Recently, someone emailed me asking for advice about how to start a career as a web designer. After taking some time to organize my thoughts on the subject, I thought I'd share them here. What I love about the web design field is that it doesn't require any special certifications, formal education or any other traditional qualifiers. Everyone who has ever decided to start a career as a web designer has probably taken a different path to get there. The route I followed to get where I am today is unique to my life choices and circumstances. So it would be ridiculous to say that there is a preferred path or that one way will work better than another.
The great thing about it all is this: you get to choose the path! However you get there, here are some tips that might help along the way.
Read everything about design/development that you can get your hands on. This is where it starts. We are fortunate, in this profession, that there is so much information available and that there are so many generous folks out there willing to share what they know for free. Read design magazines. Read tutorials and how-tos. Read some design books. The sources are virtually unlimited — you just have to want the knowledge enough and take the time to go get it.
I think I've mentioned before how hearing Jeffrey Zeldman speak at Web Design World in Boston in 2002 changed my whole perspective on web design and subsequently kicked my career into gear. If you've never been to a design conference, do yourself a favor and sign up for one. It really can change your life. I would highly recommend one of the An Event Apart conferences.
Publilius Syrus, a 1st Century Roman author said, "Practice is the best of all instructors." This is probably the most important part of the journey to become a successful web designer. Like any worthwhile endeavor, if you want to get better at it, you have to practice. If you want to become a web designer, then just start doing it.
I started off by looking at the code of other designers to see how they achieved certain effects. I spent a lot of time copying/pasting and deconstructing other designers' websites. I've also spent countless hours pouring over my own HTML or CSS code trying to perfect just the right look. It all takes time — and lots of practice.
So that's pretty much it. There are many ways to get there, but if you want it bad enough, then reading, listening and practicing will be your loyal companions along the way.