By Cameron Chapman
Web design is often an appealing career choice for artistic and creative people. It’s seen as a potentially lucrative opportunity to be creative on a daily basis. But there are drawbacks that many people don’t realize going into the field.
While most of these wouldn’t deter people who really want to be designers and who know what design is really about, they might deter people who are only looking for a job that allows them to be artistic or creative. Even if they’re not a deterrent, they should at least serve as an eye-opener for anyone looking to become a Web designer.
Competition Is Fierce
Ten to fifteen years ago, Web design was a fairly specialized field. Most designers had either taught themselves by trial and error or gone to one of the few colleges out there that ran a decent Web or multimedia design program. Now, enough resources are online and in print that virtually anyone can teach themselves to design websites; and if they have an eye for what works and what doesn’t, these people can often design websites that are as good as those who spent four years getting a degree.
There’s also competition from the thousands of free templates and website builders out there. Small companies often opt to use a stock template for their website rather than pay a designer, or they’ll use a WYSIWYG editor to create a website that, while not as good as a professionally designed website, is perfectly acceptable to their visitors and customers.
Design firms in developing countries are now able to produce professional websites for a fraction of the cost of designers in Western Europe, the US, Canada and other developed countries. While not all of these firms can compete on quality, more and more are cropping up every day that can—and that can also compete on development speed and cost.
Designers have to differentiate themselves now more than ever to get a steady stream of business. Freelance designers, especially, can’t get by on “decent” or “good” anymore. They need to be excellent in order to land the clients they need to support themselves and their companies. Even in-house designers are facing more competition, from both larger applicant pools and outsourcing.
You Want To Be An Artist
Design is not art. While good design generally incorporates some artistic principles, artistic ability is not a requirement to being a designer. And many artists might be put off by the structure and convention inherent in good design.
Viewing design as a way to make money with art will lead only to disappointment. Of course, if you view design as a way to be creative, rather than as a way to make art, Web design might be a great fit for you.
You Want To Design Things Your Way
Designing for a client requires that the designer put aside some of their desires in favor of what the client needs. Sure, you might have a great idea to improve a client’s website, but if they don’t have the budget or insist it won’t be a hit with visitors, then you’ll have to deliver what the client wants. Your other option is to drop the client (which is almost always possible), but do that too often and you’ll find yourself with no clients left.
As a designer, your job is to convince the client to do things in the best possible way, but that’s not always possible. Sometimes you have to trust that a client knows their business better than you do. And as long as what they request doesn’t go against basic design principles, the result will usually be just fine.
An alternative for designers who absolutely want to do things their way: design templates and themes. Then you can do whatever you want (but do keep in mind the likely end user if you want to maximize sales or downloads).
You Don’t Want To Learn To Code
Designers don’t necessarily need to be expert coders. But to be a successful Web designer, you should at least know how to code a basic website, because if you know how something will be coded when you’re designing it, the job will be easier in the end.
This doesn’t mean that you need to code all of your websites. Outsourcing or finding a partner to code while you do the design is fine. But at least know how to code so that you make their job easier. This keeps costs down, and it helps if you ever need to make a change to a website and your programmer isn’t available.
You Don’t Like Dealing With Difficult People
Client horror stories abound in virtually every service industry out there. Web design is no different. Some people think that because they’re paying you, they have a right to do or say whatever they want. This means they’ll do everything from calling you in the middle of the night to deciding they shouldn’t pay you as much as they originally agreed to. A quick look at the website Clients From Hell will give you an idea of all the other things clients do that are likely to drive you crazy.
Don’t be surprised when a client decides that they can do the website themselves, or that their nephew can do it, or that their five-year old doesn’t like your design. Don’t be surprised by clients who have no idea what they want and change their minds a thousand times before the project is finished. And be prepared for clients who question everything you do and everything that appears on the invoice.
If you don’t want to deal directly with clients, then Web design might not be the best profession for you. Even as an in-house designer, you may find that your boss doesn’t actually understand the ins and outs of design and that they either impose unrealistic deadlines on you or don’t provide the resources you need to do the job to the best of your ability.
You Don’t Want To Grow
To stay competitive, you’ll need to grow as a designer. Following every new design trend isn’t necessarily wise, but you’ll need to stay current on new techniques and design styles. Web design is a constantly evolving industry, and you’ll need to evolve alongside it.
Luckily, staying abreast of new developments in Web design and improving your skills can all be done online. Just follow relevant Web design blogs (like this one!) and read up on what’s happening in the industry. Try out new things regularly, even if just on your personal website. Stay current on developments in Web standards and different software programs. If you treat your professional development as an ongoing process, it won’t take up too much of your time.
You Aren’t Organized Or Logical
A lot of people don’t realize the level of organization that is required to be an effective Web designer. Many designers, especially at small firms, have to double as project managers for their clients. This means keeping the entire project and process on track, on schedule and organized. A lost document or contract wastes valuable time and energy. Accurately tracking things like your time and expenses for invoicing purposes is also vital.
Logical thinking is necessary, too. Websites are inherently logical and organized. If you can’t systematically think through how something should be laid out, you’ll have a hard time designing proper information architectures for your websites.
Pretty Things Interest You More Than Principles Of Good Design
While art tends to be focused solely on aesthetics, design has to be focused on things such as functionality and user-friendly layouts. Certain things need to be included in any website you design: navigation, headings (to give users an idea of what’s on the page) and some readable text being just a few. Without these, a website loses much of its meaning.
Even image-heavy websites, such as portfolios, need to conform to certain standards to be usable. As a designer, you can push the envelope a bit, but you still have to retain the website’s functionality and purpose. Without them, the website won’t be usable and will drive visitors away.
In the end, if you have a passion for design and are willing to work hard at it, then Web design will be a great profession for you. But too often people think a design job will be easy or will completely satisfy their artistic urges. In reality, neither idea is quite accurate.
- Should I Become a Web Designer?
A brief article from About.com about what it takes to be a Web designer.
- 20 Reasons You Shouldn’t Be A Freelancer
An article detailing the drawbacks of freelancing.
- 5 Good Reasons Why Designers Should Code
An article from Carsonified about why designers should have basic coding skills.
- 5 Reasons Why I Love Being A Web Designer
A post covering some of the upsides to being a Web designer.