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The Best Advice for Novice Web Designers in 2018

When you’re just getting started, it’s hard to know what advice to listen to, and what to ignore. Finding your footing in such a loud and polarizing industry like design is difficult. So, here’s some advice to help you ease yourself in.

When you’re just getting started as a web designer, it’s hard to know what advice to listen to and what to take with a grain of salt. There are approximately 162,900 web developers in the United States, so the last thing you want to do is make an amateur mistake and lose a potential client to the competition. Here are 15 tips to help you take your web design business to the next level:

Don’t Neglect Your Own Website

Web designers can get so consumed with creating the perfect client websites that they neglect their own. This is bad, because 48 percent of consumers say a website’s design plays the top role in how they view the credibility of a business. Your website is a reflection of you as a designer. It should both show off your best design skills and offer the potential client a glimpse of what you do and do well. Show off your best work.

Speed Matters

Most people won’t wait a long time for a site to fully load, especially those on mobile devices. About 39 percent will just leave if it takes too long for images to load. Take the time to learn about how images are delivered, the speed of your own servers and the best ways to optimize images. For example, you can install a plugin that smushes your images or you can deliver images via a content delivery network (CDN). There are also cache settings that might make your site load more quickly for repeat visitors.

Stick to a Few Typefaces

You want your design to be unique and to stand out, but it is easy to get caught up in typefaces and to use quite a few to show off your design skills. However, simplicity really does work better when it comes to the fonts you use on your page. Illustrated Domain recommends limiting your fonts to a few per page, because too many different styles may put the focus on the fonts and not on your products. Multiple typefaces can also create pages that load more slowly – see No. 2 above.

Make Images Emotional

When you choose images to enhance the text on your website, you’ll want to choose images that evoke some type of emotional response. Consumers are drawn to images that make them feel something. However, the image you choose must also be relevant to the industry for which you are creating the website. This isn’t an easy task, but with a little thought, you can come up with a photo that speaks to the heart and soul of what the company does for their customers.

Get a Process in Place

When you first start working with clients, the process itself can feel overwhelming. It’s a smart idea to write out the steps needed to complete a job. You might have the initial quote, first payment, mockups of the design, approval of design, customer approval of website and final payment, for example. Your process will differ from the process other designers use. What is important is finding a balance that works for you and your clients.

Utilize Tools

Don’t be afraid to pull in tools that make your life easier as a designer. Find a good invoicing system. There are many from which to choose. You can use Square for payment and set up recurring invoicing and other features that help you keep track of your clients and payments for business and tax purposes. Use time-management tools such as Toggl to track how much time you’re spending on each task. Stay organized with digital to-do lists. The more organized you can get with the business side of design, the more time you’ll have for the creative tasks.

Choose Color Carefully

Web guru Neil Patel shares tips about the psychology behind web design and how even the colors you choose can evoke emotion. He points to how Coca-Cola uses red in its branding, from website to logo. The color shows that the brand is bold and fresh, and it works very well. You’ll have to balance the colors the company might already be using with complementary colors for the web design. The overall key is to use colors that are visually pleasing but also stand out from the crowd.

Remember the Call to Action (CTA)

Even though the marketing end of the website is probably handled by the company’s own marketing team, you still need to consider the overall user friendliness of your design. A strong landing page will feature a CTA that invites the user to take a specific action. Understanding where to place the CTA and how to draw the user’s attention to it will help your clients tremendously. The better service and value you offer your clients, the more referrals you’ll get in the future.

Start Small and Grow

About 29 percent of small businesses don’t have a website yet, so you might be working with some pretty small fish in the business pond, especially in the beginning. Don’t try to create a website the size of Amazon in the beginning. Even Amazon didn’t start out the size of Amazon. Instead, start simple and add features as the business grows and traffic to the business’s site increases.

Plan a Navigational Hierarchy

No matter what size a website is in the beginning, try to think through a hierarchy plan that allows for growth. What are the main categories for the business, and how can additional features or products the business might add at a later date be categorized? Planning a navigational hierarchy now can prevent redesign nightmares later. Hopefully you will still be designing for the company when it comes time to revamp the site, so you’ll be doing your future self a favor here.

Underpromise and Overdeliver

You’ve likely heard this saying before— it’s a popular saying in the business world. Promise your customers less than you know you’re capable of doing and then deliver more and faster than you promised. This helps ensure your reputation for going above and beyond and delivering in a timely manner. It also gives you some flex room if you run into any hiccups along the way. Designer Ryan McKay shared with Envato that you should “go the extra mile and surprise the client with something they didn’t request.”

Website Flow

Think about the pathway the typical visitor takes through your website — or the path you’d like the customer to take. How can you direct your customer where you want them to go? Do you offer multiple ways to reach the destination? Everything about your site should funnel that visitor to a destination, even if it changes over time. Make sure there aren’t any dead ends on your site. Each page should flow naturally to another.

Make Navigation Intuitive

Navigation is one area where you don’t want to get overly creative. Most site visitors expect to find the navigation bar above the fold, either near the top or the top side of the page. This is the best location, because this is where site visitors will look to get their bearings and figure out how to move through your site. If you put the navigation in a location that is difficult to find, you risk visitors bouncing away from the site.

Add Negative Space

Negative space is the hallmark of good design. If you are building a page for a client, he or she may want to fill every available inch of space with something. It is up to you as the designer to educate your client about the benefits of negative space for drawing the eye to the specific thing the business wants the visitor to look at. There needs to be a good balance between positive and negative space within any design. Negative space doesn’t always have to be white background, however. It is any type of neutral space that gives the reader’s eyes a break from the content.

Create Responsive Designs

In March 2017, over 80 percent of the top websites ranked by Alexa were mobile-adaptive sites. With more and more people using their mobile devices to get online, it only makes sense to ensure any site you design is mobile adaptive. It is easiest to create a site that is adaptive to screen size from the very beginning.

Rewarding Career

Being a web designer can be quite rewarding. You get to work with a wide variety of clients and design creative sites. However, there are many aspects of design to learn, including some basic business management and organizational skills. With a little practice and study, you’ll grow a nice client base and continue to get referrals and build your business.

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About the Author Lexie Lu

Lexie Lu is a freelance web designer and coffee enthusiast. Most mornings she’s working on new design mockups with some coffee in arm’s reach. Her work has been featured on CreativeBloq, Marketo, Envato, and JUSTCreative. She owns the design blog, Design Roast, and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.