In the mid-90s when ‘HTML fever’ was at its height, everyone wanted to be a web designer. Back then, you could be a web designer from home as well as hold down a full time office job; you could be a web designer at 13 as long as no-one found out; you could web design from your laptop while enjoying your holiday in the Bahamas.
Ten years on, the craziness is gone and web design is acknowledged as a realistic but select profession, requiring design experience and qualifications, creative talent and sound business communication skills.
Alex Garden, director of web page design firm Netinsites, says web designers today need to be able to market themselves and the business and manage professional client relationships as well as program code.
“You can’t be a straight geek and become a successful web designer anymore,” says Garden.
He says beyond the ability to code in web languages such as HTML and Java and new technologies including ASP, PSP and Cold Fusion; web designers require artistic focus and plenty of marketing nous.
Stephan Spencer, managing director for web design firm NetConcepts, agrees web design graduates need to be able to liaise with clients to find out what is important to the business – design skill alone doesn’t cut it.
“What does the client most want from a web site – is it qualified leads, is it revenue, is it customer knowledge; is it profit?” says Spencer.
He says web design is not as straightforward as many people think, with key words, category listing, search engine optimisation and navigation are all essential components that need to be right.
However, he says experienced and successful designers can not only charge for the cost of designing a site, but may be able to add site support and monitoring services to their business charges.
There is a difference between web development and web design, says Rowan Schaaf, managing director for web site and kiosk developer Terabyte. Terabyte employs eight designers and three developers and Schaaf says designers glean intelligence from the customer regarding their requirements for the web site and how it will map to their company brand.
Once the planning and the design of a user interface have been completed, the information is passed to web developers – programmers skilled in web languages – for site development.
Schaaf says Terabyte recruits web designers from certain web design schools including one at the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), and looks for people with creative talent as well as technical ability.
“Some things can be taught in-house, so we focus on individuals with an interest in interactive design or those who have skills in other areas such as illustration, painting, and videology,” explains Schaaf.
He says web design companies want graduates with “something quite special” and need people with a good understanding of the design fundamentals of typography and layout. These skills need to be learned irrespective of whether a person chooses new or traditional media as a career, says Schaaf.
Web design salaries start in the high $20,000s and progress up to around $75,000 for a senior web designer say Garden and Schaaf. Self employed designers with talent and business flair can earn a lot more, and creative directors can earn up to $110,000.
However, despite the financial reward and creative satisfaction of web design, Schaaf says Terabyte finds it hard to source good web design graduates. Although the specific tools required for new media design are taught in web design courses, these courses lack detail, says Schaff. He recommends keen candidates follow up standard courses with postgraduate courses in specific software applications used in the workplace.