Where should I start with Web Design and Development?

Articles by Vlad Tudor, 17 Oct.2015

The first steps are always the most important and difficult, especially for those that don’t like to breakout from their comfort zone. If you decided to try a career in the web industry – consider you made your first step – by taking this decision. In this article I will present some of the reasons you might want to start and things to lookout for.

THE DOUBT: “Should I give it a try or leave it for later?”

Many out there hit the question: “Is it really for me?”. They think it takes talent, creative thinking, all sort of computer skills and that there are others out there much better – so why bother? It’s quite easy to find all kind of excuses and raise doubt. STOP! This way you won’t get anywhere. It’s bad as a general attitude and pointless. Results come to those who work for them or at least give it a try.

It doesn’t matter if you lack the skills at this moment in time. It’s normal for a beginner. Your skills will grow in time. It doesn’t matter if there are others better than you – you don’t compete, you’re not at a race – on the contrary, you can learn from them. It’s not about some special talent or secret powers – it’s about the amount of time and effort you’re willing to put in.

The questions you should be asking yourself are: “Am I passionate about web design?”, “Do I see myself in front of the computer coding cool and useful apps and websites?”, “Would I go the extra-mile in order to achieve that high level of professionalism?”. If you have time, passion, curiosity and will – it’s all it takes!

THE START: “We all have to start somewhere!”

When I started with web design 8 years ago, there were very few quality resources available and good reference materials were hard to find. Though I had a bit of programming knowledge from high-school years, I didn’t find it suitable or fun for a guy like me, so I dived into graphic processing tools and animations ( Photoshop 7 at that time and Macromedia Flash 5 ).

Nowadays, there are thousands of websites and communities with good resources, articles and tutorials – just like this one – from where you can get enough info on how to properly work with a graphical tool like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator (http://tutsplus.com/, http://www.smashingmagazine.com/, https://hackdesign.org/).

After you manage creating some interesting artwork, share and receive feedback. For examples of quality work you can check communities that offer a daily dose of inspiration like dribbble and behance. Later, when you start making your own work, ask for feedback and always try to improve.

Want to learn the basics of coding and what you need “to tell” a browser in order to display content? Start with an introduction to HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and CSS (Cascading Stylesheets) – http://www.w3schools.com/, http://www.htmldog.com/.

These are basic coding languages that assure the structure and the appearance of any web-page. To get started with writing and testing HTML and CSS you only need a code editor (try: Sublime Text or Brackets – they run both on Windows and Mac) and your default web browser – Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer or Opera.

As a side note – avoid working with a WYSIWYG editor (What You See Is What You Get) – the type of program that simply lets you drag and drop elements like buttons, dialog windows, pictures etc. onto a canvas and automatically generates the code behind the page you build. Most of the time you get code which is hard to read or maintain and doesn’t comply with the latest web standards.

If these are already familiar to you – meaning you can understand the syntax and logic behind developing static pages – why not move to some more advance coding languages like: Javascript for adding interaction to the interfaces your building or server side scripting like PHP, Phyton or Ruby on Rails?

Those are some of the most popular open-source programming languages for creating dynamic pages and websites, meaning the logic happens at the server level, through requests to a database. Information is added or pulled from the database, composed / processed by the web server and delivered (displayed) in the browser.

There are quite a lot of hats you could wear in this industry. I tried programming, but didn’t work for me. I have friends who looked into design and thought of it that it’s cool, but love to code and wouldn’t want to switch to design. If you’re a beginner, my advice is to test some of the things you find or hear about and see what you really like the most. Is it design? Is it coding – frontend or backend development? Is it social media and content creation – like writing articles, reviews or making videos?

Figure it out through practice and while you’re at it – build a small portfolio – where you can showcase some of the things you tried, improved or created from scratch. It can be anything from designing a small business card or a brochure to coding your resume page and publishing it online. It will be one of your most important assets in the future, when you apply for a job or if you want to promote yourself if you pursue freelance work. Even more – you will be able to see more clearly your personal development over time.

THE OPPORTUNITIES: “Once I get the hang of it.”

Investing time and researching on your own, you’ll realize that sooner or later you’ll gain the confidence and knowledge you need. You’ll be able to easily design, think in terms of experience and interfaces on web and mobile or figure out how others managed into solving some specific code-related problems.

Learning opportunities: the secret to leveling up is to try and take on different types of projects. You’ll encounter situations that are new and problems to which you don’t know the answer from the beginning. This kind of work will “force” you to develop even further in your chosen field.

Financial opportunities are just around the corner. If at first I had to chase after clients or projects, now I have to politely turn them down. The demand is quite high for web professionals. Companies are always looking for people to hire, people capable of doing the job right. I get around a dozen invitations per month to interviews on my linkedin profile and sometimes I get calls from people I haven’t even met, but have my number from former colleagues of mine.

Networking/social opportunities are also available. There are many others like you, who love designing and coding, who had all kind of clients and can tell a story or two. Participate in meet-ups held in your town or city, go to conferences if you have the chance or to private seminars or workshops. I’ll bet you’ll meet awesome people, because these are the type of people that want to share with others and learn from others at the same time.

So if you also had in mind the question of “does it worth it?” – the answer is yes! In my opinion, this is the path to a creative job, challenging tasks, meeting new great people and high financial rewards.

THE CHALLENGES: “NO job is an easy job!”

I don’t want to lie and tell you only about the cool and beautiful parts, because like in all the things in life, a career as a web designer or developer has also some bad parts. You now know the good part and the opportunities – what about the bad?

Your physical and mental health might get affected for staying long hours in front of the computer.
On long term, by spending countless hours in front of your computer – you’ll start feeling backaches, probably sight problems or even massive dizziness. The advice here would be to have a proper working position at your desk, an ergonomic chair and assure a proper distance (30-50 cm distance) from your monitor. Not only that, but also try to have a work-life balanced program and practice a sport.

There will be times and situations where you might start thinking poor of yourself and get overly frustrated for not being able to come up with that great design or implement a specific programming algorithm. Don’t throw in the towel and don’t loose your confidence all of the sudden. Life is like a roller-coaster ride – it has its ups and downs.

Not everybody will understand what you’re doing.
It happened to me and it happened to most of my friends that work in this industry. People don’t really understand the things you do or why you do it. For most of the normal users computer is used for writing and printing documents (because they replaced the typewriter), gaming and chat.

It was really hard to explain to my parents what I do exactly and why I want a career as a web-designer. It was quite a new type of job at that time and though I took it seriously and didn’t see it as a hobby anymore, they wouldn’t believe that you can actually make money out of it.

Others, (and please don’t laugh) tend to have personal relationship problems. Their girlfriend / boyfriend disliked the fact that their partner is so absorbed with this type of work and stays in front of the computer even in his / her spare time. Why do you think that many programming books have a “Thank you” word to “my beloved wife” for “understanding and supporting me” (the author) in writing and publishing that work? It takes a lot of time to master and be really good at one thing or two, in order to be able to properly explain it to others.

Staying up-to-date with the latest trends.
Technologies are changing at a fast pace and they are always evolving. In this field you have to be on page with what’s new, how others work, best practices and latest trends. This means being aware of changes and constantly reading and discovering new methodologies. Stay updated through social media and by subscribing to your favorite news portals. Pick up techniques explained there and see how those would suit current or future projects.


To conclude this article, if you think it’s worth it and made your decision, I encourage you to start today! Don’t leave it for some other time. Set a simple goal, invest time and patience and move forward. Care to share with us, thoughts on how to start, lessons learned or tips & tricks for any new web-designer out there? Just leave a comment!

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