So you want to get into web design

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.