Moving from Print to the Web

If you looked at the design industry a decade ago, print design was going strong, and online was considered an (albeit large) niche. Fast forward to present day, and the opposite is starting to become true—and many print designers are finding out that in order to stay relevant and valuable to their market, they need to learn to create for the web. Are you there? Read on, good citizen, for I have gone through this, and would love to share the experience with you.

No Shortcuts 

I know that as you look at the daunting task of learning a brand spanking new skillset, your first instinct is something to the effect of "what is the quickest and easiest way to get this done so that I can get back to creating?" No. Bad designer. 

My grandfather always said that anything worth doing is worth doing right. Learning to code is like the design process itself—you can do it fast and sloppy or you can carefully consider each aspect and arrive at a fully realized, polished end result. How you learn CSS, HTML and Javascript in the beginning will define how you use them for the rest of your career. Take them seriously.

Important: using "site builders" or WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) software like Dreamweaver falls under the 'fast and sloppy' category. If you really want to learn code, you have to write it by hand. It's comparable to the difference between learning a new language by actually speaking it, or just sitting in a classroom all day and letting the instructor speak it for you. As far as editors go, use Notepad if you like, but I recommend the fantastic Coda (or you can use Espresso too).

My recommendation is to buy some books and read up on the basics, or take a class (or both!) that introduces you to the essential elements used in designing for the web. These are plentiful on the web, and Treehouse is particularly nice. You need to have at least a basic understanding of HTML, CSS and Javascript before taking on much of anything. Once you do, you're ready for the next step: coding your first site.

Maintain Your Own Site, and Use it as Your Testing Ground 

There is nothing more disconcerting than hearing someone try to sell themselves as a web designer, only to discover that they don't have a website. This should be priority one, people—and there are multiple reasons besides the immediately obvious credibility boost.

Seek Out and Accept Critique—Even if You're a Seasoned Designer

While this is a great rule for design in general, it applies especially when you're learning a new skill. You need to remember that even if you've been in print design for decades, this is an entirely new area for you. Look at yourself as a student, swallow your pride and listen to the folks around you when you ask for opinions.

It's also very important to seek out the opinions of people who know what they're talking about. Good critique doesn't come from yes men/women (read: parents, fellow print designers, boyfriend/girlfriend etc). It comes from seasoned web designers who understand concepts that don't exist in the print world (very much anyway) like user experience and user interface design. I would recommend getting an invite to a community like Dribbble. Many larger communities also have design organizations that put on critiquing sessions with professionals in attendance who are more than willing to give you a well-reasoned bit of input on your work. Take advantage of whatever resources are available to you. If you're with an agency, they may be willing to help you out as an investment in your future—but if you're a freelancer, the onus is on you. Don't think. Just do.

Don't Forget the Design Core Principles

You have no idea how many great print designers I've watched try unsuccessfully to tackle the web. One of the culprits is that they often try to forget everything they learned in print design and re-learn it for the web. Contrary to popular belief (among print designers, it seems), many of the basic principles of design carry over just fine from print to the web. Be happy! This means you don't have to start from scratch.

The above is by no means a comprehensive list—it's simply to illustrate the point that if you're already a good designer, you have at least the potential to be a good web designer. All it takes is a few new skills.

Did I miss anything important? Feel free to chime in below.

Did I help you out?

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