How to become a web designer in 2023

Learn how to become a web designer step-by-step. Discover the tools and resources you need to enter the web design industry as a full-time or freelance web designer.

12 min read

July 27, 2022

Learn web design
how to become a web designer guide

If you’re looking for a career change that’s financially and creatively rewarding, web design is a great choice. With big names in tech like Apple and Google blazing the way for design-centered approaches to business, there’s never been a better time to become a web designer.

But learning web design can be a little overwhelming, especially if you have a background outside of tech or graphic design. Thankfully, there are plenty of options for any kind of skill level and budget.

Let’s dive into how to become a web designer in 2023. 

What's the role of a web designer?

Web designers are responsible for designing the presentation, interface, and user experience of a website. This includes creating designs that are visually appealing and that function in a way that helps visitors find what they need. 

Web designers are responsible for designing the presentation, interface, and user experience of a website.

Web designers need both creative and analytical thinking. In addition to practical technical skills, web designers also need strong soft skills. Other web designer day-to-day responsibilities often include:

  • Sharing design mockups with clients or stakeholders and incorporating feedback
  • Applying branding guidelines to a new website
  • Understanding user needs and incorporating them into designs
  • Explaining design principles and theories to stakeholders or clients
  • Collaborating with web developers to achieve the desired design results

In short, every website you visit and every app you use on the internet has a web designer’s fingerprints on it. They chose the color theme, designed the interface elements, and stitched together images and other elements to create a compelling website that you want to visit. 

Web design vs. web development

Keep in mind that, while web designers and developers often collaborate, web design is distinct from web development. Web developers are concerned with coding websites and making them functional for users, while a web designer’s job is to make sure a website is attractive and user-friendly before passing it off to a web developer. 

That said, understanding how web developers break down designs and craft them into functional websites is an important skill for every web designer to know.  

Top skills web designers need

Web design requires a variety of different skills. From web design theory and UX principles to technical knowledge and soft skills, there’s a vast sea of concepts you’ll need to familiarize yourself with to become a successful web designer.

✔️ UI and visual design principles

Every web designer needs a solid foundation in visual design principles. In short, visual design (or UI design), is all about communicating visually. It’s how you determine both the aesthetics and the layout of a website, and it includes everything from color theory and composition to typography. 

Some other principles of visual design on the web include:

  • Hierarchy
  • Understanding how content impacts design choices
  • Responsive design

While you don't need to be a stunning artist to practice visual design, a good grounding in sketching helps. Sketching is both a communication tool during the early stages of the design process as well as an ideation tool for iterating through design ideas before the heavy lifting begins.

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✔️ UX design principles

If the visual design is half of the web design equation, user experience design is the other half. Good UX is all about creating a pleasant experience for people using a website. It’s about understanding a user’s pain points and designing interactions to alleviate them.

In short, user experience is about making a website as painless and easy to use as possible for everyone who visits it.

UX rests firmly in the center of the creative and analytical. While it requires a sharp design eye and creative skills to solve user problems, the solutions to these problems come from the users themselves. It involves user testing, personas, journey maps, and more. It also involves testing potential designs using wireframes and prototypes — long before the final design work is done. 

✔️ Technical skills

Most people think of web design as a purely creative field, but it definitely requires some technical aptitude. A web designer should have basic knowledge of HTML and CSS, for example. While you don't need to be an expert in either one, it’s important to understand these front-end development skills and how programming languages work and what the limitations and constraints are for web design. 

HTML is the language used to structure the content on a web page, which ties in directly with the hierarchical elements you’ll need to know to create good layouts.

CSS is what gives pages their styles. It’s how you adjust an element's positions, apply colors, and change fonts.

An understanding of HTML also ties directly into SEO (search engine optimization), which skilled web designers need to know about. Search engines like Google read, parse, and rank websites using HTML tags.

Understanding the basics of how this process works will make you a much stronger designer. 

✔️ Soft skills

Lastly, web designers require excellent soft skills. Web design is inherently collaborative, so great communication skills are necessary for working with other designers, developers and stakeholders. Freelance web designers also need good negotiation and digital marketing skills to find clients and build relationships with them. 

Whether you're a freelance web designer or work for an agency, you’ll need to communicate with stakeholders regularly to get feedback and update them on progress. You’ll also need the ability to explain design choices you made, which can sometimes take some convincing if the person on the other end doesn’t understand your decision straight away. 

All of this ties into understanding business goals, too. From a design perspective, your user is the primary focus. But you also need to understand how a focus on the user translates into business goals. And you need to know how to communicate this to executives or clients. 

web designer portfolio illustration

How to become a web designer in 7 steps

Web design clearly requires a variety of creative, analytical, and soft skills. It’s certainly not a discipline you can learn overnight. But with dedication, passion and the right learning path, carving out a new career in web design is easier than you think.

Let’s find out how.

📚 1. Study up on web design fundamentals

As with any discipline, the first step is to gain a solid foundation in the fundamentals. This includes everything mentioned above as well as concepts such as web design theory, color theory, composition, typography, and more.

There are a few ways you can go about learning these fundamentals:

  • Formal education at a college or university
  • Paid bootcamps and certified online courses
  • Self-training with books and online resources

There are no right or wrong answers here — it depends on your learning style, budget, and what you want out of your learning journey. Some people thrive in a traditional environment with more structure. Others are better at learning at their own pace with books and free resources. 

If you crave structured learning but balk at the idea of spending 4 years or more in college, Dribbble’s 16-Week Certified Product Design Course covers everything you need to build great products for the web and launch your career in only 16 weeks.

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⚙️ 2. Find the right web design tools

Web designers are craftspeople, and craftspeople need great tools. While there are platforms that help you design without dedicated tools (touched on below), most web designers know their way around these industry-standard tools.

  • Figma: Arguably the industry leader in the UI design space, Figma is the newest tool on the scene. It’s also a vector-based UI tool with an approach similar to Sketch and XD. Figma, however, has industry-leading collaboration features that set it apart from the others. It’s also a web-based tool, meaning anyone with a web browser can use it.
  • Adobe Photoshop: Once regarded as the gold standard for all things design, it’s worth having some familiarity with Adobe Photoshop. While there are now other tools better suited for web and interface design, Photoshop is a mainstay for image manipulation.
  • Adobe XD: This Adobe tool is much better suited for web and interface design work. It’s a vector-based tool made for designing interfaces, interactions, and other visual elements for modern websites and apps. And because it’s part of the Adobe ecosystem, it works well alongside Photoshop and Illustrator.
  • Sketch: Sketch was the first tool available for creating modern, vector-based interfaces for the web and other digital platforms. Built specifically for macOS, it’s an excellent and easy-to-use application for designing modern interfaces, from wireframing to prototyping.

Keep in mind, this list isn’t exhaustive. These days, designers have a plethora of tools to choose from based on their preferences and budgets. Serif’s Affinity apps, for example, are great low-cost alternatives to Photoshop and Illustrator. 

The bottom line? 

Don’t get too hung up on which tools you use. Find ones that work for you and focus on learning the fundamentals and leveling up your web design skills. Once you’ve done this, you can easily move between different tools later.

💻 3. Learn common web design platforms

If you’re working on a major project with multiple stakeholders and a team of designers, you’ll likely collaborate with developers to bring your designs to life. But there are tools to help bridge the gap between design and functionality. Known as no-code or low-code platforms, they can help web designers build functional websites without writing much code.

You don't have to master all of these platforms. Try out a few and stick to the ones you prefer.

  • WordPress: If you’ve been on the web for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of WordPress. The original blogging platform still powers a respectable amount of websites in the wild. Designing a custom theme for WordPress is the least user-friendly of these options, but learning to do so will strengthen your design skills considerably.
  • Webflow: Webflow is a no-code platform made for designing and hosting websites visually. This web-based, drag-and-drop approach gives designers the ability to design, build and publish websites without writing a single line of code. At the same time, you can peek behind the curtain and tweak code manually, so it’s a good tool to use if you want to learn the technical aspects of web design.
  • Editor X: This tool is similar to Webflow in its approach to designing and publishing websites with a web-based, drag-and-drop interface. The key difference is that Editor X takes a collaborative approach. If you’re collaborating with a group of designers and you’re short on coders, Editor X is worth a look.
  • Wix: Like the previous web-based editors, Wix offers designers a way to build and publish websites using a customizable interface. But while Webflow and Editor X are geared toward advanced users, Wix is aimed at less tech-savvy people. If you’d prefer to build simple websites without bogging yourself down with technicalities, Wix is a good platform to focus on.
  • Squarespace: Squarespace is a direct competitor to Wix. Both platforms offer the same user-friendly approach to drag-and-drop web development, but Squarespace is a little more curated and opinionated than Wix. 

👩‍💻 4. Build a body of work

Once you reach the level where you’re ready to apply for web design jobs, you’ll likely face this age-old challenge: Employers want designers with experience, but how do you get experience without the job? It’s the chicken and the egg problem.

A polished website with a great design that you created as a side project can speak just as clearly as the one you made for an employer. Try creating a blog or website based on one of your personal interests. If you’re short on ideas, redesigning a popular website works too.

Another idea is to locate nonprofits you care about and offer to redesign their websites. Many of these organizations don’t have the resources to put into design initiatives. Turning a clunky website with bad UX into a stunning display of your design prowess is a great way to gain experience and do some good!

"One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve received is to create the work you want to get paid to make. This mentality has always driven my passion for creating designs for myself, experimenting with new ideas, and letting the rest fall into place." Patrick Moriarty

💫 5. Create an online portfolio

With any design discipline, portfolios are essential. Whether you’re looking to get freelance design clients or applying for a web design job, you need to wow the people on the other end by demonstrating your skills and abilities. 

To do that, though, you need to approach your portfolio like a designer. Think about the target audience and their best possible experience with your portfolio. Your portfolio should be easy to use, have a clear message, and provide your visitors with what they need to understand what kind of designer you are.

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💼 6. Apply to web design jobs

Once you’ve gained the skills and experience to create websites, the next step is landing your first few web design jobs. If you're looking for exciting and creatively fulfilling opportunities in web design, Dribbble's #1 design job board is one of the best resources you’ll find. You can also get daily freelance design leads emailed to you every day and unlock more exclusive freelancer perks with a Dribbble Pro Business membership.

Note, you’ll probably want to take the time to spruce up your resume too. While your design portfolio is far more important, it doesn’t hurt to give potential clients and hiring managers a taste of your creative flair with a punchy resume design.

🤝 7. Preparing for web design interviews

With the right skills and a fresh web design portfolio, you’re more than ready to start interviewing for your dream full-time or freelance web designer jobs.

While it’s impossible to predict how every company conducts interviews, there are often two approaches when it comes to design interviews. 

Some companies opt for a more knowledgeable and demonstrative approach. They’ll ask technical questions to test your skills. Other companies will focus more on your portfolio and how you’ll fit within their team.

Either way, you’ll need to do your homework to make sure you’re ready once you land your first interview. Part of that entails researching the company you’re interviewing with. The other part is knowing how to answer some of the more common web design interview questions that come your way.

web designer jobs illustration

The future of web design

Web design is a creative discipline, without question. But the web evolves quickly, and web design changes just as fast. If you want to be a successful web designer, you’ll need to stay up to date on the latest web design trends and changes.

That means dedicating yourself to your ongoing education by learning new web design tools and design software, following quality publications, and keeping a finger on the pulse of the design community. 

Artificial intelligence, for example, is shaping the future of web design. Dubbed artificial design intelligence, algorithms are already capable of designing logos and writing poetry.

While the technology isn’t quite mature enough for everyday design work, it’s on the horizon, and its arrival into mainstream design and technology is inevitable.

Start your web design career today

If you love blending your analytical skills and creativity, a web design career might be for you. And with countless tools, courses, and resources at your fingertips, there’s never been a better time to launch a new career in web design. Whether you’re looking at a paid course or you’re a self-paced learner, there’s an opportunity for you.

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