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The Real Poop

Did you know that American adults spend at least a couple of hours every day surfing the Internet? Maybe they're looking for a deal on waterbeds or a recipe for crepes or a snarky review of Oklahoma. Doesn't matter. What's important is that, so long as folks are willing to spend so much of their time online, you'll have a job.

This is because you're a web designer. You build the websites and applications that people use to entertain themselves, buy useless junk, and acquire information. There are many laymen out there capable of piecing a personal blog together, but you use your technical and artistic skills to make the big stuff that lots of people are going to see and use on a regular basis.

Web designers have been around since Al Gore invented the Internet, which really wasn't that long ago, come to think of it. More importantly, web designers are going to be hot commodities for the foreseeable future, especially as businesses shift to carrying out many transactions online.

What does it take to become a web designer? Well, first off, while a college degree in a field like computer science or graphic design will certainly make you more employable in some markets, spending four years at a university isn't necessarily a requirement for this career. What's more important is experience: Can you create a good-looking website or application that any monkey with a computer or mobile device can use?

You'll need to have a creative, detail-oriented bent if you want to be a web designer. Your skills with a computer should be dazzling, and should include expertise in computer languages like HTML and Java, as well as software programs like Flash and Adobe Photoshop. You'll need to be a good communicator, because you’re going to have to sit down with your employer and figure out what exactly they want their website or app to look, act, and feel like. You'll also need to be able to take criticism (constructive or otherwise) from others: just because you love the look of a website you built, doesn't mean the person paying you does.

Many web designers are employed by companies both large and small, governments, and non-profit organizations. There are also a lot of web designers out there who are purely freelance. If you're a self-employed web designer, you'll need to be a savvy businessperson as well as a creative and tech guru, because managing your time and money effectively and attracting and keeping clients will be on you, and you alone.

You're likely interested in this career not only because you'll get paid to combine your creative sensibilities with your love of technology, but because you won’t have to spend 20 hours a day with your nose to the grindstone. Web design is, generally speaking, a low-stress career: you sit at your computer, you make a website, you get on with your life.

More importantly, web designers—especially those who work freelance—can have remarkably flexible schedules. Are you the kind of person who wants to work from 6am to 2am? Awesome! Are you the kind of person who can code from an alpine café in Switzerland for a few hours a day without getting distracted? Fabulous! In other words, web design can allow you the freedom to see the world and have a fun-filled life while still getting work done. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection.

But don't let all the benefits of a career in this industry fool you: Web design can be hard. Here's why:

  • You have to design an end product that is both aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly
  • Your employer or client has to like the end product enough to sign off on it
  • Your employer or client’s target audience has to like the end product enough to use it

At the end of the day, there are a lot of people you'll have to please, and you may feel like your creative side gets screwed in the process. This is where having a hobby comes in handy: If your boss isn't on board with your most recent application of color theory, you can always go and make a collage or sculpt a statue or paint a canvas with fecal matter.

If web design doesn't sound like your cup of tea at this point, but you're still interested in a technical career, there are a variety of options you could pursue. If coding is your thing, you could always become a software developer. If you’re more interested in the underpinnings of a website or application than actual web design, you could opt to work as a web architect. If you like the whole low-stress thing but aren’t in the least creative, you could become a webmaster who updates and maintains websites.

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