Web Design: Routes into the industry

Many Colleges and Universities now offer multimedia courses and degrees where you can learn about many of the disciplines required to make a competent freelance web designer.

Unfortunately, as most University leavers find out life 'on the outside' is a little different to the theory and running your own business (which is essentially what a freelancer does) can be a lot to get to grips with.

To really excel as a freelance worker we would highly recommend a few years in the industry, this will teach you a lot about how to (or not to) run a business and will soon show you whether life on your own is something you could contemplate. Freelancing is not for everyone as described in our startup section, but if you have the desire to run your own business, the people skills to manage your clients and potential clients and the ability to effectively market your skills then you could survive happily as a freelancer.

For those of us who were at College/University or in a job before the great Internet boom of the early nineties then the choices are either to become a mature student or to work your way into the industry. There are a wealth of places to find tutorials and guides on web design as well as training courses being offered in almost every town and city in the country.

Firstly what skills will you need? To be able to complete a website on your own you will need to be able to design the layout of your client's site, design elements are usually handled by Photoshop and Illustrator (Adobe) or Fireworks and Freehand (Macromedia). Once the client is happy with the proposed design (always make sure you have written confirmation of this and advise the client that future amendments will be chargeable) it will need to be chopped up into the HTML that will render the page on screen.

With such a wealth of business out there it is no wonder that there are so many freelance web designers out there. Of course, anyone can create a website, with a copy of the front page and a little bit of free server space it really does not take long to set up a website. However, to produce a good website on your own you will need to understand design, image optimisation to give good download and render times, make it easy to use, update and alter, make it search engine friendly and cross-browser compliant and all of this takes time and a diverse skill set.

You will need a good knowledge of HTML and an editor to create the page. If you are new to the industry then you may be tempted by Microsoft Front Page - but from my personal experience, I would advise you stay away from it as it uses a lot of proprietary code that is not always cross-browser compliant. Apparently, it has got better in recent years but I would still steer clear personally. Quite possibly the best package and the industry standard is Macromedia's Dreamweaver. While Dreamweaver will save you time and energy compared to hand coding it is very important that you understand the HTML behind the design so if things do go wrong while building the page in the WYSIWIG (What You See Is What You Get) editor then you can pop into the code view to correct it. If you understand HTML then you could look at Homesite or one of the plethora of text editors available out there but we would suggest Dreamweaver if you can afford it to start with due to the flexibility and time saving that it offers.

Hedley Thomas - Web Site Consultancy Services. www.tactics.co.uk

More on web designing as a freelancer.