How To Grow as a Designer by Building Your Own Network


Being part of a web design and development community offers you many possibilities and chances for self-development. Each one of us knows about these communities and, at some point in time or another, wished or even was part of one of them. Knowing other individuals in your industry is something I recommend to everybody, as you can get a lot of help from such experts. Communities are not only created around people, but also around offline web design agencies, which give you even a better set of possibilities and a different network that you can use during your career.

Design, development, social media, marketing or blogging (part of the web in general) are industries evolving a lot lately and this will not stop soon. Working by yourself was an option more than five years ago, but today things have changed and many of us have started to outsource in order to finish projects faster and earn more money. Being part of such a network or community can help you develop your skills and bring new people around you. In this article I will talk about why it is important to keep yourself close to these networks and in the end we will take a look at some of the well-known ones as of this period. Moreover, we will see if building your own network is an option.

Image by CubaGallery.

Main asset

A community is important because it brings us all together and this helps us to grow individually and as a group of experts. Fashion, football (and sports in general), computers and other devices – some niches off the top of my head that enjoy large support communities. And we, designers and developers, have that too.

Communities are important and helpful for personal development because they feature tutorials, forums, posts, advice, tips and so on. If you do not have a university degree, there is a high chance that all you know about designing is due to one of these communities. People share their knowledge, often for free. As a famous advertising campaign says, sharing is caring. It seems we all care a lot about each other in this industry.

A good example could be the articles we post here on 1WD. We take our time to write articles for you, while others from the community come and share even more in the comments. This is one of the ways to learn a lot – by reading and interacting with people from your own industry.

The trick of our field is that everything evolves and changes fast. If you don’t pay attention to the trends, you will find yourself knowing too much about old stuff and not enough about what is really important. Spending money all the time on books would be ineffective for us, as many books get renewed and improved two-three times per year, due to the industry advancing so fast. In order to avoid spending so much money, you can always turn your attention to networks and communities on the internet.

If you look at it from another point of view, being part of design communities can get even more helpful. Try to look back and remember how many frameworks, resources and tools you’ve used – many of them provided by these communities. And then try to remember how many of them were free of charge. Now imagine how much time or money you would have to spend to use those things if you needed to develop them yourself or to hire someone to do it for you. And let’s move our attention to the things that are not free. Even the premium resources are delivered very cheap compared to the market price; all this thanks to the design and development communities.

WordPress, Boilerplate, CodeIgniter, Drupal, GIMP, Inkscape – how many times have you used these open-source tools? It may come as a surprise to you, but all of them were developed by these communities at some point or another. Now don’t get me wrong, I am sure WordPress is a money powerhouse today, but looking back in the past, it all started as a community project.

Image by steven w.

And to top it off, communities are helpful at something else as well – and that is probably the most important asset. Getting recommended there happens quite often and outsourcing happens most of the time inside these communities. Only if and after not finding someone suitable, freelancers use third-party websites to search for individuals to work with, otherwise everything starts off from communities like forums or blogs.

Types of networks

All of us can create our own communities or networks, but most of us prefer to use the ones already populated with experts and people with years of experience in the field. If you are a freelancer developing small jQuery sliders, you can offer them on your website, which is likely to bring you some success, or to collaborate with a huge network such as Nettuts, which will probably bring you a lot of referrals and possibly even money.

However, I am sure all of us start from social media. We share lots of interesting links on Facebook and Twitter and it is probably where lone developers or designers start.

Blogs are also considered networks. Not so much personal blogs as the ones related to a specific topic or an industry. 1stWebDesigner is an example. With a blog getting bigger, the community behind it gets bigger as well. All these blogs turned into communities develop side-projects, just as here at 1WD we publish eBooks for Amazon’s Kindle.

Some other popular communities might be forums (CodingForums is hot), social networks, web pages and so on.

What more is in it for you?

I am sure most of you know the answer to this question by now. We talked about advantages a bit earlier. But there is more than just open-source tools and support. You can gain a lot by starting such a community yourself, by creating an application or an open-source tool people can use. By getting involved, others can hear about you and your reputation within the industry will grow as fast as you never experienced before. If you want to build a community, there are some steps you might want to start with – it is usually how everybody starts. It is not a success guaranteed method, but it will aid your cause.

Knowing how to use social media properly will give you a huge advantage over the others. Don’t forget that your short-term goal is to get as many people as you can interested in your product. There is no better way of doing this than using Twitter, Facebook, Digg and the other social sharing giants. Use all these to share links, tips, resources and ask for feedback. Engage the community as this will make a whole buzz around you and it will bring you even more interest.

If you like writing, blogging is also a way to aid your start-up. It doesn’t even have to be a full-time job, but having a blog that you update once or twice per week will keep people interested. Experts advise bloggers to update the content far more often than this, but don’t forget you are not a blogger, rather you are a developer or a designer. Blogging is only a way to help yourself, you don’t look to earn money out of it.

If you are involved in other communities and networks, this will improve your reputation as well. Be involved in as many as you can, talk to people, share their links, interact with them over social media and so on. Getting involved is one of the best ways to get recognized and earn people’s respect.

Image by Doug88888.

I read an article a few months ago about social media strategies. The author mentioned the fact that a retweet is not as effective as when a personal comment is included. It also makes a lot of sense. You need not create articles that are robot sharing, rather you need to add a personal touch to them when sharing. Real popular communities are based on active people who get involved on a professional and personal level, not on social media robots.

If you have knowledge of something worth sharing, don’t keep it to yourself. Be selfless and give advice. Help people if they need it. Offer them tips and show them the right path if you’ve been there before. It is also about earning respect and getting recognized. You might not get much in the short-term, but you will earn a lot in the long-term out of being generous.

If you have your own community, providing tools or services for free will always bring you traffic and referrals. People love free stuff, it is a general and an easy-to-notice behavior. Doing something to improve the communities will bring you appreciation.

Upon providing freebies, you can also create something you sell for a cheap price. This will not only help you earn some money, but it will show your community you also do more quality work – not that free stuff are not of good quality, but there is a reason behind them being free. If you think you can make something that people will pay for, go for it!

Examples of networks

I think we talked a lot about the advantages of joining a community and it should be clear for you that you get much more out of it than out of any other activity on the internet.

Now, let’s take a look at the most popular and well-working web design and development networks. I am sure you heard about most of them, but we recap just for the ones who are new to the industry and look for inspiration.

  • It is fairly impossible not to start with the Smashing Magazine Network. They are an example of professionalism and represent something that many other communities can only long for. They do not only have blogs about web design, web development, graphics and vectors, but also a job board. Parts of their networks are also sections such as “Coding”, “UX Design” and “WordPress”. They focus on everything a newbie or an expert would like to have knowledge of and this is the place to get inspired if you wish to build your own network some time.
  • Envato is another great example. The network features many websites related to the topic and, quite impossible not to have heard of, the Tuts+ network. Envato is probably the largest community out there and is built on several smaller communities such as FreelanceSwitch, ThemeForest and PSDTuts. They really talk about everything in the industry and not keeping an eye on them is definitely a mistake for an individual interested in the web.
  • One Mighty Roar is a bit smaller than the others – they are actually in their beginning phase, but they become more popular day by day. Their smaller community called “Build Internet” is a web development blog and is where it all started. After the huge success they had, One Mighty Roar opened their own offline web development agency.
  • Fuel Brand Network is the last example in this list. It is a network composed of several smaller web pages about coding, blogging and others. They are all under the same visual identity, but with a different color, and have a lovely overall brand.

Bottom line

There are clear advantages not only from building your own network, but also from being part of ones that already exist on the internet. Creating such a powerful community is not easy, not anybody can pull off such a huge task. The examples above show that the ones who actually manage to do it, do not only help themselves, but tens of thousands of designers and developers all over the world.

I am sure being able to provide help and resources to so many people gives you a pleasant feeling of personal fulfillment and earns you a lot of respect from others.

Even if you do not think you are able to build your own network, it is definitely worth joining some others and helping people there. The truth is that an individual needs huge resources to be able to build and maintain such a community and not everybody has them. If after this article you think even of just being part of a design or development network and contributing as much as possible, then my goal is achieved.

Until next time… are you part of online communities? Have you ever thought of building your own, or you just want to help others using networks already established? Which do you think are the challenges of building such a community?



  1. James

    I agree with Katiero, it’s important to have a networking strategy both online and offline for building relationships with prospects and potential clients. Sharing content and ideas that may be useful to those prospects is one way to start building these relationships. Some good points in your article though, Christian.

  2. Paul Rubino

    I can elaborate for you Christian. What Katiero is referring to is the challenge we as designer’s, whether it’s in print, web, or other, all face. Which is how and where to focus our efforts, and whether to place a priority on recognition for our work by industry peers, which in more cases than not, gets more awards and articles written about you than money, or to be more client driven and produce work that may not be industry recognized, but puts money in the bank, and how successful you are is directly related to the amount of work you produce and get paid for as opposed to the amount of your work that simply just gets printed in books and shown on projector’s at design conferences.

    I believe there IS a balance that can be found, and the ultra successful people in our industry are the ones who’ve achieved that balance. If you’re a designer on either side of this spectrum and are looking to find that balance, reexamining your networking strategy would be a good start.

    But like anything else in life, different people have different goals and aspirations. Some will take the honors over the dollars, others are just concerned with making their mortgage payments and putting food on the table, and then there are the ones who after achieving the recognition, know how to use it to their financial benefit.

    I’m still in the making my mortgage payments and food on the table category, and I’m definitely not someone who desires to seek industry recognition at the expense of that. I work full-time for a global powerhouse entertainment company and while I often attempt to challenge the status quo for the way design is done, I know in the end, my number one priority is to give the client (employee) what’s being asked for. Either way, I do it to the best of my ability and continually look to improve and add to my skillset.

    And when I sometimes fell like I’m getting stale, that’s when I can rely on seeking out more creative exploration in my side work and personal work—when time actually allows for it of course.

  3. Danny

    Hey caught this post on BlogEngage and you seem to bring up some valid points. Totally agreeing with much of the content – designers need to network and build up their brand image. And most important we need to work together!

  4. Jason

    This is good advice that can apply to many different fields — networking is huge. I can’t tell you how important it is to get out there and get known. People are willing to help others out if they just know you are there and what you need. Get out and get known!

  5. Katiero Porto

    I think that most web designers are more concerned with others designer’s opinions than the client opinion, and that’s a problem if we are talking about someone who the main goal is to make a living designing websites. That’s why I prefer to build a network full of prospects and potential clients, than a network full of fellows and colleagues that are looking for the same thing I am; more customers and more money.

    I know a lot of designers that are doing amazing jobs, showcased everywhere, and broken, and I know even more designers that are doing mediocre jobs, but their bank accounts are loaded with nice and green money.

    That’s a nice topic for a post, don’t you agree? I have an idea for the title:

    Reputation versus money – How to balance both sides

    • Christian Vasile

      Hi Katiero! Your article idea is a bit vague, can you talk further about it?