finer details. The design has progressed somewhat from the image shown above and dribbble’s of it can be seen here.

Don’t Care About The Time

I’ve realised something big through the refining both my web and logo design process. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of time on your process, you’ll make it up later on. You need to spend more time, a lot more, to get the best of the ideas in your head.

What about you? What is your web design process like? If you liked this article you should follow me on Twitter.

I interview Martin Bean

Martin Bean - Digital Pop/Yourfightsite.comMartin Bean is a talented young developer from the North East of England. Working through the day at online marketing and digital marketing agency Digital Pop, Martin spends the rest of his time freelancing for yourfightsite.com. An avid fan of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and with a great understanding of back end development, Martin will achieve a lot.

Full Name and Age please

Martin Bean (Martin Christopher Bean if we’re being pedantic) and 20 years.

Favourite Biscuit and Drink?

Fox’s Crunch Creams and a cup of coffee. Together.

Last Book you read and the last movie you saw?

The last “book” I read was actually a graphic novel: “Batman: The Long Halloween” by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale. Someone referred it to me as it was apparently one of the graphic novels The Dark Knight team took influences from for the movie’s story (and it was interesting to see those similarities, albeit subtle). The last movie I saw was “Angels and Demons” on DVD. I thought it was a bit pants to be honest. My girlfriend assures me the book is far better, so I may have to pick up a copy to see if she’s right.

Where and when did it all start?

I’m not sure how or exactly when it started. I remember being in maybe the second year or secondary school (so about 12) and picking up a book on HTML in my school’s library. I gave up after the first chapter. I would later re-visit the idea of learning HTML and building websites and was a fair bit more successful than my first attempt.

I also had a copy of FrontPage on my home PC, but worked religiously in the code view. Crafting HTML pages and getting irked with FrontPage’s habit of inserting Microsoft specific tags and removing them way before I heard of standards compliant mark-up or what it meant. CSS then came soon after.

I began subscribing to Practical Web Design magazine (a now-defunct offshoot of .net magazine) and that helped my HTML/CSS skills considerably in a quick amount of time.

dog

At college, I didn’t really progress my skills that much. I had a good knowledge of HTML and CSS and was the go-to guy with my peers for help, but other than that I wasn’t going anyway technically, but picked a hell of a lot up in terms of the theory of web design and design in general. In my second year of college, I got a placement with a leading new media design agency in Newcastle. They threw me in the deep end, telling me I had two months to learn PHP (which saw me end up swimming rather than sinking) and got my foot in the door to employment in Newcastle. I would move to Newcastle from my home town of Darlington little over a year later after a couple of stints at other agencies in the region.

Is there anyone in the industry you’re enjoying the work of at the moment?

Andy Clarke. But that vested interest is biased as he’s redesigning the home page for CannyBill, a product by dpivision.com Ltd, whom I used to work for.

boxingcapital

What does a general day consist of for you?

A week day usually consists of getting up at around 7:00am. I hop on a Quaylink to Newcastle City Centre, then get on another bus to work. At the moment my days are spent working on a super-secret project, but other than that I’m a web developer for a digital online marketing agency, so there’s never a shortage of projects. But currently I working away developing a social networking site in PHP/MySQL.

What’s your cup of tea, front end dev or back end dev?

Definitely back-end development. I thought I would be a web designing, but turns out my calling was in development.

You’re a huge fan of MMA and set up yourfightsite.com, who do you think will be able to take the title from Brock Lesner? (I’m a fan also).

Good question. Brock Lesnar has this stigma that due to being a former professional wrestler and a multiple-time WWE Champion that he shouldn’t do well in a “real” fight sport, but the fact of the matter is, is the guy is a monster. His only downfall is his lack of experience in MMA fights which was glaringly visible in his UFC bout with Frank Mir back in February 2008 I think it was. That will be Brock’s downfall – a lack of experience. However, with each and every fight he closes that gap, and no one can go toe-to-toe with him in terms of size or strength.

xwo

Are you a PC or a Mac and do you have a reason for choosing one over the other?

PC, simply for the fact that I’ve never had enough money for a Mac when I had to buy a new machine at home. And at work we all use PCs. However, if I had the option I would definitely grab a Mac.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I think it’s dead set that PHP is my core skill set, but in the future I hope to expand my knowledge of web technologies. I want to be a versatile programmer and have a great knowledge of various languages. Java interests me, .NET not so much though. I don’t want PHP to limit my capabilities in the realm of server-side development or programming. I definitely want to become my au fait with AJAX as well.

Will you be heading to any conferences over the next year?

I’ve been wanting to attend a conference for the past year or so, but haven’t been able to whether it was because of money or lack of time off etc. I’m really pining to go to one, so think I may try and attend one in the North East first, just to see what’s involved, and then go for a larger one down south. Richard Quick’s Bamboo Juice conference piqued my interest somewhat and was about to go until something came up at the last minute, despite the nice chap offering me a discounted ticket!

Thanks to Martin for getting involved, check out Martins work at yourfightsite.com

I interview Paul Randall

paulrandallPaul Randall is a Web Designer & Developer from the South-West of England and has been creating websites full time since 2006. He has worked on some very interesting smaller personal projects which I inquire about during the interview.

Thanks to Paul for taking the time out to get involved in the interview.

Full Name and Age please

Paul Randall, 22 years old

Favourite Biscuit and Drink?

It has to be a mug of tea, and Crunch Creams. I could literally eat a whole pack in one go!

Last Book you read and the last movie you saw?

I have just finished reading Thinking In Type, by Ellen Lupton, and was captivated by District 9 at the cinema.

Where and when did it all start?

After my A-Levels, I left school to work as an IT Administrator for a manufacturing firm—doing the usual fixing PC and printer problems, but soon became tried of the monotony of it. I was doing a day-release Foundation Degree course in Computing & Internet Technology at the time, and so I offered to redesign the companies’ site for them. I was always a creative person and had made personal websites in my spare time before, but when it launched, that’s when I knew I wanted to design and build sites as a job.

prandallwebsite

A few months later I noticed a job advertisement in a local paper which was looking for a Web Designer/Developer. I applied and had a phone call on the Friday to come to an interview on the Saturday. I was offered the position straight after! I stayed with that company for just over a year, working on in-house ASP sites in SQL Server and some client work before moving to my current job in June 2008, where I now work predominantly with HTML, PHP and MySQL.

Is there anyone in the industry you’re enjoying the work of at the moment?

I really admire the work of Tim Van Damme, Jina Bolton, Vitor Lourenço and Greg Wood.

What does a general day consist of for you?

I will get up at about 8, catch up on Twitter and head for work just before 9am. You will usually find me with the headphones on, listening to Daft Punk or The Prodigy working on the latest piece of client work in either Dreamweaver or Photoshop.

After work I tend to play around with new bits of HTML5 or CSS3, catch up on RSS feeds or play on the XBox.

h1-debate

What’s your cup of tea, front end dev or back end dev?

I really enjoy the creativity of graphic design, so front end dev is the thing I enjoy most; but the best thing about my job is the fact I work in both, and love switching between them. If I had to choose though, it would be front-end, every time.

You work on various projects, which has been your favourite so far?

In terms of a personal project, it would have to be the H1 Debate (http://h1debate.com). It was such a simple concept, but from the comments it has had, it really caused people to think about how they use the H1 tag, and about coding their sites in general. It also gained a lot of exposure, which I really didn’t expect.

I am always pleased with the work I produce at my job, but never showcase my employers’ work.

I have also recently begun creating monthly wallpapers. I really like the design challenges it creates,   as it keeps me trying to find new inspiration, but I missed last months’ due to me working on my personal site relaunch.

sepcal

Are you a PC or a Mac and do you have a reason for choosing one over the other?

I have always worked on a PC and currently use Vista on a daily basis. This is simply because the   places I have worked for have been PC-based. My laptop is also a PC, running XP, but I will switch to a Mac when it needs replacing as I need to see what all the fuss is about!

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I’d love to focus on just designing more, but continuing to work in a small team. I really enjoy the involvement you can have in a project—seeing it from start to finish.

Will you be heading to any conferences over the next year?

I haven’t got any planned at the moment, but I always try to catch up on the speakers’ slide-shows, or watch the talks online.

Paul Randall – www.paulrandall.com

It’s coming, 30 Christmas eCommerce designs

As mad as it sounds, it’s now August and we’re getting closer to Christmas. I decided to look back at last Christmas and the design trends of 30 eCommerce websites.

Overall there was not a significant winning idea on what to do, with some retailers not bothering at all. Below are the companies which did…

Starbucks have gone for a full design of red, but only on their .com website.

Borders are sticking to the red theme using some snow as a nice touch.

macy’s are sticking with their red homepage after their fall sales design.

Continue reading It’s coming, 30 Christmas eCommerce designs

Hundreds of Free Grunge Photoshop Brushes

Are you looking for FREE grunge photoshop brushes? I have compiled a list of resources where you can find hundreds of free photoshop grunge brushes. If you can find anymore, send the link through and it will get added to the list.

Brusheezy have a massive range of brushes which you can filter to gain access to their hundreds of FREE grunge photoshop brushes.

Bittbox have 5 sets of grunge wings providing 10 brushes in total.

The Outlaw Design Blog have a range of photoshop brushes which are free. Some of the best brushes in this post are on that blog.

We Function have a free grunge brush set holding 33 subtle grunge textures and effects. They have a lot more to offer so head over.

Continue reading Hundreds of Free Grunge Photoshop Brushes