• IT - Web Design

    In 1995, less than 1 percent of the world's population was connected to the Internet. Today, it's over 40 percent worldwide; in the United States  alone, almost 87 percent of the population "gets online." By the end of 2014, figures project that over 3 billion people will look for news, shop, and communicate online. Not only are more people going online, but they're also becoming savvier users, making it essential for web designers to create engaging and user-friendly experiences that perform well and continue to stay ahead of design trends and new technologies.

    "Today, users who go to a poorly designed website are not going to stick around for very long," Don Elliot, creative director of Gravitate, a digital marketing and design agency based in Vancouver, WA, told Kaplan. "Demands are high and a site's performance, functionality, and design have become much more important. It is a constant race to keep up with users' expectations."

    Companies like Facebook are known for continually reinventing the way people interact with their websites. Having worked in the industry for over a decade, Elliot noted that rapid shifts have occurred in recent years. "Today, a website has to be more like a salesperson than a brochure. A website should be dynamic, you wouldn't just give the same pitch to every person. Websites today needs to evolve and become better and better all the time."

    Due to this demand, and especially due to the growing popularity of mobile devices and e-commerce, employment opportunities for web designers and developers is also on the rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of web developers is projected to grow 20 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations.*

    Specialization within web design includes user experience, information architecture, content strategy, graphic design, and web development.

    The number of roles that a web designer is expected to fill depends on the job. "It varies a lot," said Elliot. "The larger the firm, the more you have specialists. The designer and developer are usually different people, but at smaller firms it's sometimes the same." According to Elliot, there's also a growing trend for all designers to be responsible for user experience instead of just assigning it to one designer. "User experience is really the whole site."

    In terms of hard skills, there are a variety of programming languages that web developers need to know. The latest HTML and CSS and a good working knowledge of JavaScript are all a must, while jQuery, the cross-platform JavaScript library, is of major benefit. According to Elliot, a solid knowledge of the scripting language PHP may make a designer more employable due to the ubiquity of its use on the web (combined with knowledge of MySQL and other database systems). Ruby and Python, on the other hand, which are more "powerful" programming languages for creating complex applications, could yield higher-paying jobs, but it might be harder to find work.

    Elliot recommends web developers to focus more on open-source coding, as demand is currently higher for it. "Open source is community-driven and has become highly sophisticated," said Elliot. "Even though closed source (such as ASP.NET) has a more established history and is much stronger with Microsoft integration and security regulations, there are more opportunities with open source."

    For careers in web design (as compared to web development), it is essential to know Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator and understand branding concepts. According to Elliot, web designers also benefit from a working knowledge of CSS and HTML, even if they are not doing the actual coding.

    For content managers, the platform WordPress has become a dominating force, which in latest reports facilitates 23 percent of all of the web's content. Drupal is another content management system.

    With increasing competition in the fields of web design and web development, Elliot stressed the importance of creating a strong portfolio. An internship may help with portfolio creation. "Before committing to an internship, be sure to ask what your access to actual design work will be. The point is to get actual experience and increasing your design chops, and not just getting coffee." Freelance or contract-based work is another way to build a portfolio.

    As for more seasoned web developers, growing trends such as responsive design, where websites are designed to adjust specifically for viewing on a mobile device, tablet, or desktop, continue to push new limits when it comes to skills needed.

    "Responsive came on really quickly," said Elliot. "At Gravitate, we don't even do non-responsive sites anymore, it's not even an option." Today 11 percent of sites on the web are now responsive, compared to zero just a few years ago. "Responsive design presents a whole different approach. Designers have to think in new dimensions. Context is key." Some now approach web design with a "mobile-first" attitude, while others develop both mobile and desktop designs simultaneously.

    Previously, designers did not have to think as much about page loading time, called "performance," but focused on the need to grab users' attention immediately, which remains a priority. Similarly, the prevailing attitude that text on sites should convey messages as succinctly as possible "is like a sigh of relief to a designer."

    Overall, Elliot believes the Internet has gotten better and easier to use. "People have adapted to using the Internet, and they're pushing it forward. People do read on the web, but only once they see that it's something relevant to them, or else they will just move on. People want to use the Internet, and the role of web design is to make this information as relevant and easily accessible as possible." The average user will leave a website if they have not yet found what they were looking for (or something of interest) within three clicks. Adhering to this "three click rule," along with making websites usable on mobile devices, accessible for people with disabilities, secure, branded, interesting, and unique for the client makes a career in web development creative, attractive, and still very necessary.




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  • * U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-2015 Edition, Web Developers, on the Internet at www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm. National long-term projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

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