Here are my top 10 web design skills that you WILL need to master to become an effective web designer.
If you’re serious about mastering web design and marketing, check out the Pro Web Design Alliance. See how Jordan benefited from the course forum and Google hangout sessions to make his and his clients’ sites better. Look at Jordan’s site and the testimonials from his clients here. The personal interaction with Ben and fellow students while working on live sites makes the learn by doing course philosophy start generating money for you while you are still in the course.
Your priorities may be different (and my priorities may be different a few months down the line).
And I’d add that you don’t need all these skills in any particular measure to make it in web design. But to be a fully rounded web professional, this is my take on the ideal make-up.
#1. Writing & Editorial Skills
I’m convinced the #1 most important skill for a web designer is the ability to use words effectively. A truly effective web designer is more highly skilled with writing and editing copy than with producing graphics in Photoshop.
If you can craft a series of web pages into a conversation that communicates what you need to communicate, informs, and calls your visitors to take the actions you want, your web site can be a great success, even if it’s graphically plain – hey, even if it’s ugly!
Effective wording is of singular importance in several highly important factors in the success of web pages:
- Effective wording is key to brand communication. Effective branding on a web site is about ‘getability’ – how efficiently you can communicate what the site is, what it does, and for whom. It’s unusual to be able to do this without using words. The more effective your wording, the more getable your page, and the more people will believe your proposition is for them and choose to stick around to find what they want.
- It’s also vital for usability. Words are often the most effective labels to identify forward steps (links etc.); usually far more efficient than icons or other images. Words in navigation can tell you unequivocally where you are, where you can go, and what you can do. Well-crafted navigation makes a critical difference to any web site’s effectiveness, keeping visitors on board longer.
- SEO: Search engines look for meaning, which you communicate through content, which generally means writing. And people want to link to good content. The better your writing, the better your site will perform.
#2. Holistic Circumspection
What I mean by this is the ability to look at a problem from multiple angles at the same time, so that you can come up with a solution that balances appropriate all the various requirements, goal, and risk factors.
Web design isn’t a simplistic publishing exercise (what is?!): it requires an appreciation of who your target visitor is, what she wants to achieve when visiting a web site, what the competition is like and how to differentiate your site from them, the initial brand impression, choice of wording to communicate effectively, choice of imagery to create the right tone, how search engines work and how to take maximum advantage of that, difficulties and cost of getting a design to display correctly on very different browsers, accessibility to everyone regardless of disability, ease-of-use, technical integration issues, maintenance issues, brand constraints, etc. etc.
On top of all this, a really good web designer has the ability to step away from the design they’re working on, almost to pretend to be someone else and think like someone who’s never seen the site before.
How can you develop this ability? I honestly don’t know for sure, but experience helps, as does the opportunity to observe people using web sites (yours or others’).
#3. Graphic Design Theory
The discipline of graphic design works at many levels, from the surface effect to the core basics of layout and spacing.
I really believe that the core basics are far more important than the “higher” aspects.
The core basics include:
- Proportion and Balance
- Contrast and Colour
- Flow, and managing the Eye
These basics make a design basically work. Get them right, and your design will be effective, irrespective of the finish.
At the higher end, you’ve got the actual surface layer, which sits on top of the basic structure. These skills include:
- 3D effects
- Custom imagery
- Plus all the basic factors – applied together and to a finer degree
- and all the stylistic web design tricks we know and love.
Get both right, and you can have a compelling web page design that works on every level. Get the basics right, and your page will be fundamentally effective. Get just the surface finish, and you could end up with no result at all, other than the accolades of design tossers, which really is the wooden spoon.
#4. Listening & Discernment
To be a great web designer, you need to appreciate the whole environment. The most fundamental, radical requirement is: What does the client need?
To get to the bottom of what will actually constitute success for your client, you need to apply both good listening (which is pro-active and may be challenging) and discernment – good judgement, based on experience and common sense, which will help you and the site owner refine what the site needs to achieve.
Without good listening & discernment, you’ll end up with a web site whose purpose is just to be a web site up there. That’s no good to anyone. Great designers create web sites that are consciously, deliberately, boldly focused on achieving specific goals for the client (through delivering specific benefits to visitors with consistently satisfying experiences).