From shopping and socializing to entertainment and information, digital media is an important part of everyday life. And if you can combine creative vision with technical capability, you might just have what it takes to design websites and apps that keep people clicking.
This article will explore the essential skills needed to become a fantastic freelance web designer. We'll go from learning what UX is and how to include visual and responsive design elements in every project, to nurturing the communication and project management skills required to meet a brand’s specifications and client briefs.
What does a web designer do?
When it comes to building websites and apps, form and function are equally important – and it’s a web designer’s responsibility to deliver both. In other words, they need to understand how to ensure a digital platform not only looks great, but is also easy-to-use.
To achieve this, a web designer will first meet with their client – whether that’s a local business or an international brand – to discuss the brief. Following these conversations, the next stage is to come up with layouts, designs, color palettes, and fonts – essentially, all the visual aspects of a website or app – that convey the client’s message while also appealing to the target audience. As well as coming up with a look and feel that represents the business or brand's personality, they’ll also need to consider usability features, such as site navigation, load times, and mobile compatibility.
In addition to creating new websites or redesigning existing ones, web designers are often required to carry out ongoing maintenance by regularly updating and optimizing the platform to deliver the best possible user experience.
How to become a web designer
To kickstart your web-design career, you might consider formal training – such as enrolling in a degree or course that will teach you many of the fundamentals of digital design.
There’s also the option to support your learning – whether you attend an educational institute or are self-taught – with an apprenticeship. That might mean spending time at an agency specializing in web design, or with someone who has already launched a successful freelance business. This means you’ll be exposed to the realities of client briefs, design presentations, and the various stages involved in building and delivering a website or app in the real world.
As you work your way towards this role, it’s worth creating a web design portfolio and building a website to showcase your work. Think of it as a visual business card that instantly demonstrates your skills.
What skills do you need for web design?
A web designer needs to think creatively and logically, and get to grips with a number of technical skills – like UX design. While these skills might seem complex at first, they’ll soon make sense when put into practice. Similarly, if you are passionate about design and want to create visually-pleasing platforms, the soft skills required to be a web designer – such as an ability to listen and interpret a brief – will continue to develop over the course of your career.
Web designer technical skills
Developing an understanding of these areas will put you firmly on the path toward becoming a successful freelance web designer.
1. Visual Design
Visual or graphic design is an essential technical skill for any web designer. It will enable you to identify the most aesthetically pleasing design choices for a website or app based on the brand or business you’re working with, the platform’s use cases, and its intended audience.
Remember, good web design revolves around crafting and conveying a business or brand’s look and feel – or, its ‘voice’ – across digital communication platforms, and so an understanding of visual design is very important.
We’ve looked at the importance of creating a visually appealing website or app, and now it’s time to think about making sure it’s usable, enjoyable, and accessible. That means focusing on the user experience – or UX.
This technical skill requires web designers to carry out research and collect data in order to understand what users want, and develop an approach that puts efficiency and ease-of-use front and center.
A web designer identifies potential problems or usability challenges during a UX audit and comes up with solutions. They take the brand, business, and user requirements and turn them into meaningful online experiences. They also develop prototypes, sitemaps, and wireframes in order to deliver a seamless user experience.
3. Responsive Design
Deeply connected to UX design, responsive design is all about providing a consistent user experience regardless of the device or the browser. For this reason, it’s an important part of the web development process and, when done well, can greatly improve a website’s SEO – but we’ll look at that in more detail later.
Web designer soft skills
Next, we take a look at the soft skills – or people skills – that are essential when it comes to responding to clients and managing web design projects.
From face-to-face meetings to video calls and emails, you should strive to communicate with clients in a way that builds trust, ensures understanding, and demonstrates your ability to complete their design project to brief and on time. Explain the web design process to them in a way that’s easy to understand, and talk them through the various stages of the project so they know what to expect.
That said, you don’t have to do all the talking – your ability to listen and understand a client’s unique needs and requirements is crucial when it comes to delivering a website or app that not only fulfills, but exceeds their expectations. Ask questions, ensure you have interpreted their answers correctly and provide regular updates to ensure you are on the right track.
In addition, being a freelance web designer might also require you to work with other web specialists, including web developers and graphic designers, and liaise with third-party agencies. Being clear about your role and seeking ways to collaborate will help you get the most out of these relationships.
5. Client management
Speaking of client expectations, this skill is all about checking in regularly. After handing over a completed website or app, it’s important to provide post-build technical support and training. It’s closely related to project management, which involves breaking up the assignment into stages, drawing up realistic timelines and scheduling catch-ups. Essentially, the aim here is for the work to progress while ensuring the client feels reassured and that their needs are being met.
Remember, many web design agencies will have a dedicated client or account manager to perform this function, so reach out to these teams for any advice or project management tools they might use to make the process simpler and more streamlined – such as Asana, ClickUp, and Trello.
6. Attention to detail
From drawing up a contract to delivering a fully-functioning app or website that’s ready to launch, there are a million little things web designers need to consider from brief to build and beyond.
One way to ensure your work is aligned to your vision and adheres to the client’s requirements is to draw up a style guide. This is where you’ll document the visual strategy for the website and app, and compile rules for key elements such as colors, logo usage, and fonts. Not only will this attention to detail keep things consistent, but it will also serve as a valuable resource that you can share with both collaborators and the client to ensure their visual identity is upheld in the future.
Try to avoid letting deadlines get in the way of checking the details – think about legibility and accuracy, and ensure every element serves a purpose. Keep checking and testing your work, and be prepared to make changes in order to provide the best possible user experience.
7. Digital marketing & SEO
By understanding how a website or app feeds into a business or brand’s overall marketing strategy, you can more effectively test your work and identify elements that might need refining. Similarly, researching the latest digital marketing trends can ensure your design is up-to-date and more likely to resonate with users – which means achieving the marketing holy grail – more engagement.
You’ll spend a lot of time thinking about the speed, layout, structure and performance of a site – and all these things can help ensure it’s SEO-friendly. But there’s more that can be done. By understanding how to come up with and implement keywords, meta titles and descriptions, alt tags, and URLs that are optimized for search engines, such as Google, you’ll be able to boost your site’s rankings.
To wrap up
By combining technical knowledge with client-facing confidence, you’ll soon become a fantastic freelance web designer. And remember, the only way to keep improving is to constantly review and refine your approach. At the end of each project, ask yourself: what worked well and what are the areas where you could improve or add to your skillset?