Web Designers Tips

Read these 21 Web Designers Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Freelance Design tips and hundreds of other topics.

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Know Your Users

Artisan Talent Tip: When you work on Web design jobs, you are working to please not only your client, but the users of your client's site. It's helpful to know as much as you can about that audience as you begin designing a site for them. For example, who is the target market and what kind of demographic information is available about them? (For instance, a site appealing to men in their 50s will have a different look from one appealing to women in their 20s.)

How can I stay current in the field of Web design?

Continuing Ed For Web Designers

If you're working freelance, web design jobs tend to be varied. This means you'll need to have a larger skill set than people who are doing the same tasks every day at a corporate job. Being equipped to handle the needs of your client is part of the package. The question is, how do you stay on top of the latest trends?

There are several ways to keep up with things in the field. Here are a few to try:

  • Webinars. Webinars provide online training in a wide range of subjects. This is an attractive option, since you can do it from the comfort of home.
  • Classes. Traditional coursework is another way to learn more as a designer. This is an especially good choice if the subject matter is complex.
  • Industry groups. Joining industry groups can help you keep abreast of the latest news in your field, which gives you an idea of what you need to brush up on.
  • Self-study. Learning new techniques from books may be an option if you enjoy self-directed study.


Finding Web Design Jobs

Artisan Talent Tip: If you're serious about a freelance Web design career, you want clients who are serious about their Web sites. Many of the prospective clients out there are people who want the cheapest possible product, and don't have a good understanding of how much a quality designer can help their sites.

How can I find clients if I am going to do freelance Web design work?

Finding Web Design Clients

If you're looking for a career in freelance web design, you'll need to create a plan for finding clients. Unlike working for a company where you're given projects to work on, freelancing will require you to go out and find your own clients.

You can do this in several different ways:

  • Cold call. Calling or emailing to seek out business is one way to look for clients. This is time-consuming, but it can pay off.
  • Network. Joining a local chamber of commerce or getting involved in industry groups can help raise your visibility as a freelance designer. The more people you meet, the bigger the net you cast.
  • Referrals. Ask current (or former) clients to keep you in mind for referrals. You can even offer them a discount if they land you any new business.
  • Join a talent agency. A good talent agency will help find you work--and usually at a nice rate. It doesn't hurt to align yourself with people who are out there looking to get you jobs.
  • Advertise. Advertising has been around for a long time, and it can help you connect with clients. Try to place any ads in well-thought-out spots, such as the local paper or the church bulletin if you're on a tight budget.

What can I do to make my sites more accessible to disabled people?

Web Site Accessibility

One issue that often doesn't get enough attention in freelance Web design jobs is the question of accessibility for disabled users. The most common accessibility problems relate to blind and visually impaired users, who use programs called "screen readers" to hear pages rather than seeing them. Here are some tips for making your page accessible to screen readers:

  • Provide a descriptive ALT tag for every image. A good ALT tag describes in words what sighted users see when they look at that image, but also what the image means. So "photograph of a baby with a pacifier" might be a good ALT tag -- but "Web Sites That Suck logo" might be even better.
  • When using imagemaps (images divided into sections that link to different places), label each section with an ALT attribute describing where the link will take the user.
  • Use relative rather than absolute font sizes, so that partially sighted users can read at very large sizes.

What do I need to know about my audience?

Know Your Users

To please both your client and your client's users, you'll need as much information as possible about the client's customer base:

  • How old are they? (Older users are more likely to feel intimidated by the Internet, and to need larger font sizes and friendlier navigation.)
  • What kinds of Internet connections do they have? (If most have broadband connections, you can make your pages a little larger and include more multimedia content.)
  • What do competing sites look like? (You don't want to produce a clone of a competitor, but they may give you ideas about what does and doesn't work for this audience.)

How can I design pages that work on any browser?

Cross-Browser Compatibility

A couple of years ago, it seemed that Internet Explorer had won the browser wars. Many designers figured that if their Web design jobs worked OK in Explorer, they didn't need to worry too much about the small percentage of users who visited with Netscape or other browsers.

Today that has changed. Mozilla-based browsers such as Opera and Firefox have surged in popularity, in part because they have proven less vulnerable to viruses while offering easy ways to eliminate such annoyances as pop-up ads. Browser expert Chuck Upsdell estimates that about 15 percent of Web users are using something other than Internet Explorer -- a number that should be significant enough to attract a designer's attention.

Tips for designing cross-browser compatible sites:

  • It's not worth the time it takes to get your site to look exactly the same in all browsers. Instead, strive to have it look good in all common browsers.
  • Design your site to be resolution-independent, resizing its elements automatically depending on the screen size the user has chosen.
  • There are free sites (Browser Cam is perhaps the best known) that will let you see how your page looks on Mac and PC, in the more popular browsers.
  • Cascading style sheets (CSS) are wonderful tools, but also the source of a great many cross-browser issues. The more you use style sheets, the more important it is to test and retest your pages.

What is "user experience" and what do I need to know about it?

User Experience

Good design for the Web must be attractive and fast-loading, but there's an additional factor: It must be usable. Your users don't just look at your work, they interact with it to meet their own needs (information, connection, entertainment).

Even sites that are designed for sophisticated audiences value simplicity. Slashdot.org, which caters to high-tech professionals, may not be easy reading, but it's not very hard to figure out how to log in and post an item or comment on someone else's post.

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen lists three top priorities which all freelance Web site design pros should keep in mind:

  • Communicate clearly so that users understand instantly what your site is about and what they'll find there.
  • Provide information users want and make it easy for them to find.
  • Use simple, consistent architecture to put things where users expect to find them.

What if a client just wants a small, cheap site?

Simple Sites

One way to cut down on time spent dealing with low-end customers is to establish a flat fee for a simple Web site, which might look something like this:

  • 1-hour consultation to understand client's business goals and Web needs
  • Domain registration and hosting setup
  • Home page
  • About Us page
  • News page
  • Two additional content pages
  • Contact Us page
  • Two rounds of revisions
  • Site to be loaded and domain name transferred to client upon receipt of full payment
The exact fee will depend on prevailing freelance Web design rates in your area.

For many small businesses, this is sufficient to get them established on the Web. If you and the client have a good relationship, you can go on to make a case for the value of a more fully developed site; otherwise, you can go your separate ways.

How can I find good Web design jobs?

Finding Web Design Jobs

Almost any crowd of people will include someone who sighs and says, "I really ought to get a Web site" or "I really need to update my site." Web job boards are full of people looking for freelancers to design sites or parts of sites.

If you're just starting a freelance Web design career, it may be worth your time to try to sell some of these prospects on the value of paying a professional. Once you're established, though, it may be a better use of your time to use an agency or design shop to hook you up with Web design jobs, or at least establish a system for qualifying prospects so that you don't spend time selling people who won't buy.

What are some guidelines for effective Web navigation?

Web Navigation

Web navigation is vital, yet many sites make simple mistakes that cost them clicks and customers. Your Web design jobs don't have to join this club. Here are some guidelines to help you:

  • Don't overdo the number of navigation links. Instead, provide a good site search function and let users who want to make unusual transitions go back to your home page.
  • Provide navigation links that flow naturally. If a customer is looking at a page selling a Roman coin, navigation links from that page should go to other coins, other Roman items, books about coin collecting, and so forth.
  • Make navigation consistent throughout your site. If it's on the left bar on the home page, it shouldn't move to the top on the inside pages.
  • Don't make users guess where things are. Use labels that clearly describe what they'll find if they click.

How much should I get paid as a web designer?

Negotiating Pay For Web Design Work

A freelance Web designer can expect to make anywhere from $30 to $150 an hour, depending upon his or her experience. Designers sometimes negotiate with clients for payment in both cash and trade.

Trade is payment in the form of a service rather than money. For example, trade can be a spot for advertising on a client's site or the opportunity to link one's portfolio to a page. Some designers may also choose to take less money up front with the agreement that more work will be forthcoming, either from the client or his or her associates.

Are there other names for web designers?

Web Design By Any Other Name

As you search for a career in Web design, it is helpful to know that professionals in this industry are also called:

• Web Directors
• Art Directors or Interface Directors
• Web Architects (if the position is an upper-level one)

Whatever the name, the job is very much the same. So feel free to apply to them all.

Can I do anything to assist the freelance web designer I am hiring?

Preparing for Your Web Designer

Supply as much information as possible to minimize the involvement and cost of the Web site designer or multi media designer. Set your goals. What do you want your site to accomplish?

Organize your ideas into a few major topics and write them down for your designer. If you have ideas about what you want your site to look like, note them. If you have a Web site you admire, send your designer the URL so he or she can review it and get a better sense of what you'd like to see for your own site.

How do I know if a web designer is right for my company?

When Hiring a Freelance Web Designer

If you are considering hiring a freelance Web designer, be sure to see as many functional samples of his or her work as you can. That is, anyone you hire should have at least one properly functioning Web site up and running on the Internet. This way, you will be able to assess whether or not the potential hire can build a Web site from scratch that is a unified work of art.

Be on the lookout for designers who can combine content, navigational structure, and appearance into a powerful integrated experience. When you find a designer who can do this for others, you can be fairly certain that he or she will be able to do it for you!

My client wants me to design ads for the Web. What works?

Effective Web Advertising

Part of many freelance Web design jobs is creating effective Web ads for your client's site. Here are some tips for doing this well:

  • Know the standard Web ad sizes, particularly those accepted by the sites where the client advertises. Besides the banner (468x60 pixels), standard sizes include buttons, leaderboards (supersized banners), skyscrapers (vertical ads), and rectangles (often inserted into text).
  • Your ad won't keep a user's attention for long. Target it carefully so that it is more likely to capture the eye of someone who's at that site looking for information. For instance, your ads for wool socks might say "great for hunting" on an outdoors site, and "keep Mom's feet warm" on a parenting site.
  • Promise a benefit from clicking on the ad, whether it's a special promotion or simply a benefit of the product being sold.
  • Be specific about who is advertising and what is being advertised. Users won't click if they don't trust what's on the other end.

What graphics formats work on the Web?

Web Graphic Formats

You probably already know that Web graphics are usually either GIFs or JPGs. You may also know that simple graphics are usually saved as GIFs and photos as JPGs. How do you really tell, though?

The right format for your image is whichever one makes the image smaller. The point of having different formats is to help you, the designer, create faster pages without losing too much image quality.

Adobe Photoshop is the standard program for creating Web images. Its "Save for Web" function allows you to see how an image will look at varying sizes and in varied formats.

There's a third Web graphic format, PNG, which can sometimes result in a smaller image and may be worth trying. However, it is not supported by some older browsers, so you'll want to test any pages that use PNGs for cross-browser compatibility. A busy freelance Web design pro may conclude that this third format is not worth much time.

Who owns the copyright to my website?

Copyrights to Your Web Site

Find out ahead of time if the freelance web designer will want the copyright to the pages created for you. This could be a problem because it restricts you from making new pages by copying from existing pages. You could also be banned from using your Web site anytime you wish.

*If you have trouble getting the copyright, next time think about choosing a professional who gives you the rights.

What else can a web designer help me to do?

How a Web Designer Can Increase Your Business

A capable Web site designer can help you refine the vision you have for your company's site. This professional can point out the ways in which copy and design can function together to send your message effectively.

A good knowledge of how to organize information and create a navigational structure that makes sense, all while remaining visually appealing, is a valuable asset.

Do web designers have to know HTML?

Web Site Design: To HTML or Not to HTML?

A Web designer uses roughly the same software as an HTML coder. However, a Web site designer might use Photoshop, QuarkXPress, Illustrator, or FreeHand to develop a prototype of the site while leaving the coding aspect to the coders themselves.

It is still important for an upper-level Web designer to have knowledge of HTML language and editing so that he or she is able to understand its limitations and supervise coders effectively.

How can I be a better web designer?

Web Designers, Do Your Homework!

A truly masterful Web page designer does a lot of practical research. This means going on the Web to investigate pages, figure out who is building them and understanding what tools are being used.

Learn what different clients prefer when it comes to the look and feel for a site. By researching these elements, you will be able to stay abreast of the trends. This will give you a decidedly competitive edge in the freelance market.

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