What Does it Mean to Study Web Design?
In an environment where it seems that anyone can purchase a piece of software at an office supply store and get a Web site running in a few minutes, what role do professional Web designers play? In reality, Web designers have been growing their skills and their earning capacity by solving problems for employers and clients. A degree in Web design can help an ambitious artist learn the nuances of building Web sites that work well instead of tolerating virtual placeholders that turn away customers.
A growing number of colleges and universities recognize the burgeoning field of Web design. Many schools now offer degrees in Web design through their technology departments, through their art departments, or through joint technology degree programs that incorporate best practices from design and engineering.
Web design majors benefit from total immersion in cutting edge technology while developing critical aesthetic sensibilities that will help them develop unique styles and approaches to problem solving. Web design majors that pursue a Bachelor's degree can gain even more highly sought after skills in business, accounting, and even psychology.
When a Web design specialist understands how to bridge the gap between consumers and businesses in an entertaining and productive way, companies and clients will beat many paths to their door.
Finding the Right Web Design Program
The explosion in online learning opportunities has put quality education within reach of nearly everyone in the United States. It seems appropriate to earn a Web design degree over the Internet, since neither the degree nor the style of learning would have been available as few as fifteen years ago.
A variety of programs offer you the chance to learn at your own pace, in a style that helps you absorb information effectively. If you like to interact with professors and students in real time, you can select a program that emphasizes real-time Webcasts, video conferences, and chat sessions. If you find that you prefer to analyze and experiment with new information, you can enroll in a program that offers tremendous independence.
Depending on your career goals, you may want to consider a program that immerses you deeply in art and design or a program that showcases creativity in the greater context of business and society. If you enjoy hands-on learning, you can choose a college or a university that emphasizes real world assignments. You can even pick a program that lets you time-shift your learning around work and family commitments.
One of the most attractive benefits about a degree in Web design is the fact that you can enroll in top flight colleges and universities around the world without relocating to a physical campus. By studying with some of the top specialists in the Web design field, you can quickly build the skills you need for a successful career, without the hassles of housing, parking, or commuting.
Types of Web Design Degrees
A variety of colleges and universities offers programs in Web design that can be customized to the needs of any student. By considering your own life experience and the amount of time you want to devote to growing your skills, you can identify an ideal Web design program.
Certificates in Web Design
Many working professionals, especially employees of small to medium-sized businesses, can benefit from learning specific Web design skills. Therefore, some colleges and universities offer targeted Web design certificate programs.
In many cases, certificate programs immerse participants in the nuances of popular design and publishing platforms. Over the course of a few weeks to a few months, certificate program participants can learn about specialist tools such as Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Frontpage, and other software packages.
Because many companies and design firms standardize on software from a single vendor, even experienced Web design professionals can benefit from enrolling in software-specific certificate programs. By cultivating universal skills and developing the ability to learn new tools quickly, Web designers can pursue more challenging, lucrative positions at companies around the world.
Some Web design certificate programs help non-technical managers and other business officers understand the peculiar challenges or integrating Web design into an existing operation. Other Web design certificate programs train professionals from other fields to integrate Web publishing into their daily routines. By training long time staffers on new publishing tools, many businesses can effectively meet customer needs without making huge investments in new personnel.
When selecting a Web design certificate program, get very clear about the skills you want to gain. If you have never taken any Web design courses in your life, you may want to enroll in a program that moves a little more slowly while focusing on fundamental skills. If you simply want to gain prowess on the latest tools and technology, you can enroll in a highly technical, accelerated certificate program that takes advantage of your existing skills.
Associate Degrees in Web Design
For students who have recently graduated from high school, or for working adults that crave a change of career, associate degrees in Web design offer a fast track to a lucrative new job. Associate degree programs usually last about two years or less, even when students enroll part-time.
Associate degree programs in Web design offer students the opportunity to build essential skills that can qualify them for entry level positions in business or technology settings. Most Associate Degree programs start with a broad overview of the Web design field, affording students the chance to understand the context of their new profession.
As the degree program progresses, participants gain hands-on experience with Web design and Web publishing tools. In a quality associate degree program, Web design majors learn the fundamentals of art and design, so they can apply an aesthetic balance to even the most utilitarian projects.
Because associate degree programs in Web design aim to release graduates into the work force as quickly as possible, many colleges and universities offer comprehensive career counseling and job placement assistance. The fast-paced nature of the industry often puts alumni in positions to make hiring decisions after only a few years with a company. Therefore, you can get your own Web design career off to a quick start by enrolling in an Associate Degree program that maintains strong ties with recent graduates.
Bachelor's Degrees in Web Design
Bachelor's degrees in Web design combine the career skills of an associate degree with the broader knowledge of a traditional undergraduate program. In fact, many Web designers who earn an associate degree often enroll in Bachelor's degree completion programs that allow them to transfer credits from other schools or previous programs.
During a bachelor's degree program, Web design majors enroll in arts and humanities courses that help them place their work in the overall context of history and society. Web design majors take art history courses to understand the evolution of design and expression. Participants also absorb business skills in economics and accounting courses.
By the end of a bachelor's degree program, students gain all the skills to launch highly successful careers in Web design. They learn how to pull all their talents together so they can combine business objectives with creative principles.
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Web Design?
A strong Web design degree program can prepare you for all aspects of your career in information technology. Not only will you be able to translate your creative ideas into compelling Web presentations, you will be able to communicate effectively with clients and managers so you can build a Web site that helps them achieve their goals.
Though some Web design degree candidates focus all their efforts on developing their design or technical skills, an effective Web design degree program also exposes its students to business and writing programs. By blending strong Web design talents with other sales and communication skills, you can grow a rewarding career in a variety of professions.
Many Web design majors start their careers working in a design firm or for a company. Traditional advertising agencies and graphic design firms that have expended into multimedia production often employ Web designers as part of large, diverse teams. Team members work together to execute a master vision for a company's branding and customer service.
Web designers might work with graphic artists to convert images from corporate advertising into Web presentations. The same Web design professionals might also work with a company's public relations and customer satisfaction specialists to craft utilities that automate sales or fulfillment.
As smaller businesses incorporate the Web into their sales and marketing strategies, many companies have started to hire in-house Web designers. Working solo, but drawing on the extended resources of the online design community, in-house Web designers enjoy the challenge of helping their employers compete against larger businesses. Frequently, small businesses can often win customers away from larger companies by focusing on innovative, effective Web-based solutions.
Design Firm Principal
Over fifteen percent of working Web design professionals run their own design firms. Many Web design companies are true "one-man-bands," with one person hunting for business leads, then executing projects for clients. These "solopreneurs" enjoy the benefits of self-employment, such as making their own hours and crafting notable portfolios.
Freelance designers that effectively balance their business skills with their powerful design sense can often earn significantly more money by dropping in on short-term assignments for a variety of clients. With the help of online talent databases and directories, many designers can quickly attract clients from all over the world. It is not uncommon for a Web design firm principal to service an account for a client he or she has never met in person.
The most successful freelance Web designers often attract more business they can handle. At that point in their careers, they can expand their operations by bringing in some junior designers or assistants. As design firms grow larger, principals often hire dedicated sales teams to cultivate new business, leaving the designers to do the job they love best.
A growing number of Web design professionals help other designers and companies build truly effective Web sites by analyzing how Web site visitors actually enjoy the end product. Usability specialists help identify the pitfalls of using new technologies that have not been fully adopted by the public. They can also warn clients about Web designs that reflect an internal view of an organization that would not make sense to Web site visitors in the real world.
Though some usability specialists continue to design Web sites for clients and for employers, most experts in this narrow field work full time as authors and consultants. They travel the globe, performing laboratory studies that can prove the effectiveness of potential Web site designs. Using sophisticated tools, they track everything from the number of clicks it takes a visitor to accomplish their task to the exact spot on a screen where a visitor's eyeballs rest while waiting for pages to load.
Strong Web site usability separates truly effective Web sites from competitors that use unskilled amateurs or poorly executed Web templates. Since even a slight improvement in usability can earn a company millions of dollars in revenue, this group of experts tends to command large salaries and consulting fees for strong performance.
When the first wave of dot-com mania hit the United States in the early 1990s, it seemed like anyone who knew how to write a line of HTML found themselves earning ludicrous amounts of money working for (or running) a startup technology company. Unfortunately, very few of these original net-preneurs could convert their business models into stable, solvent companies.
Though it took some time for Web design professionals to come to grips with the reality of working for salary, the entrepreneurial spirit of the world wide Web refused to die. Many talented Web designers still put their skills to work as the owners of small businesses and startup companies that aim to solve customers' problems - without going bankrupt.
Many Web designers that work for design firms or large companies run their own small businesses on the side. These moonlighting projects can include small, editorial-based Weblogs that generate modest amounts of advertising revenue. They can also include highly ambitious projects that target a particular industry or technology for a total overhaul.
Preparing for Web Design Career Opportunities
Whether you choose an online Web design degree program or you decide to attend a physical campus, you can take a few key steps to assure your long term success as a Web design major. First, spend some time thinking about the kinds of projects you want to work on or the kinds of employers you want to work with. Your ideas can point you in the direction of programs that specialize in a key area like usability or animation.
A cutting-edge degree program in Web design will also require you to invest in a good computer. Fortunately, many colleges and universities offer you the chance to purchase or lease top-of-the-line computer equipment at software at significant educational discounts. You may want to wait to purchase your equipment until you enroll in your degree program, so you can take advantage of student pricing and attractive financing.
With such high demand for Web design professionals, many companies offer their employees the opportunity to participate in tuition reimbursement programs. These employee benefits can offer you the chance to prepare for promotion and advancement within your organization, while building skills that you can put to use in your current job immediately.
Even if you are considering enrolling in a Web design program on your own, check with your manager or your human resources department. Your company might offer learning opportunities, scholarships, or even full tuition programs just waiting to be taken advantage of.
Web Design Career Trends
Though compensation packages for Web designers might never again rise to the lofty heights of the "dot-com bubble," professional Web designers can still turn their skills into lucrative careers. Unlike other professionals that rely on vague management evaluations to justify requests for raises, Web designers produce consistent output that can be evaluated by reviewing audience measurements and sales figures.
In a recent survey of Web design professionals conducted by the trade publication ITtoolbox.com, about three in twenty Web design professionals worked as independent consultants or as solo freelancers. The most talented Web designers can bounce from project to project either within a design firm, or as a solo entrepreneur.
Clients and employers reward Web designers who can quickly and effectively translate a company's vision into a compelling Web presence. Now that many company employees can publish information directly to the Web, designers often focus on building strategies on a larger scale. Many professional designers build Web sites that can scale with a company's needs, reflecting changing tastes of consumers or company stakeholders as a site ages.
Instead of making Web design professionals obsolete, new Internet design and publishing technology requires professionals to learn new tools and techniques to compete in the global marketplace. Web designers who understand multiple tools and publishing platforms can find work more easily, since they can integrate themselves more quickly into the culture of a new client or a new workplace.
Web Design Licensing and Certification
Although professional Web designers do not require licenses or certification to gain employment, a number of industry organizations and software publishers offer voluntary certification programs. These programs can help assure prospective employers that a new designer understands the specifics of a publishing tool. Voluntary certification programs also help veteran Web designers stay abreast of new techniques and technologies. Trade organizations also offer vital networking opportunities, along with traditional benefits like health insurance for self-employed Web design professionals.
Associations and Certification Bodies
- International Webmasters Association - Voluntary certification and networking organization.
- Webgrrls - International networking association for women in Web design and development.
- W3C: The World Wide Web Consortium - International policy group maintains consistent standards for World Wide Web language, design, and development.