Web design is a surprisingly healthy discipline considering the fact that the web is a very new medium. My journey into a career as a designer was not a direct one, by any means. In fact many of the more famous web-design luminaries really only began their careers on the web sometime within the last ten years. As you might expect, many people who design websites studied graphic design or a related discipline in school. On the other hand, a whole bunch of people like me either studied other things, or didn’t go to a post-secondary school at all. My personal opinion is that there isn’t a perfect path to becoming a web designer. In fact, the diversity of backgrounds of people working in the field can only result in more powerful and interesting solutions for new design opportunities.
The wonderful thing about web design is that it’s flexible and growing. You can build a site wearing your pajamas in your home at 3:00 am, or work 9 to 5 at a day job. Even in a shaky economy, every business needs a website. In fact, most start-up companies get their website up and running before they print business cards (if they print any at all).
You’ll find that most web designers are self taught. This is a good thing because a web designer needs to know how to self direct their learning because the learning never stops. I’ve done a little searching on the sites of universities in my area, and have found individual courses in web related subjects, but not a cohesive program pulling these classes together. Learning about the web on the web is obviously one of the best ways to learn new tricks and tips. On the other hand, the really useful content is strung across innumerable blog posts, so this may be tricky way to get grounded. I highly recommend picking up a well written book on the fundamentals of CSS and XHTML. My personal favorite is Stylin’ with CSS, by Charles Wyke-Smith. It is written in an easy-to-read manner and contains many helpful visual examples (not to mention free code samples on the website). I also recommend CSS Mastery, by Andy Budd, Simon Collison, and Cameron Moll, for those who already have some familiarity with the basics.
Once you have a solid starting point, dive in there and start coding your ideas. May I also suggest a couple online magazines about web design to keep those creative juices flowing. A couple that I like are Smashing Magazine and A List Apart.
It’s an exciting time for designers. Web standards are widely recognized and are now being implemented. If you are just starting, you hopefully won’t have to worry too much about IE6, as IE8 was just released last month. Designing for the web isn’t restricted to designing for a computer monitor anymore as more and more mobile devices are literally in consumers hands. To state the obvious, the web is a very social place. I’d say the one commonly agreed upon characteristic applied to the term Web 2.0 is interactivity. Most web savy folks not only want to teach you what they know, but tell you all about their kids and hobbies. On the average designer’s blog, you find many tutorials on styling techniques, not to mention links to flickr photos, twitter tweets, or a facebook profile.
Learning how to create for the web has never been easier. Make friends, work hard, and you’ll see amazing results.
Update 5/5/2009: I discovered a couple more good resources for web design education. Aaron Walter posted a great article about Web Education on A List Apart. I’m personally pretty excited about the Opera Web Standards Curriculum (Opera WSC), and have reviewed a few of the articles. I also really love lynda.com and loads of video tutorials. There are some great resources available for the web designer.