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A Day in the Life of a Website Designer

The Internet is becoming a major force in the marketplace. The market research firm INPUT estimates that, this year, $250 billion worth of goods and services will be traded over the Internet. The need for companies to have an attractive and enticing “net presence” has caused them to hire Webmasters and Website designers in droves. Website designers are, in a sense, a new breed of graphic designers and typesetters, whose medium is the World Wide Web, and their audience is estimated at 45 million strong worldwide. It is no wonder companies want Web designers who can capture the attention of that audience for brand awareness, advertising, and sales reasons. Although Webmasters are generally accountable for the functionality of the final Website, it is the Website designers who are initially in the trenches, coming up with the look, layout, and overall impact the site will have. Some consulting Website designers may also author the text that appears on the site, while most who work for large corporations will most likely receive text and information intended to be published on the Web from copywriters, Webmasters, or marketing managers. The text that writers give to designers might also indicate where to place hypertext links in the finished product. From there, it is up to the designers to work all of these elements into a functional, intriguing, user-friendly design. To accomplish the task, Website designers need varied and numerous technical skills. Knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) is required. A Website designer’s knowledge should be exceptional as he is often expected to be the HTML expert. Designers must also be competent in browser compatibility issues, extensions (tables, frames, server push/client pull, and server-side protocols), and Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripting devices (Java, Perl, C, UNIX, and others). Skilled knowledge of TCP/IP and networking protocols is also necessary in areas such as service ports, names servers, USENET, HTTP, FTP, and, naturally, E-mail. But they are designers after all, and in addition to their technical know-how they must have graphic design skills-and not just in the artistic sense. Full knowledge of the capabilities of graphics applications within their medium (i.e., Photoshop, Fractal Painter, and 3-D modeling among others) is crucial or their designs, however nice, won’t work. If all that isn’t enough, a Website designer must be a certified net geek, familiar with downloading time and bandwidth problems, content-driven pages, and a knowledge of “netiquette.” Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have patience-as hours can be long when meeting deadlines-and good interpersonal skills. You will be working with a lot of other people who are expecting you to translate their ideas into a functional thing of beauty, whether you work for a corporation or are a self-employed consultant.

Paying Your Dues

The nature of the work is not managerial and because of this, few academic standards have been set in this very new field. However, a lot of creativity and knowledge is required to be a successful Website designer. Knowledge of computer science, programming, advertising, graphics, and art and design is favorable. A bachelor’s degree in computer science or design will help, although unlike most other technical professions, the level of education is not as much a factor in remuneration as is design talent and hands-on technical skills.

Present and Future

Companies have become much more savvy about multimedia and Web designs, expecting high-end results. Gone are the days when you could get paid nicely for simply publishing a corporate logo, a paragraph of text, and a few links on the Web. Website designers are still well paid for their services, though, and a full-time, in-house staffer can make anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000 per year, with average salaries falling in the $40,000 range. Companies still hire many freelance and consulting Website designers, although the tendency to hire in-house is becoming more standard. This profession will continue to grow: approximately 68 percent by the year 2000. Web designers are sought in every field imaginable, from the entertainment industry to the health care industry, because every company that has something to sell or information to disseminate wants to be on the Web. This is good news for Website designers, as there doesn’t look to be any shortage of demand for them in the short run, even with approximately 20,000 already in the work force. Staying on top of changing technology and market needs is the key to staying on top in this profession for the foreseeable future.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Salaries are attractive, as are the working environments for a Website designer at any level. Usually, in an in-house setting, a Website designer’s space is slightly more relaxed than the surrounding corporate culture, but work is sedentary and hours can still be long, especially when management wants a site up yesterday. Designers who are self-employed can naturally make their own hours, but handling several clients at once can make for long hours and tax personally owned equipment. Responsibilities tend to remain along the graphic and creative lines for in-house designers, whereas consulting designers might put together an entire package for a client, requiring copywriting, marketing strategies, and plans for updating the site after its initial implementation.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Website designer was not even a recognized professional term three years ago. The few who have been working exclusively as Website designers for five years are the elder statesmen of this profession and take in salaries at the high end of the profession. Many move on to become Webmasters or Internet technology managers, increasing their responsibility, opting for more professional challenges, and, of course, making even higher earnings.

TEN YEARS OUT

This is like asking Ronald Reagan in 1951 what he would be doing ten years after starring in Bedtime for Bonzo. In other words, nobody could have guessed, and we can’t guess at what options Web designers will have after their profession is ten years old. The technological environment is so volatile that Website designers might have completely different responsibilities in the future.