Because everyone’s situation is different, I thought I’d start with a pep talk on some broad ideas. Keep in mind these are things I’m still trying to master myself. And while they’ve helped me, they mightn’t necessarily work for you.

Now, assuming you’ve made some inroads into learning the craft, here are 5 things to consider when getting yourself to that next level.

Learn to learn

Let me say this upfront: in the field of web design, qualifications don’t actually mean as much as you’d think. Really, it’s about what you’ve done, and what you can do. How you get to this point isn’t really an issue. Some people need the structure and regularity of university study to learn anything. Other people can simply pick up a book and go for it. My advice here is do what works for you.

Some people complaining that ‘my degree taught me nothing…’. If we’re talking about timeless design principles or whatever, that’s one thing. But when you’re talking about the nuts and bolts of how to build a website, it’s worth keeping in mind that with a field that progresses as fast as web design, and because the people writing/teaching the material are usually out of the field a little while themselves, it can be harder than you’d think to find a college course that’s going to give you everything you need.

Because this field is very much tied to technological progress, learning how to keep learning is really important. And there’s no better, more up-to-date resource on all the ins and outs of web design than the web itself. Learn to use this amazing library that not only holds a wealth of information, but will personally answer your questions and give you constructive feedback if you know where to look. I use it 100 times a day to check up on all sorts of things.

Focus on the work

If you’re going for an interview for a design job they’ll be looking at two main things — that you’re a nice person who will get along with everyone; and your portfolio. And not necessarily in that order.

A lot of articles about how to ‘make it on the web’ talk about being able to sell yourself and your abilities. I agree with this, but I’d say that before this comes something much more important — having something good to sell.

“Power is like being a lady — if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”.

Margaret Thatcher

Like the quote to the top, same thing applies here. When you’re starting out, worry about getting better first and selling these skills once you’ve got them. I believe, that if you produce great work, great things will come back to you without you needing to say or sell anything.

Take your time

I’m not saying just sit around twiddling you thumbs. I’m talking about giving yourself time to develop your abilities and portfolio until you’re really ready to make that transition into paid work. Understanding the difference between work you’re paid for and work that showcases all your abilities is important. When you’re starting out, these two things are usually quite different. It’s your goal as you progress to try and bridge this gap.

But chances are, if you’re just starting out and looking for work, you’ve got more time than money. Chances are, you may not be relying on web design to put food on the table. If this is the case, you’re in a great place to be. It’s the place every hack designer wishes they could get back to. Understand that once you make that leap into paid work, you’re set on a trajectory. The more groundwork you put in early on, the higher angle the path you’re traveling on. What I’m trying to say is, building your skills has a snowball effect. There always comes a point when the designer decides “right…I’m heading out into the wide world…”. The longer you can hold out doing this, the better.




If you learn how to make ugly table-based sites over the weekend and then jump into the business side of things and try to make money from your new found talent, you can only ever go so far. The work you do attracts more clients who want what you’re selling which means you’ll soon become the ‘table-based-ugly-site’ guy. Or perhaps you try and get a job and unsurprisingly Tables-n-ugly Inc is the only employer that likes the cut of your job.

Now the way I’m framing this makes the situation sound very bleak indeed. Of course life isn’t rigid like that. But there is some merit in moving into paid work at a level you’re happy with. We all have to start somewhere, but if you can avoid it don’t be in a rush to get stuck in a 9-to-5 or worse, set up a website posing as some international conglomerate. Too many people starting out do this and end up looking like kids by the side of the road selling lemonade. People always try to do the business thing backwards. Let things grow organically.

Don’t settle

Seemingly contradictory to the last point, try to approach every new project as a potential portfolio piece. Of course, we know this probably can’t happen, but I can’t stress this mindset enough. It’s this way of thinking that will snap you out of producing work as boring as the brief may be. As long as you have just a little flexibility from the client, you have all you need to make great work.

Of course, there are jobs where you may not get any flexibility at all. And it’s these situations where I’d also recommend not settling. If you’re a creative person, this sort of situation can be all the more soul destroying. Don’t let it kill your right hemisphere! There are always better opportunities out there, so if you’re unhappy in your current work — don’t settle.

Make it better

I’m not one for personal mottos, but if I were to ever have one this would probably be it. In my room I printed these words out on the wall at my work station right above the computer screen in big letters.

Now this doesn’t mean you should dislike everything you produce. But growing as a designer is about finding a balance between being too self-congratulatory and being overly self-critical. This sort of mindset can be applied broadly to a whole design, or just to one small section of it that maybe could be improved upon. It’s the asking of the question ‘how can I make this better?’ that counts, whether you are actually capable of making something better isn’t as important. Be hungry for improvement.

When you apply this attitude towards your work, you’ll see two wonderful things happen: firstly, you’ll learn detachment from your designs which is very healthy; and secondly, and most importantly, you’ll get better.



Free Roman Polanski poster
Stepping into web design
Ferrari Hamptons Rally (web link)
Ferrari Owners Club
Northeast region (web link)

Loveliers (web link)
  Magdalena Kolodziej (web link)
Designing for the web:
5 things I love and hate

A few extra pounds
Save Demoscene in North America poster
  Mulholland Drive poster
Design by numbers
Space poster
Octave One
  Getting social
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