Stepping Up Your Skills: Areas for Continual Improvement as a Web Designer

Being an effective web designer requires developing a number of different skills. Not all of these skills are limited to the technical and artistic aspects of web design. Communicating with clients, project management, and promotion are all important as well.

Freelancers and designers that work for small firms typically have to wear many hats, and being well-rounded in design and business is almost essential.

All of us have plenty of room for improvement in one way or another, and changes in the industry make continual development necessary. In this article we’ll take a look at some of the ways that a web designer can improve his or her effectiveness and overall ability to get the job done, and tons of resources to help with the process are included.


Most designers are already adept at coding, since it is often the first aspect that is learned. However, there is always more to learn, and for those who are just getting started with design the importance of coding skills is pretty obvious.

CSS Mastery – CSS Mastery by Andy Budd is one of the best books that I have read on CSS. It includes some basic explanations and tutorials as well as some more advanced techniques.

Bulletproof Web Design – Another excellent book for teching CSS, Dan Cederholm’s Bulletproof Web Design is an excellent resource.

PHP 6 and MySQL 5 for Dynamic Websites – If you’re looking to improve your ability with dynamic websites, this book from the Visual QuickPro Guide series is a good choice.

W3 Schools – This website is a great resource for free tutorials on just about every from HTML to Flash to XML and more.

Good Tutorials – A website with tutorials on a number of different aspects of design.

Graphic Design:

Graphic design skills will immensely improve the quality of design. The more artistic side of design challenges many web developers. Fortunately, tools like Photoshop and Illustrator are constantly improving and make the work of graphic designers a bit easier. If you’re struggling with graphic design or just looking to improve the visual impact of your work, the resources below will certainly help.

Veerle’s Blog – Veerle has one of the best graphic design blogs, and you’ll learn a lot from her tutorials and articles.

David Airey – Another graphic design blog worth subscribing to, David Airey frequently provides his readers with insight into his specific projects and the processes that he uses to reach the finished product.

PSDTuts – If you are looking for an ongoing source of excellent Photoshop tutorials, PSDTuts is your solution.

Tutorialized – A huge categorized collection of Photoshop tutorials.

PhotoshopStar – This blog focuses on Photoshop and provides some good tutorials.

39 Photoshop Button Tutorials – Design Vitality provides a collection of tutorials for creating custom buttons with Photoshop.

20+ Photoshop Video Tutorials – Mashable has compiled a list of video tutorials to make your Photoshop education a bit more interesting.

Adobe Photoshop Tutorials – Best Of – Smashing Magazine has a huge collection of their favorite Photoshop tutorials for web designers.

Adobe Illustrator Tutorials – Best Of – Smashing Magazine also has a similar collection of tutorials for Illustrator.

Illustrator Tutorials – Designer Today has a large collection of Illustrator tutorials.

Design Elements:

An effective web design will involve solid coding was well as a number of other design elements, such as balance, typography and spacing.

15 Excellent Examples of Web Typography – I Love Typography has compiled a mini gallery of sites with great typography.

The Principles of Design – Digital Web Magazine gives a good overview of a number of principles that affect the quality of design.

Why Less is More in Design – An article from Skellie that looks at different layouts and how they affect visitors.

Project Management:

Many web design projects require some type of project management. On smaller projects you will at least have to manage your own time, and on larger projects that involve more people, project management skills are essential.

Time Management: The Pickle Jar Theory – A List Apart provides some advice on the topic of time management for web designers.

How to Meet Deadlines and Boost Performance – This article from Freelance Folder can help you with organization.

Outsourcing Tips for Project Managers – If part of your project management responsibilities include outsourcing, check out this article from Freelance Switch.

Mastering Productivity: How to Be More Effective with Your Time – This article from Zen Habits is not aimed specifically at designers, but it has some simple and valuable information for better time management.

ACT! – A contact and customer manager that will help you to organize your projects.

Basecamp – Manage internal and client projects with Basecamp.

Smooth Projects – Free project management software.

Search Engine Optimization:

While designers and web developers do not need to be SEO experts, we do need the ability to create websites that are search engine-friendly. Search Engine Optimization involves much more than a designer can control, but the initial framework that a site is built upon will impact its ability to rank in the SERPs.

SEO Book – Aaron Wall’s e-book is one of the leading sources of SEO information.

Beginners Guide to SEO – Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz created this guide as a starting point for those who are interested in learning more about search engine optimization.

Search Engine Ranking Factors – Another great resource from SEOmoz, this article includes the opinions of the leading SEO experts on the importance of different factors for search engine rankings.

How to Create Search Engine Friendly Websites – Derek Edmond of Cape Code SEO has written an excellent article for web designers and developers that covers the basics of a search engine-friendly website.


Freelancers especially have to develop an ability to market themselves and secure work. This is typically not a strength of most designers, so it is something that most of us should aim to improve. The best designer doesn’t always get the job.

Selling Website Design: How to Overcome the 3 Most Ignorant Objections – This article by Matthew Griffin of Bits O’ NewMedia should help designers to sell their services the next time a potential client throws out one of these objections.

How to Master Influence Skills to Sell More Web Design Services – An older article from SitePoint that still has a lot of relevance.

11 Ways to Gain Exposure as a Web Designer – This is an article that I wrote a few weeks ago that lists some different ways that designers can promote themselves and their work.

5 Integral Steps to Help You Secure Every Potential Contract – This article from Freelance Folder will help you to nail down those potential clients and convert them into sales.

25 Reasons You Didn’t Get the Gig – Jon Phillips can help you to land more work by knowing some of the common reasons that designers lose potential gigs.


Communication with clients is critical. Many of them will not be very educated on the design process and the decisions that are involved. Designers aren’t able to just sit at the computer and avoid interaction with customers. Additionally, team projects will require a great deal of communication between those individuals that are working together. In many cases, this communication will have to be done from a distance rather than in person.

Skype – A great resource for making free calls from your computer.

Vonage – Leading digital phone service (VoIP).

Gizmo – A service that is similar to Skype.

Tricks for Dealing with Difficult Clients – All designers are going to have to deal with difficult clients. Here are some tips and words of advice for making it a more successful process.

How to Improve Communication Skills – A short and simple article about the basics of communication skills.

Stop with the Jargon – A reminder from Steve Smith to avoid using industry jargon with clients.


Of course, web design is a creative art. Creativity is sometimes hard to force. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources online that can help with inspiration. CSS galleries are commonly used for this purpose.

Hand-Drawing Style In Modern Web Design – A great collection of websites that use creative hand-drawn elements.

Creativity Spark from Masters of Illustration – A gallery of graphics and illustrations that will surely help to spark some creativity.

20 Websites with Unique Layouts – This is a mini gallery that I put together last month.


All potential clients and employers will want to know your level of experience as a designer. Sometimes the pay that a job brings is not the most significant result. If you are lacking in experience, or looking for opportunities to try new types of design and work on your existing skills, there are plenty of places to find design work online.

Elance – This is one of the leading places to add your profile as a designer and bid on projects.

Guru – Another similar site.

Authentic Jobs – A job board specifically for designers and developers.


Networking with others is critical, especially for freelancers and small design firms. By building and maintaining a strong network you will have other professionals to collaborate with, people to help you when you need advice on a project, and plenty of opportunity for referral business.

LinkedIn – A popular social networking site for professionals.

Facebook – Set up a profile and meet other designers and potential clients.

StumbleUpon – While it may not be a great place for finding design work, StumbleUpon is an excellent resource for interacting with and getting to know others online. Those relationships can help in any number of ways.

How to Optimize Your Networking Energy – Jonathan Fields gives some valuable networking tips in this article.


Some designers will also have to deal with final issues such as accounting and taxes. Again, this is a skill that many designers lack, and there are some programs and resources to help streamline the process.

FreeAgent - Accounting and money management tool that creates invoices, tracks income and expenses, and handles taxes.

Getting Paid On Time – Article from Freelance Switch that will help you to avoid waiting for your money.

7 Online Invoicing Apps for Freelancers – Plenty of useful resources listed here.

What Do You Need to Work On?

What aspects of design are you focused on improving? What resources do you find to be the most helpful? What did I miss in this article?

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27 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Jon - FreelanceFolder, February 18, 2008

    Hey Steven, thanks a bunch for the linkage :)
    Great list, many I didn’t know about.

  • Tom Beaton, February 19, 2008

    A lot of areas to work on there. Too many!

  • Tibi Puiu, February 19, 2008

    Another extensive resource. Great work man! :D

  • Dr. Homer, February 19, 2008

    Thanks for post, it’s really interesting for me!!! :)

  • Ruchir Chawdhry, February 19, 2008

    Really great resource post, as usual :)

  • Vandelay Design, February 19, 2008

    You’re welcome.

    Thanks everyone for the feedback.

  • Sarasota Realtor, February 23, 2008

    Many of them was really unknown to me before.Thanks a lot.

  • Vinh Le, February 23, 2008

    All those areas are very important, especially if you are a freelancer working by yourself. I find in my experience it is a good idea to have a general knowledge in each area and that it is very important to specialize in only a few else you risk being really good at nothing and just average in a bunch of different areas. The areas I like to specialize in is designing and marketing/communicating. Then would come coding css/html and coding in more of the backend languages like javascript and PHP. Other than that, the other stuff I am average at, but I am always trying to get better.

    Thanks for the post, I will go through them.

  • Vandelay Design, February 23, 2008

    That’s a good point. We all only have so much time, and it is good to have strengths in areas that are most important and most valuable for you.

  • Talking Website, February 23, 2008

    Really great links and tips. Very helpful, thanks.

  • Bruce Nolan, February 27, 2008

    Hey, great post! I’m bookmarking this! Another great article that could be added here is this one

  • Jared Walker, March 19, 2008

    Wow, very nice collection of resources. Thanks.

  • Tutorialo, May 25, 2008

    Another good Tutorials resource site .

  • henry, June 25, 2008

    Thanks for all the links, they are really good :) Another one for your Graphic Design Photoshop section would be:

    Photoshop Videos

    and Design meltdown

  • Pankaj, October 20, 2008

    great list. a great tool for that i used for my design projects which id like to suggest for project management is HyperOffice . along with project management elements it also includes a powerful publisher for web page publishing and design.

  • Akhil Sengar, March 26, 2009

    Perfect collection of each small entity, carries all the required elements and the best way to find out what are you lagging with and how to get rid out of it.

  • Adobe Training DVDs, April 21, 2009

    A great collection of tutorials. Perhaps my video training DVDs would also be a useful addition to the list?

  • Reuben Gallow, May 4, 2009

    I’m trying to find my way in this freelance life. Thanks for the resources they are incredible and will help me make quality designs and make the money to match. Keep goin’ hard !–PCG

  • BestInvoices, October 14, 2009

    When talking about improvements maybe you are not happy with your current invoicing tool?

    If so you can find out what users like at

    And if you are happy you can share with others your experience.

    See you there!