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Web design combines design theory and computer science. You can forge your career in this growing field by pursuing a degree, securing internships, and earning professional certifications.

If you possess a passion for design and computer technology, you may have considered a career as a web designer. But what is web design, and what is the difference between a web designer vs. a web developer?

Web designers create the visual concepts that make websites easy to use and visually pleasing. To become a web designer, you typically need a web design degree to start building your portfolio. However, each individual's career path is unique.

Read this guide to learn how to become a web designer, where a web design degree can take you, and what resources can help.

What Is a Web Designer?

Web designers are IT professionals responsible for the visual appearance and organization of websites. A web designer makes sure a website is appealing to look at and easy for visitors to navigate and use.

The deeper purpose of a web designer's work is to attract the eye and ensure an intuitive user experience so visitors remain on a website. To accomplish this, web designers use design and illustration software and content management system (CMS) tools.

What Do Web Designers Do?

Web designers design the visual elements for a site and arrange them to create an intuitive user experience. Tasks from a web designer's workday include designing graphics, selecting text fonts and background colors, and creating layouts of site elements.

To create graphics, web designers use design and image editing software, such as Photoshop and InDesign from Adobe Creative Cloud. When handling layout and visual appearance, they may use a CMS such as WordPress. Many web designers specialize in one facet of this work, such as digital illustration, animation, or mobile app interfaces.

Web designers do not need to know coding languages to succeed professionally, though they can professionally benefit from knowing HTML, CSS, and Java.

Web Designer vs. Web Developer

A web designer's work differs from a web developer's in some key ways. While both IT professionals are essential to the usability and success of websites, their work encompasses different responsibilities.

Web designers tackle the visual appearance and user experience of a website. They plan how the functional elements in a website are presented to users for an easy-to-navigate experience.

This planning may involve illustration and animation, type and calligraphy, and branding design. A web designer is not usually required to know coding languages.
Web developers build and maintain the structure that makes websites functional. This work encompasses the front-end development that makes web design layouts functional and the back-end web development that configures the site's servers and databases.

Web developers need in-depth knowledge of programming languages and computer science.

Where Do Web Designers Work?

Web designers commonly work in computer systems design and IT industries, but they can also work in publishing, management consulting services, and advertising. Other web designers are self-employed and work at home on their own schedule, rather than full time at an office.

Web designers in traditional settings must work closely with web developers, creative directors, and advertising and marketing managers.

Web Designer Skills

The best web designers know how to balance aesthetic appeal with effective communication and use of design principles. They must possess a strong creative streak that their hard, computer-related skills can reinforce. Web designers draw upon soft and hard skills in order to do their best work.

Soft Skills

  • Effective communication
  • Eye for detail
  • Creative vision and imagination
  • Adaptability
  • Self-evaluation skills

Hard Skills

  • Design theory
  • Familiarity with CMS systems
  • Familiarity with design software
  • Typography
  • Color theory

How to Become a Web Designer

Becoming a web designer is often a unique journey. Successful web designers must create a top-level portfolio to get noticed, as web design is a competitive field where personal drive factors heavily. You can make this journey easier by following common steps that can increase your chances of launching a successful career.

1. Earn Degree(s)

Many careers in web design begin with earning a bachelor degree. There are many bachelor's and master's programs in web design. However, many web designers start their careers with a bachelor's in computer science, graphic design, or web development. Typically, web designers need to take coursework in advanced web design, digital illustration, and Adobe Creative Cloud.

Other web designers never earn a degree. Some employers may be satisfied with a professional certification coupled with solid experience. Considering how a bachelor's in web design takes four years to earn and a master's takes two years to earn, the time investment of earning a degree is not for everyone. However, some employers not only require a degree but even prefer master's candidates.

2. Pursue Internship(s)

Internships can help prospective web designers get started in their careers and decide where their strengths lie in the field. Use your school's career center or computer science department as a resource for internship postings. You can usually find listings on conventional job search websites too.

Interns will see a typical workplace in action, gain practice in using industry tools, and strengthen their communication and collaborative skills. This environment also gives interns the chance to find out which professional specialization — such as CMS, digital illustration, or animation — interests them.

3. Build Your Portfolio

The next step is to start building a portfolio that stays relevant throughout your career. When creating your first portfolio, include any and all projects up to that point. Include mini projects and relevant school or volunteer experience, along with internships or contracting work.

Also include useful industry schematics that you have used, such as wireframes and color palettes. Your areas of career specialization and aesthetic as a designer should be clear in your portfolio.

4. Earn Certification(s)

Earning professional certifications can strengthen your skills and chances of getting a job. For instance, you could earn the Adobe XD Credential to prove your mastery of Adobe Creative Cloud, an industry standard tool-set. You could also earn the CIW Certified Web Design Specialist credential for broader insight into the field.

Earning these certifications involves taking an exam, after which credentials usually remain valid for two years. You can expect to spend $100-$200 on most certifications.

5. Create Your Resume

Making a resume is a final step to applying to web design jobs. Use your resume to present the best version of your professional self.

On your resume, emphasize paid roles or those related to your education and training. List your certifications after your education. Explicitly state which tools and applications you have experience with, and if relevant, mention the coding languages you know. Be sure to stress your soft skills as well as your hard skills.

What to Look for in a Web Design Degree Program

When searching for an online web design degree, only consider programs from regionally accredited online colleges or traditional colleges. Earning a degree from a school without proper accreditation may prevent graduates from transfering credits or applying to certain jobs.

It is also important to consider whether the school is in-state or out-of-state. In-state institutions may offer discounted tuition rates. Finally, research the program's available concentrations to see if they align with your interests and career plans.


Accreditation holds particular importance in selecting a quality web design program. Regional accreditation commands more prestige than the national accreditation sometimes awarded to vocational or for-profit schools. Also, give deeper consideration to web design programs with programmatic accreditation. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits web design programs.

Web Designer Salary Information

Web designers can anticipate a comfortable living and growing job opportunities nationwide. Web developers and digital designers make a median annual wage of $77,200 and can anticipate an 8% growth in employment by 2029.

Web designers earn the highest salaries in Washington, California, and Georgia, near the bustling tech hubs of Seattle, the Bay Area, and Atlanta.

Web Developer and Digital Designer Career Outlook

Median Salary

Job Growth (2019-2029)

Highest Paying States (May 2020)

Source: BLS

Similar Careers

Web design overlaps with other careers in computer science. An online degree in computer science or in-person degree in computer science can serve as a pathway to a web design career, with diverse course offerings. Because of this, many web design majors and professionals branch out into fields such as software development and computer engineering.

Software Developer

Software developers code and test software applications. Similar to web designers, software developers spend much of their time on user experience concerns. These professionals usually need a computer science bachelor's degree,

Computer Engineer

Computer engineers design computer hardware. To become a computer engineer, you need an ABET-accredited computer engineering degree. Computer engineering and computer science degrees differ slightly but can lead to different but related careers.

Software Engineer

Software engineers create the functional architecture of websites and apps. These professionals usually hold a bachelor's in computer science and may specialize in front- or back-end web engineering.

Graphic Designer

Graphic designers create visual designs that communicate ideas and information to consumers. To become a graphic designer, you typically need a bachelor's in graphic design, though some designers work without earning degrees.

Web Design Professional Organizations

The AIGA works towards advancing communication design professions, including web design, graphic design, and typography. The organization's student resources include access to the AIGA Portfolio Festival and job and internship listings. The HWG is the world's largest professional organization for web design and development. Its student resources include the online web design training program, which teaches courses in online marketing, coding, and design software. The Guild advocates for graphic artists, illustrators, and photographers in seven chapters across the U.S. The organization offers members free access to webinars, portfolio hosting, and grievance assistance.

Interview with an Expert

Portrait of JR Leonard

JR Leonard

JR Leonard is a technology and media design expert who has been professionally consulting and teaching web design since 2003. He has a bachelor of science in computer information systems and a master of fine arts in media design. Leonard currently works as a web developer for M2GEN — an oncology-focused health informatics solutions company — and he owns and operates 3JPMedia, which specializes in creative media designs with photography, branding, and mobile and web applications. Whether in a full university classroom or at home with his three aspiring computer-hacking sons, Leonard loves providing the insights necessary to help solve tough problems and tell interesting stories with creative web designs.

Why might someone want to become a web designer?

Imagine having the ability to help individuals, organizations, and businesses creatively tell their story in a way that can be seen, heard, and read by virtually anyone. If this gets you excited, you should really consider becoming a web designer!

Web design is a delicate and often challenging balancing act between features, functionality, deadlines, and not to forget ADA compliance (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990). Is your target audience skilled enough for you to include that super cool feature, or do the project requirements specify a site that is fully accessible?

Even more challenging are the projects that don't have defined requirements. In those cases, you're forced to make best guest decisions based on your knowledge of the technology, stakeholders, and desired end result. However, watching your project go live after all of the blood, sweat, and tears is totally worth it!

Those who are both analytical and creative in their thinking will do really well in this role.

What does it take to get hired as a web designer?

Historically, it has taken around 3-6 months for web design graduates to get hired. The ripple effects of COVID-19 appear to be accelerating that timeline as organizations scramble to hire qualified talents to help them "beef up" their online presence.

A great path to take after graduation is to participate in a web design internship. Internships provide a win for the employer, and they also help you as a web designer get real-world, hands-on experience.

My advice to find and land an internship opportunity is to search your local county and state government websites, contact local businesses, and reach out to friends who own or know the owner of a business. Then, position yourself as the expert, showing both interest and knowledge about the purpose of their establishment.

Employers typically look for candidates to be experienced with HTML, JavaScript, and CSS; have an understanding of graphic design fundamentals with awareness of UI/UX principles; and have a strong portfolio showcasing their best creative work.

As a web designer, you are creative. One of the ways creative students can stand out to potential employers is to have a creative resume. Consider spicing up your pdf resume and then creating a webpage to showcase it.

Also, think about learning one of the popular JavaScript frameworks, such as React.js, Vue.js, and Angular. Having knowledge in a framework like React, which is the framework developed and used by Facebook, will make you much more attractive to a potential employer.

What's a typical day for a web designer?

A typical day in the life of a web designer is shaped by the culture of the organization, the additional roles of responsibility, and the number of developers on their team. To get those creative juices flowing, a caffeinated beverage is often consumed at the start of the shift. Then, it's time to get to work!

Most projects will have kick-off meetings to discuss design requirements, stakeholders, and the final deliverable. Business analysts and project managers will be a great resource to help the designer break down and understand the specific requirements and features to implement. Backend developers work closely with the frontend designer to formalize an agreement about the authentication strategy and API routes that should be used to retrieve and pass data back and forth.

A usual work day is around eight hours and unfortunately sometimes consists of mostly research, paperwork, and corporate red tape. Most thrilling is finally sitting down to sketch out ideas, either on paper or in graphic software, and then opening the editor to start writing some code. You'll find an interesting correlation between the number of coding problems the designer encounters and the number of Google and StackOverflow searches that are performed — ha!

Throughout the day, web designers utilize their knowledge of architecture, graphic design, problem-solving, oral and written communication, and how to make things look really good. Each web designer should take some time exploring and crafting a routine that works best for them, ultimately creating their own "typical day."

Common Questions About Becoming a Web Designer

Is Web Development the Same as Web Design?

No. Web development focuses on making site elements functional; web design creates a site's visual appearance and user experience.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Web Designer?

It typically takes four years to earn a bachelor's degree in web design. However, building a strong portfolio can take several years more, depending on your level of experience.

How Can I Become a Web Designer Without a Degree?

You can become a web designer by earning a professional certification and building your portfolio. Volunteer work and internships can serve as a way to work up to paid work.

Can I Teach Myself Web Design?

You can teach yourself web design essentials with the many free resources for learning web design online. However, an accredited degree offers the expert knowledge of professors and more networking opportunities.

Portrait of Matthew Sweeney

Matthew Sweeney

Matthew Sweeney received his Bachelor of Arts in English with a specialization in English literature from Portland State. His writings on music and culture have appeared in the publications Eleven PDX Magazine and Secret Decoder. In his free time he enjoys reading, cinema, hiking, and cooking.

Header Image Credit: filadendron | Getty Images

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