About a year ago, when I started my company, Blue Turtle Graphics, I decided I wanted to offer web design services for my clients in addition to logo design and print design (stationery, advertisements, brochures, etc.). The only problem was, that for the past 13 years I had been designing for print not web. At that point, having no idea where to begin, I decided to jump in with both feet and purchase an upgrade for Adobe Creative Suite as well as Dreamweaver. To my surprise, it wasn’t that easy. Here are a few things I learned along the way.
1. It isn’t just about learning Dreamweaver
In my earlier days, I thought all I had to do was master a specific software and the rest would be cake. After all, learning new software isn’t that hard with tutorials and manuals. I learned quickly that there is a lot more to it: knowledge of HTML and CSS are a must, as well as web standards, accessibility, file management (ftp), and basic SEO. And all this is just to create a static page! I certainly wasn’t going to learn code! Not me! Halfway through my first site I realized I had to learn code, whether I liked it or not. It’s important to know the basics and understand how CSS can alter the way a page looks. There are some things that Dreamweaver just can’t do
2. Use your own website as a ‘Guinea Pig’
So, you want to try a stab at web design, now what? The best place to get started is to create your own portfolio site. This is an excellent way to try out your new skills as well as learn some additional ones before you start work on a client’s site. I like to use my own site as a testing ground for any new techniques I learn.
3. Tutorials and web resources
One of the best places to learn about web design is well, the web. I quickly found that there is an immense amount of tutorials and resources online for web design. From video tutorials (such as Lynda.com), blogs (such as Line25 and A List Apart) and forums (CSS-Tricks), if you have the time, there is web design info to be learned.
4. Prepare to invest some time
If you are fairly new to web design, it can take you a while get your productivity up to speed. It was frustrating for me at first, I worked so quickly and easily in InDesign or Quark and could whip up a brochure or flyer in no time, yet I would spend days and weeks and stay up all hours of the night working on a site. I wanted to have that same productivity with web design, but I quickly realized that I had been doing print work most my life, so of course it was easier. Learning something totally different like web design takes time and is a continuous education process. If you put in the time to learn, you will eventually get those “aha!” moments where it all starts making sense.
5. Understand your limits as a designer
It’s easy to get excited when you land your first website project, but keep in mind what the client is asking for and whether that matches up with your skill set. If your client wants a website with animation or a searchable database, but you haven’t learned Flash or PHp, let them know that what they want is beyond your scope. You never know, after talking the whole project through with them, you may find out that they really don’t need these things and can accomplish their goal with a static website. I what they need is beyond your skill set, refer them to someone you know that can handle the project. You might be able to work out a referral system with that person.
Remember, just as it probably took you many years to master the print side of things, it will probably take many years to master web design. Luckily, there is an amazing amount of information and tutorials online. If you make the commitment to continually educate yourself on industry news, tutorials and techniques, you’ll find yourself designing for not only print, but also the web with ease.