Cameron Chapman August 17th, 2010

Some Reasons You Might Not Want To Become A Web Designer

Web design is often an appealing career choice for artistic and creative people. It's seen as a potentially lucrative opportunity to be creative on a daily basis. But there are drawbacks that many people don't realize going into the field. While most of these wouldn't deter people who really want to be designers and who know what design is really about, they might deter people who are only looking for a job that allows them to be artistic or creative. Even if they're not a deterrent, they should at least serve as an eye-opener for anyone looking to become a Web designer.

Competition Is Fierce

Photo by Julie V. on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence Ten to fifteen years ago, Web design was a fairly specialized field. Most designers had either taught themselves by trial and error or gone to one of the few colleges out there that ran a decent Web or multimedia design program. Now, enough resources are online and in print that virtually anyone can teach themselves to design websites; and if they have an eye for what works and what doesn't, these people can often design websites that are as good as those who spent four years getting a degree. There's also competition from the thousands of free templates and website builders out there. Small companies often opt to use a stock template for their website rather than pay a designer, or they'll use a WYSIWYG editor to create a website that, while not as good as a professionally designed website, is perfectly acceptable to their visitors and customers. Design firms in developing countries are now able to produce professional websites for a fraction of the cost of designers in Western Europe, the US, Canada and other developed countries. While not all of these firms can compete on quality, more and more are cropping up every day that can—and that can also compete on development speed and cost. Designers have to differentiate themselves now more than ever to get a steady stream of business. Freelance designers, especially, can't get by on "decent" or "good" anymore. They need to be excellent in order to land the clients they need to support themselves and their companies. Even in-house designers are facing more competition, from both larger applicant pools and outsourcing.

You Want To Be An Artist

assorted paintings on white painted wall Photo by Dannie Jing on Unsplash Design is not art. While good design generally incorporates some artistic principles, artistic ability is not a requirement to being a designer. And many artists might be put off by the structure and convention inherent in good design. Viewing design as a way to make money with art will lead only to disappointment. Of course, if you view design as a way to be creative, rather than as a way to make art, Web design might be a great fit for you.

You Want To Design Things Your Way

Photo by tiltti on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence Designing for a client requires that the designer put aside some of their desires in favor of what the client needs. Sure, you might have a great idea to improve a client's website, but if they don't have the budget or insist it won't be a hit with visitors, then you'll have to deliver what the client wants. Your other option is to drop the client (which is almost always possible), but do that too often and you'll find yourself with no clients left. As a designer, your job is to convince the client to do things in the best possible way, but that's not always possible. Sometimes you have to trust that a client knows their business better than you do. And as long as what they request doesn't go against basic design principles, the result will usually be just fine. An alternative for designers who absolutely want to do things their way: design templates and themes. Then you can do whatever you want (but do keep in mind the likely end user if you want to maximize sales or downloads).

You Don't Want To Learn To Code

Photo by Michael Himbeault on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence Designers don't necessarily need to be expert coders. But to be a successful Web designer, you should at least know how to code a basic website, because if you know how something will be coded when you're designing it, the job will be easier in the end. This doesn't mean that you need to code all of your websites. Outsourcing or finding a partner to code while you do the design is fine. But at least know how to code so that you make their job easier. This keeps costs down, and it helps if you ever need to make a change to a website and your programmer isn't available.

You Don't Like Dealing With Difficult People

Photo by Sid Lammata on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence Client horror stories abound in virtually every service industry out there. Web design is no different. Some people think that because they're paying you, they have a right to do or say whatever they want. This means they'll do everything from calling you in the middle of the night to deciding they shouldn't pay you as much as they originally agreed to. A quick look at the website Clients From Hell will give you an idea of all the other things clients do that are likely to drive you crazy. Don't be surprised when a client decides that they can do the website themselves, or that their nephew can do it, or that their five-year old doesn't like your design. Don't be surprised by clients who have no idea what they want and change their minds a thousand times before the project is finished. And be prepared for clients who question everything you do and everything that appears on the invoice. If you don't want to deal directly with clients, then Web design might not be the best profession for you. Even as an in-house designer, you may find that your boss doesn't actually understand the ins and outs of design and that they either impose unrealistic deadlines on you or don't provide the resources you need to do the job to the best of your ability.

You Don't Want To Grow

Photo by Ken Bosma on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence To stay competitive, you'll need to grow as a designer. Following every new design trend isn't necessarily wise, but you'll need to stay current on new techniques and design styles. Web design is a constantly evolving industry, and you'll need to evolve alongside it. Luckily, staying abreast of new developments in Web design and improving your skills can all be done online. Just follow relevant Web design blogs (like this one!) and read up on what's happening in the industry. Try out new things regularly, even if just on your personal website. Stay current on developments in Web standards and different software programs. If you treat your professional development as an ongoing process, it won't take up too much of your time.

You Aren't Organized Or Logical

Photo by Becky Wetherington on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence A lot of people don't realize the level of organization that is required to be an effective Web designer. Many designers, especially at small firms, have to double as project managers for their clients. This means keeping the entire project and process on track, on schedule and organized. A lost document or contract wastes valuable time and energy. Accurately tracking things like your time and expenses for invoicing purposes is also vital. Logical thinking is necessary, too. Websites are inherently logical and organized. If you can't systematically think through how something should be laid out, you'll have a hard time designing proper information architectures for your websites.

Pretty Things Interest You More Than Principles Of Good Design

Photo by Koshy Koshy on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence While art tends to be focused solely on aesthetics, design has to be focused on things such as functionality and user-friendly layouts. Certain things need to be included in any website you design: navigation, headings (to give users an idea of what's on the page) and some readable text being just a few. Without these, a website loses much of its meaning. Even image-heavy websites, such as portfolios, need to conform to certain standards to be usable. As a designer, you can push the envelope a bit, but you still have to retain the website's functionality and purpose. Without them, the website won't be usable and will drive visitors away.


In the end, if you have a passion for design and are willing to work hard at it, then Web design will be a great profession for you. But too often people think a design job will be easy or will completely satisfy their artistic urges. In reality, neither idea is quite accurate.

Further Resources


Cameron Chapman

Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with many years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of Internet Famous: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Online Celebrity.


  1. This is great! There needs to be more articles that dissuade web-designer-wannabes from entering the field so point #1 is not as big of an issue for those of us who already have…

  2. Great article! Funny too. I’d say the only real complaint I still have is, just like you said, the FIERCE competition, even from a ‘designer’ that will charge a client 1,000 dollars for a few hundred and spacer gifs, splashed with a handful of stock vectors.

    How many times have you guys had a client say they’ve found another designer or company, then you check back on their domain in a month or so, and you see a horrible, poorly-done site with no cms?

    1. Happens all too often. I recently quoted a project $1500-$2400, that was a bit on the low side for everything they said they wanted. Client fell off the map for about 9 months, on a random day I checked their site, it was the most ridiculously awful all-flash, no-cms, no-seo, horrible thing I had ever seen. So I thought, OK, I got under-bid and they got something horrible. I finally got through sometime later to my contact, after some pleasantries I asked about the site and what they paid. She said they paid $13000 – THATS THOUSAND, NOT HUNDRED. She said she hated it, and was at her wits end with the design firm.
      So what can we do?

  3. How about “I don’t want to become IT tech support”.

    I’ve had a few customers call up months down the line because their emails/Outlook aren’t working or their internet connection has gone down. Some people don’t seem to be able to separate the work I did on their website from their email/isp.

    I was surprised at a phone call this morning where a customer said his site wasn’t live when I put it online over the weekend. Turns out he wasn’t typing the URL in his address bar, just into the search box on Google and wondering why it wasn’t there. He’d never used the address bar before! Feels like being a teacher is part of the job too most of the time!

  4. Nice article – if not a bit depressing though. However, I guess that if you’re good enough there should be a chance that you’ll get by. That is – if you’re good enough at selling and promoting yourself (maybe that should be on the list too; “You don’t like promoting yourself”?)

  5. Hmm, someone wrote the exact same article topic for Six Revisions just a short time ago. Why can’t anyone come up with original content?

    1. someone commented that exact comment on slashdot a week ago.
      Why can’t commenters ever come up with constructive criticism?

  6. There have always been companies offering webdesign cheaper than you can get from a webdesigner. You just type in your company details and choose a template. For some this is maybe a good solution, but in the long run if you want your company to stand out, it’s a necessity to get a more customized design/solution that stand out in some way.

    Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way, but if you compare a small ad in a newspaper/magazine (one day/issue) to the price of a small website, it’s kind of sad that few people see the value of an ad that lasts for years compared to 24 hours.

  7. which is why i didn’t become a web designer. since I joined twitter it seems that they are a dime a dozen, as well as ‘social media experts’. you’d be surprised how many there are in my area, if you include the surrounding towns, might be 100,000 people or more…

    1. and i moved from pc software developer to web developer. and the things that other companies say are too hard to do or will cost 10,000$, I can seem to do easier. You just need to know how to code smart… not just know how to code.

  8. Web design is definitely getting more competitive and I think a lot of designers are starting to feel threatened by some of the cheaper solutions that are better than what they are producing. Yeah, a lot of the cheaper solutions suck, but there are some really talented designers in developing countries that can just do the job cheaper.

  9. Wow. I’m just starting out in web design. I’ve landed a few internships and freelance clients and I thought I would be okay but all my doubts are fresh after reading this article. :\

  10. A nice article and definitely true. I was fully aware of all these points when I set out to become a freelance web designer, but my passion for the field and my eagerness to learn and take a risk were what made me throw caution to the wind and go for it.

    Some people may be turned off by these warnings, but if you are dedicated and a hard worker then these things won’t deter you. Just keep swimming:)

  11. Wait… what?? Erm… apparently this author hasn’t seen many good/original web sites because creating a website is definitely an art. Just like any art you have to work within certain parameters – whether those parameters are the size of a canvas or a commission specification.

    The parameters of web design are different than traditional media, but no less artistic. And, there are a lot of “purely for the art” web sites out there to prove it.

  12. i’m a graphic designer[3rd yr] we learning how to code and its fun, Yes i said it it’s fun specially JavaScript.
    I sooooo want to be a web developer one day.

  13. Good points.

    Oh, sorry, I mean this website is ful of principles of good design! :)

  14. You could really title this: Some Reasons You MIght Not Want To Become A Designer. It pertains to all design disciplines, not just web design.

  15. While I agree with most of the points (and am slightly annoyed by firms that ask their future designers to “know FrontPage 2000”, I don’t like the part about developing countries – I comfortably charge western clients like I’m western myself.

    Then again, maybe your comparison was about something else.

  16. I think “You dont want to grow” is a big issue for alot of people. You need to have a certain hunger for learning in this industry. As hard as you think you’re working, theres someone out there working twice as hard and twice as long as you.

  17. very great read, yeah a lot of people is more care about pretty thing than a good design principle, a person like this sometimes called they self a web designer

  18. What industry is not competitive today? Please cut the B/S don’t listen to this crap. You want to be a freelancer than you have to sell yourself. Its all about the pitch, and your price point. Its no bodies fault if you can’t sell. Nobody is going to knock on your door to use your services. You have to split yourself in two. Designer/Business Person. You can’t be just one. These are the kind of articles that need to be thrown out to the wolves. A business doesn’t grow over night, and yes there is cheaper places to get a website done, but when you are charging $2,500-$4,500 for a site in a tough economy, and you don’t get clients you need to change your price point. ITS THAT SIMPLE

  19. Hi I want to be a web designer and Im so exited that i finally found a career that is in my interest and something i am passionate for but i just dont know how to start.
    My first question is.. do you recomend taking a few courses in school or learning it online? And what about a degree? I was planning on being a freelancer but i dont know if that is a better idea than working with an actual company – im open to both options. I consider myself to be pretty artistic, very creative and i love designing! i follow new fads because im young, and i think i could manage myself pretty good.

    My second question.. HOW DO YOU MAKE CLIENTS?? and how do you keep this ongoing? do you set up their website and then your off to finding another client, or do you have a 2 yr contract on maintenence on their website?


  20. Good article- You have to wear many hats in this field- do your research before jumping in- If you have questions please contact me- Thanks

  21. Although the article is about not becoming a web designer, I bet you just gave a proper motivation to a lot of your readers who are not afraid of a long road that will get them to the place of goal achievement…. Thank you for sharing

  22. There are so many reasons not to do things in life. If you let yourself influenced by all of them, you will end up staying at home and feeling sorry about your boring life. I use the lines in your article as a motivational starter for doing things…

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