10 Things You Should Know About Being A Web Designer


Web design is not the most noble job in the world. We don’t save lives or build houses for the poor kids of Africa. We create visual experiences on the internet. Our job has its own ups and downs and rules that not everybody agrees with and there are obviously things you should know about this career if you plan on getting serious about it. You can find here a list of things you might want to know about being a web designer that will help on easing you in the business.

Clients are hard to deal with

Well, not all of them, but the majority of them will create a lot of stress for you and you won’t be happy to hear from them again soon. They put the money in your pocket, so you always have to try and bring their vision to life. There is a very funny illustration on the internet that talks about this topic better than I could ever; you can enjoy it here. Many times you will have to deal with this situation and might design a product you are not entirely happy with. But because the client pays, you will have to finish it. Later on I will tell you why this should not be a problem.

But wait, there is more. Not signing a proper contract might cause you headaches, because the clients will try to make you work more for them for free. This is why you need to have a solid contract signed by both parties before you start working. Never skip this part. Never!

Sign a contract with the client before starting the project

Not all clients are like that, some of them will even pay everything beforehand and then hand you some more bucks for small adjustments, but that’s quite rare. This only happens with clients who don’t know how the internet works and thinks that a web designer is quite hard to find. Therefore be aware of the “big sharks” of the internet, who’ve done this kind of job hundreds of times before and know how easily a designer can be manipulated, because he needs a specific amount of money at the end of the month – we all do; in the end, nobody works just for fun.

Get out there and make a name for yourself

It is very lame when web designers go to interviews with an empty portfolio. Nothing shows more disinterest and laziness than the empty portfolio of a so-called web designer. Don’t expect to be hired and to create a portfolio for yourself afterwards, because nobody will hire you in the first place. Don’t forget you compete with people who polished their skills by working hundreds of hours for clients and who have a portfolio full of good work and promising testimonials. What do you have besides the “I want to provide high-quality services to this company” cliché?

Have a high-quality portfolio to show clients

Sure, it might take a lot of work for free, but this will bring you something that no payment can: experience. Once you have that experience, you are ready for a bigger job, but until then you have to go out and find some work. You can find churches, groups, hobby clubs and so on; all these would be happy to extend their presence on the internet and you are right there to offer it – for a low price or even for free. That’s how everybody starts, nobody hires web designers without a portfolio. It is entirely your responsibility to create a name and a brand for yourself and you shouldn’t expect to get the big bucks until you do it.

Have a clear target

One of the things you need to do at an interview for a freelance job is to define the product you will deliver. Today everybody can do some design and why would a boss hire you when his 15-year-old son can do the same for pocket money? You have to specify what exactly it is you can deliver, from SEO to social media integration and a content management system which you develop yourself. Many clients think a website has these features included anyway and won’t even consider paying more for them. This is why you have to specify from the beginning the nature of your project and the targets.

The client is not always right

Yes, you’ve heard me right. You were not hired to be liked by the boss. You were hired to provide a good, high-quality solution. If the client knows nothing about web design, how can he give you tips and advice, like in the illustration above? If you provide a great tool for his business, which generates profit, you are very likely to be hired back even if you didn’t listen to the client’s tips. There is no doubt about the fact that you are the expert and you should decide upon most of the project. Sure, hearing out ideas is not a bad thing and it’s recommended, but following the bad ones is stupid and will never help you create a strong name. If you do what the client wants and end up with a crappy website, you might have to avoid putting it in your portfolio. You don’t want people to know you’ve made it. But what are you interested in, having a high-quality portfolio, with work you are proud of, or earning money from different projects and, when a big opportunity arises, show up with an empty portfolio or with poor websites?

Remember once you’ve signed the contract (be aware of what it stipulates), you are the one who takes the most important decisions on a website, not the client. He hired you to do what you are good at; you’re the expert, not him. If he wanted someone he could order around, he has thousands of employees to do that with.

Design for the user

This is a big one. The design is the most important part of the user experience, although it’s very easy to find successful people on the internet who might argue with me. Craigslist is the best example: no design, no brand, huge success. But this is rare, don’t think that if Craigslist managed it, you will too. Design for the user and all the time think of how they interact with a website. It might be a good idea to ask the client what kind of clients he has. What kind of people are them, what do they do for a living, how much time they spend on the internet and so on. This is important to consider when designing for the user.

The User Experience is built on these layers

Once done, leave it like it is

Once you’ve finished the product, delivered it, earned the money and shook hands, it’s done. The product is not yours anymore. Take screenshots of it in its final form and then let it go. If the client wants to destroy it with low-resolution images, a poor logo or disproportionate font, it’s entirely his problem.

You should offer guidelines and help him in the beginning, but if he can’t keep the nice design you’ve made for more than a few weeks without messing it up, it is not your problem anymore. This means he needs a Web Master who can take care of his website on a full-time or part-time job for money. Or you can do it – for money too, obviously.

Don’t send desperate e-mails few months after the delivery saying that this does not look good and you should do this another way. It is simply not your problem anymore, so let it go already!

It never works from the first time

Web design is one of those jobs which eats the energy out of you and drives you crazy all the time with simple problems that have simple solutions. A selector does not work, you can’t make the hover color brighter for whatever reason, the database shows you an error each time you use it or the content does not update if you press the required button. All these problems have been and will be the ones which drive us all crazy. Don’t expect that once you start coding, it will be done within a matter of hours. It will not! It will take days, weeks or even months, depending on the size of the project, but expect having problems and be ready to go out for short walks many times.

Stressed worker

“No” is an answer too

Many designers avoid saying “no” because they might upset the client; but, as said before, you are not hired to be liked by the client, but to show your worth and skills by developing a solution the client will be happy with on the medium and long-term period.

It is also OK to say “no” to a client who wants to hire you only because you have a solid portfolio and can be picky if you want to. This doesn’t mean you should reject all the projects that might, at some point in time, cause you stress and headaches, but try avoiding those clients that you know you don’t like working with. Declining clients and turning down offers is something every one of us does now and then, so don’t be afraid of saying  no to projects you know you won’t fit in.

"No" is a valid answer too

Be a master of something

You’ve probably heard before of Jacks of all trades, Master of none. You shouldn’t be one of them. It is OK to have skills in multiple fields, but be outstanding in one of them. You need something that makes you perfect for a job. “Web designer” is a very broad term, a web designer can do lots of things. What kind of web designer are you? Focusing on social media integration, nice and clean designs, fresh and clean code and so on. You need to be very good in something and market yourself accordingly. The fact that you can do more is OK, but don’t rely on it too much. Nobody will hire you for a complex project if you have basic knowledge in everything needed. You have to own more than that.

Tools don’t matter that much

This might seem a strange one, but just look in the past. Facebook is the new MySpace. Broadband internet connection is the new AOL. HTML5 is the most exciting technology right now. CSS3 is the new CSS1. Flash is on its way out. ASP.net will be out in maximum five years. Terms like WAP, FBML or Perl tend to become unimportant today, because nobody needs them anymore.

Tools for webdesigners

The average life span for a web technology is around five years – right now; who knows in the future? Do you think that in 10 years you will be able to impress your client with a strong HTML5 portfolio? Definitely no.

The answer to this problem is constant learning and improvement. Reading and learning about new technologies and then learning how and where to use them is the way to be successful. Maybe you are not an expert today, but you have the chance to transform into one in few years time, when the new technologies appear. While the current experts will be too busy with their projects, you will have time to learn the new technologies and go out there and market yourself as an expert. This is the way you will create a strong career for yourself.

Bottom line

Being a web designer requires many skills not everybody can have, and the more things you are capable of, the more chances you have to get a good job. The portfolio is the most important thing for a web designer, therefore put a lot of effort into it, even if you will have to do some volunteer jobs – it could pay off in the end. Market yourself as an expert in something, not a Jack of all trades, and then try to improve all the time. This is the key to success in every career, but in web design it is crucial if you plan on doing this on a long-term basis.

More to read

There are not many articles similar to this one on the internet, but I’ve tried my best to find some close ones:

30 Things You Have To Know About Being a Web Designer on 1stwebdesigner

The Funny Thing About Being a Web Designer on ClickNathan

5 Reasons Why I Love Being a Web Designer on My Ink Blog

10 Things You Can Do To Become a Better Web Designer on VanSeoDesign

The Roadmap To Becoming a Professional Freelance Web Designer on Smashing Magazine



  1. Camille Evian

    Hi Christian,

    This is a great article and I think you’ve exactly defined what a web designer has to do!

  2. Nick

    The number one requirement for being a web design is MIND READING. Yes, you heard me right, you have to know what your client wants even when they don’t.

    This is actually the reason I partnered with a larger company… just so I didn’t have to deal with billing and client acquisition.

  3. Lisa

    Thanks, the tips in this article are really useful, especially to a newbie like me. I already have no illusions that design is an art – it is more of a business because you deal with clients and schedules and the point is how to keep your creativity alive when there are so many errands every day. Maybe if you keep designing for fun and not for a living, you can make it more enjoyable because you don’t have to worry about payments from the client and all the other things but I don’t think many people can afford it. Lucky are those who design for fun and pleasure only!

  4. Michael

    Some great tips here for aspiring web designers. All I’d say really is that it’s a lot of hard work and certainly not an easy route to lots of money like some think it is. Also, if you think trawling through hundreds of lines of javascript is glamorous – you’re in for a shock.

  5. Justin

    I’m a web designer myself, the problem nowadays, almost all companies and freelancers use templates, no one has the time to think or come up with a good concept, which is really bad for real designers, and it can’t be named competition, as even the templates are not treated well :)
    In my opinion the design field itself is going down, by the people taking $10 for a logo , while we used to take $2000 for a logo, and same concept for the websites.

  6. melanie

    I am a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades and I honestly admit that I do not master anything right now. It’s just makes me want to learn whenever I see something new and interesting so I always end up learning the basic of the basic from the stuff out there. I wish I would change my habit though. :D

  7. fauzone

    Hi Christian…

    You said that we should get written contract with the clients. But how do you think to get the contract if we work online & never meet the clients?

  8. Marco

    Despite how hard the first rule is, I guess in the end I do things because I love what I do. I am currently facing the “is done” phase. This guy is tacking me thing after thing and I am too damn scared to charge the guy.

  9. Isaac Brake

    This is great!

    I have begun to say no to clients more and more. Things that are spammy or just poor quality i.e. I fired a client who insisted on music starting as soon as the site opened. No. No. No.

    Great post!

  10. Bill

    very deep article. I have some clients they dont have know anything and it’s really made me sad.

  11. Jon

    I found it good practice to take a screen shot of the web page before you make the changes that a client requests. The webpage could take a turn for the worst and the last thing you want is a site you cannot add to your portfolio. I spent sometime reverting pages offline just to take a screenshots for my portfolio….

  12. cikeo

    Great list. If I could also add one.

    ‘People think that web designer means web developer’. They might not know they are asking for two different things, which is where educating your client comes into play. However not all designers are developers and not all developers are designers.

    I run into this everyday. Admittedly the line is becoming more and more blurred. However it isn’t completely gone, not yet.

  13. Vik

    Personally: I’ve never made a contract in my life. Even when I might have think about it after a couple of bad experiences I came up with a different solution to the problem: I never deal with assholes.
    Seems like your base problem is communication. I always talk real and deep things that I think they area a bad idea, the sooner the better; most of times I’m right, some of them not so right and I learned that I’m happier not being chained to a contract and free to say an old-fashioned “fuck you!” whenever I deal with dumb and restrictive people because contracts can be re-interpreted in more than one way and just cannot be as long to describe perfectly the nature of the job… failing to do so will put you to in a position similar to a hooker with a metally disabled costumer; that’s the part of capitalism that really does not work.

  14. Morgan

    Yes, we agree with Michela Cappelli that once you start going, it’s the selling rather than in the area of design as a business. Without sales, every business is doomed to tank.

  15. Saad

    I want to come back to the point on leaving the project once it’s complete.

    I know that it is best practice to deliver and forget since you can the focus on something else. The problem is that, today, most clients demand that everything is simplified for them and clearly want to keep their website updated with beautiful content. Since in my portfolio for example, I link back to the original website, I don’t want my potential clients to fall on a low res version of what I designed.

    What I suggest: If it takes signing a long term maintenance contract with your client, probably get some design savy person to maintain the site for your clients. Many people would love to make some quick money. They make money, you keep your work clean and worth showing off. I don’t think a simple screenshot is able to describe a website experience, especially with modern devlopement laguages.

  16. Tqen

    What a fantastic article. Bravo! Every point is exactly as you say it is. I wouldn’t change a thing. I agree most with two things. You should always be able to say no to your clients ideas – you are the professional designer, not them. Also, when the project is over, it’s over! I’ve been bitten by this one in the early days. Clients will abuse the he’ll out of your goodwill if you don’t draw a clear finish line.

  17. Jason

    This is a great list for any freelancer to get started with. I realized early on that my portfolio would be one of the most important parts of my business. I have been building onto it steadily as I get projects completed. In fact, this post has reminded me of a couple projects I just completed that I have to add.

  18. Larry James

    Great article Christian, I built my portfolio designing websites for next to nothing. I pulled many all nighters, and then went to work at my 9 to 5 in the morning. Now that I have my portfolio built and my skills established, clients still want something for nothing. As you mentioned in the article, the contract is a must.

  19. Wasim Ismail

    Being a web designer or a graphic designer, one thing for sure, ensure that you have everything documented with the client, and the project is very clear. As sometimes you will start the project and end up doing more for what you have quoted the client.
    It’s just like painting your living room, you start painting your living room, and then you think might as well do the Kitchen, than the hall way, before you know it, you have pained your whole house.

  20. Rob

    The job would be really easy if it wasn’t for clients – however, web design is a service, and we must strive to provide excellent service to our clients as they are our lifeblood. Sometimes this can be a challenge, other times, it’s a joy. At the end of the day, it’s the web designer’s responsibility to give the client a site that achieves the client’s goals – that’s why the client’s paying you. Sometimes they want things you don’t agree with – either give them solid evidence why it’s a bad idea, or voice a concern and build it for them – it’s their choice. The customer is always right, even when they’re wrong :)

  21. Sadly, the client part is the first you learn. You’re not in the business of graphic/web/design. You’re in the business of selling. It was harsh for me to digest this fact at start. It still is sometimes.

  22. Panos

    I agree with much you said. I’m both a developer and a designer and for me it’s all about creation on multiple levels. And yes the client is NOT always right. I’ve come to the point of breaking a contract because of the endless changes the client demanded. I care first about my dignity and then about the money and if you’re generally good in what you do people will accept and appreciate your work.