As a lecturer in web design and development, almost all of my students, term after term sign up with the intent of either approaching design companies or setting up their own businesses. I have been asked so many times "What skills do I need to become a good web designer?". Well, to save me having to go through this over and over again, this article will detail just a few things to consider and explore as a novice with the aspiration of becoming a web design professional.
Learn HTML (Hyper Text Mark-up Language)
So many beginner web designers depend entirely on applications such as Dreamweaver and GoLive. Although both applications are superb, working within a drag and drop environment will not expand your knowledge beyond the limits of the program. It is a good idea to work in both modes – 'Source' and 'Layout'. Doing this, you can compare and dissect the generated code. HTML is not that difficult to learn. I do not come from a programming background but I picked up the essentials within about 15 hours. I'd recommend you visit the W3 schools website for the in's and out's of accessible HTML. It is an elegant language and is (and should be) at the heart of every well made web-page.
Some will say that knowing W3 standards of accessibility is a waste of time, that adopting such principles will be of no gain. I personally feel that the root of that kind of thinking is based in laziness. "Why should be bother ensuring that each and every page is to W3 standards, when the return is so little?". It is the same as saying "Why should I bother spelling things correcting and checking my grammar? I rarely check to see if my pages meet up to W3 standards. I adapted the way in which I code; avoiding any none-standard techniques and ensuring that every tag, character and full stop was accessible. As a result, I naturally write in the correct manner. Again, this did not take too long to pick up. If you create a web-page and then test in out at validator.w3.org it will explain where you are going wrong – you'll soon adapt your HTML writing style. Ensuring that your website is accessible is important. In many indirect ways it can improve your visibility and indexibility on the search engines. That your website looks consistent on different browsers and that your visitors with special requirements (ie, have visual impairment) can access your content. Oh, and before I forget, it's the law (DDA).
Do not be too Flash
Macromedia / Adobe Flash is an incredible platform for designing and creating animated web content and applications. The things you can do with it are almost infinite. Since it's first launch in the 1990's, Flash has been used to deliver content on websites to push beyond the limits of HTML and provide high media eye candy. However, (I bet you saw this coming) websites that are designed and developed with high Flash content, and it is possible to use nigh-on nothing but Flash, will not reap the rich rewards of good search engine results. Or at the very least are encumbered by the fact that search engines can not easily 'index' the content of Flash (Shockwave) files in the same way that they can harvest the goodies from HTML documents. Google has improved it's indexing algorithms to gather important keywords from such files, but it is still no where near as good as simple, good old fashioned HTML.