Thinking about getting into the web design industry? Just graduated and trying to find the right job for you right out of school? There are many different types of web design careers and choosing the right one can be a difficult choice. Hopefully we can help you narrow down the options with this overview.

Types of Web Design Careers

All web related jobs generally fall into one of only a handful of broad categories:

  1. Corporate (Work for organization)
  2. Agency/firm work (Work for many organizations)
  3. Freelance (Work for yourself)

Corporate Web Design Jobs

“Corporate” is a term used loosely to cover any type of job where you support a single or small set of websites for the benefit of the company, whether it’s for profit or non-profit. You’re likely to be involved in all aspects of the company’s marketing, not just the website. Examples of design work include:

  1. The company website(s)
  2. Social media banners
  3. Email templates
  4. Landing pages

Your performance will be measured by metrics set by the company. It may be sales, user engagement, donations, ad revenue, or new sign ups. Note that “pretty” isn’t on that list. Beautiful design is secondary to designs that “work.” If you were the web designer for a very active e-commerce website, a small design change could bring in an extra $300 million. You may also find yourself as the web designer for a startup where every design decision matters to the success of the company.

If you just want to make pretty websites, working as a corporate website designer may not be for you. A pretty website that doesn’t sell or get people to register doesn’t do anyone any good. To be successful as a corporate website designer, you should also study up on the user interaction (“UI” or “UX”) design.

Depending on the size of the company, getting work approved may have to go through several levels, such as your direct supervisor, the marketing manager, the creative director, and the VP of marketing. As someone just starting out, you may have a harder time getting your ideas heard. However, the work can be incredibly rewarding when your design directly impacts the company’s bottom line and you can take credit for it.

Pros: Potential to make a huge impact for your employer or even your industry.
Cons: Results supersede aesthetics.

Web Design Agency Jobs

If you love designing for a variety of clients and enjoy a smaller team of coworkers, then you’ll probably like working for a web design or marketing agency. Your supervisors may be a project manager or creative director, or both. Their job is usually to act as a liaison between the client and the designers/developers on the project, but you may find yourself interfacing directly with the client in smaller firms. You’ll have like-minded co-workers to bounce ideas off of and learn from. Projects range from small “online brochure” type of sites to large, dynamic projects with hundreds of pages and custom features.

Agencies/Firms

“Agency” and “firm” are often used interchangeably to describe a company in the business of designing and developing websites for clients. There are distinctions between the two terms, but that’s not something we’ll go over in this article.

Some agencies serve a broad market like “small businesses” or “nonprofits”, which could include anything from the local pizza place to the animal hospital down the street. You’ll have the most variety of work in these types of companies. However, with the broad range of clients comes different requirements. One day you may need to design a website for a hair salon, and the next day you need to design for the local pawn shop. Switching mindsets between the different industries can be challenging, but could also be fun and exciting for the right person.

Pros: Variety of work. Small team environment.
Cons: Variety of industries and markets to understand.

Industry Specific

Some agencies specialize in particular industries or service types, such as education, dental, or legal services. These types of businesses become experts in their specific niches. If you want to know every little nuance about marketing for (and to) niches like dentists, cosmetic surgeons, or lawyers, then you may want to check out an industry specific marketing agency or firm.

Pros: Little surprises between projects. Well understood market and expectations.
Cons: Work can get repetitive. Your portfolio may lean too heavy in one industry and work against you for future job applications.

The Business of Web Design

Web design firms are in the business of making websites that meet the needs and specifications of their client. The general goal is to deliver a quality product on time and under budget, and make a profit for the company. Many projects are done under a fixed budget, so working efficiently as possible and limiting mistakes and revisions are key to long-term success at a web design firm.

Freelance Web Design

The allure of being a freelance web designer/developer can be seductive for a new web designer:

  1. Work your own hours
  2. Charge your own rates
  3. Pick your clients/projects
  4. Run your own business
  5. Unlimited earning potential

While it’s true that these are all excellent benefits to being a freelancer, keep in mind the following downsides:

  1. Those hours may be 60 hours a week
  2. Not everything is billable. There’s someone willing to do it for less than you. You may not get paid on time.
  3. Work can be scarce to start and building a portfolio takes times
  4. Business responsibilities: Taxes, marketing, phone bills, liability protection, health insurance, rent, etc.
  5. Working alone makes it difficult to take on larger projects

If that hasn’t dissuaded you from the world of freelance web design, then read on!

Should you choose to venture on your own, you’ll probably find yourself doing some combination of the following:

Consulting

As a consultant, you meet with (prospective) clients, understand their needs, and propose a solution and then implement it. If the project calls for development work, you may want to partner up with a developer you like working with and split the project. Alternatively, you can find gigs with specific requirements that interest you but you may have to bid against other freelancers for the project.

Overflow Work

Many web design firms have more work they can handle and bring in freelancers to even out the workload. It’s difficult to hire and train someone on an as needed basis, so freelancers are an attractive option for short-term help. Some companies may request that you work at their location, but most will let you work remotely.

Product Development

You can make a very good living selling your own products online, such as website theme/templates, plugins, or other online services. It’s something you can do in your downtime that can bring in long-term passive income, add to your portfolio, or even turn into a business in itself if it really catches on. If you have a background in another industry, you can combine that knowledge with your web design abilities to product informational products or online services for that industry.

Pros: Freedom. Money.
Cons: Income security. Hours.

Hopefully this article helped steer you in a path towards your ideal web design job. If you have any questions, anything to add, or corrections, please feel free to post them in the comments below.

 

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