The field of web design is occupied by a large and loosely defined collective of freelancers and agencies. We have found our niche in working with a medium that is in a constant state of flux. There are no real steadfast rules, and the web has been used in every way imaginable to communicate messages to the masses. Becoming a web designer can seem overwhelming to someone considering this profession. Here is some advice I would give to anyone who wants to become a great web designer.
Study design in an academic setting
A formal education in design will give you a solid foundation and make you a better designer. There are fundamentals of design — composition, color, typography — that are best learned from professors, guest lecturers, and peer review. A classroom environment will teach you volumes more about design than any book or online tutorial. And it will give you confidence and skills for when you arrive in the real world of design; where the final stage of your education will begin. Every great designer in history studied under and alongside other great designers.
The classroom does have one major setback. The education environment can’t move fast enough to keep up with the web. For that, you will have to take the initiative to keep up with the latest technology and trends. Read magazines, web sites, blogs, and participate in online communities. The internet is your medium and it is being reinvented every day. The more you can understand and adapt to the digital realm, the better you will be able to communicate as a designer.
Start designing and building web sites now. You might think your work is crap, and maybe it is, but it will get better with practice. Some of my first web sites were horrible, making me wish that archive.org could forgive me. The cool thing about the web is you can publish quickly and often, at little expense. There are no paper and ink costs or press checks. Design something and throw it online, than tweak it, tune it, and move on to the next site. Doing real-world web design is a crucial part of your education. There are numerous things I have learned about web design having worked on so many projects, and with so many designers.
These are just some basic words of advice, based on my experiences, to get you started. The details of how you get from here to there are up to you.