How I Became a Website Designer+ how you can too!
September 13, 2017
Sometimes I still can’t believe that this is my job! Doing something that I love, and find fulfilling, is just an absolute dream. Working with clients to get their branding and websites, just perfect, truly gives me life!
If you told little 13-year old me that I would be doing this for a living I would be siked! Back then, I had just started my journey of playing around with Paint Shop Pro and making my first website.
Today, I’m going to share how I became a web designer and why I love doing it so much. If you’re interested in becoming a web designer or developer, then stay tuned, for the end of this article. I’ll be sharing some helpful resources for aspiring web designers!
Gurlpages, Geocities & Hosted Websites
My very first website was called Duck Duck Goose and it was hosted on Gurlpages. Gurl still is a website – I just checked to make sure it still existed. It’s for teenage girls to learn about news, life, relationships and of course to take those super fun quizzes. But, back in the day, they also offered free website creation with GurlPages. So anyway, I created my first website and dabbled with learning a little bit of HTML from Lissa Explains it all and Funky Chicken HTML. How do I still remember this?!
I got really into creating and editing my website, after school, each day. I had a guestbook, these little doll graphic things and an about me page. A few of my friends also made a website, at the same time, but within a year they had all lost interest. Except for me. My passion for graphic design was just beginning. Over the next year, I left GurlPages for Geocities where I was able to implement even more custom HTML so that I could push my skills further.
In early high school, I was designing graphics in Paint Shop Pro and knew enough HTML to get by. I joined a forum that was for girls, just like me, who were all into graphic design and creating their own websites. It was a great platform for us to share our lives with each other and talk about all things design. And, some of these ladies even had their own domains and hosted websites. If you wanted to be hosted as a subdomain, on another person’s website, you would create a post asking in the forum and see if anyone offered to host you. Eventually, I had 3 different websites on my friends’ subdomains. This allowed me to start creating custom websites and to become familiar with uploading files via FTP. I was having so much fun creating cute little layouts that reflected my personality.
Late High School & College
When Junior year rolled around in High School, I decided to stop making websites and pursuing graphic design. I don’t quite remember my reasoning, but maybe, I was just trying to focus on getting into college. Or, I thought it was nerdy and that I needed to just stop. Looking back, I really wish that I hadn’t because I enjoyed doing it so much.
The real problem here is that when I did go to college, I didn’t select web design or graphic design as a major. I chose History because I didn’t know what else to study and was pretty good/interested in the subject. Although I enjoyed college and the History program, I learned pretty quickly after I graduated that I didn’t want to pursue a career in History.
This is when my passion for design was re-kindled. I thought back to those days in high school when I was making websites and how happy it made me. I started to realize that I should have majored in design and even looked into going back to school. After all, I had moved to Richmond VA, after college, and was right next to one of the best art schools in the country, VCU. After a lot of thought, I decided against going back to school and looked into teaching myself. I started playing around with Adobe Photoshop and watching tutorials online about how to create graphics.
Learning While I Worked
I was really lucky to get a job as an Assistant at a local housing development company. This was my first, big girl job, out of college. I was mainly responsible for posting on Facebook, creating e-newsletters, posting blogs on their website, and of course doing administrative tasks. One of the requirements, when I applied, was to have some HTML/CSS knowledge, which, I was really excited to get back into.
After a couple of months of working there, my boss asked if I would be interested in designing his website. I was thrilled at the opportunity to jump back into the design world! He paid for a $20 online class so that I could learn modern HTML/CSS and build his website (sorry, I don’t remember the name of the class). He was happy with the site and started giving me more design work, as my position continued there. Looking back, these designs were all pretty bad and are certainly not in my portfolio today. But, this was my basis for learning how to make a website and this knowledge is still something that I use every day.
My Etsy Shop & the Start of Jules Design
In 2011, while I was working as an Assistant, I decided to start an Etsy Shop. I started selling custom graphics – including logos, websites, print pieces, and Etsy banners. I worked with other women who were just starting their businesses. I wanted to help make their dreams a reality, through my designs. At this point, I had decided that graphic design was what I wanted to do. I knew that I had a long way to go, but my passion drove me, to continue to learn more.
With every project that I booked on Etsy, I continued to learn more and improve my skills. Eventually, I found WordPress and fell in love immediately! I wanted my clients to be able to edit their own websites after I made them, and WordPress let me do just that. I learned how to create a custom theme, from scratch, on Lynda.com so that I could take my layout designs and turn them into working WordPress websites.
Although this was probably not the best idea, I actually coded my first WordPress theme, on the job. Meaning a client hired me and that was the first WordPress site that I made. From what I remember, it wasn’t an easy build either. It was an eCommerce website with a lot of bells and whistles. But, I loved it! Making a WordPress site, from scratch, was so much fun and I did a great job on the project! After that, I was booking almost exclusively WordPress websites and eventually stopped offering the basic HTML/CSS ones.
I continued working on Jules Design from 2011 to 2014 before going back to a day job. You can learn all about how I have quit my day job twice, to pursue Jules Design, right here. Or, you can learn more about some of the mistakes that I made during this time period, right here.
Jules Design Today
I took a job as a graphic designer and developer, in 2014, at a local design shop. I took advantage of my time there and learned as much as possible. My design skills continued to improve and I learned what it was like to collaborate in a team environment. My development skills improved so much because I was able to learn from a better developer, than myself, on the job. I’m now able to confidently build responsive WordPress website, incorporate jQuery and do an entire build myself.
In February 2017, I took the leap (for a 2nd time!) and went back to working for myself full time. Now, I get to create amazing brands and websites for my own clients. I work with female entrepreneurs who are serious about taking their business to the next level. I serve my clients by designing gorgeous brands and engaging websites that get results. And, I absolutely love my job!
Resources to Learn Website Design
If you’re a designer or developer, then I’m sure you know, that the learning process never ends. I’m a big believer in lifelong education and staying up-to-date on the most modern options available, for website design. To be in this business, you need to balance being open to change and also finding a process that works for you, and your clients. That way, you can bring them amazing results and do what you do best!
I also want to quickly mention that you don’t have to be a website designer and developer. It’s totally fine to just choose one path. In fact, I think that most people set out to learn both, and then find, that they love one more than the other. So, try learning a bit of design and development to see what you find more interesting.
If you’re interested in becoming website designer then my biggest advice to you is to practice, practice, practice. Doing research is great, but if you don’t take action and start testing your knowledge, then you won’t grow as a web designer or developer.
Here are a few resources that I’ve either used or recommend as a website designer:
- Lynda.com – Perfect for familiarizing yourself with Adobe CC and learning to code
- Skillshare.com – Great for design especially. Learn design from other designers.
- Treehouse – Learn web design & coding
- WordPress Codex – A helpful resource for developing on WordPress.
- Codecademy – Great place to start, free resources available
- W3Schools – Another free coding resource
- Hack Design – Get a design lesson, from a pro, in your inbox each week