Octwelve – A Web Designer's Blog by Luc Melgar

How to be a web designer

January 12th, 2008 · 26 Comments

This question have been asked by my cousin who studied chemistry and now he seems to be interested in web designing. Quite a transition I thought. The first thing I could retort was “Are you creative?”. But let’s skip that. Here are the techy skills and required stuff to get started.

1. Choose a platform, PC or Mac

The never ending debate! I’m a PC user and it works fine with me. But if you are on this creative field you’ll be surrounded with Mac users who’ll sway you that Mac is a better computer for creative professionals and those who sings “Mac rocks PC sucks or Mac blings PC stinks” or whatever. Well, Mac is a pretty sweet looking machine. Leopard, the latest operating system of Mac has a lot of cool features too. So it’s really tempting to choose it over PC. However, Mac is a lot more expensive than PC. Although if Mac are not like 5x more expensive in Manila than in US, I’d definitely splurge on it. My 2 cents is, PC or Mac, it’s up to you. It’s just a matter of preference. At the end of the day, it’s your design that will be judge, not your equipment. :)

Designer Cartoon

2. Softwares

All you really need is a graphic editor, html editor, a browser and ftp client.

  • Photoshop, is the industry standard for graphic editing. It’s what you’re going to use to design the graphics and the layout of your website.
  • Dreamweaver is the html editor of my choice. After designing the comp in Photoshop, splice up those graphics, fire up Dreamweaver and put those graphics back together using XHTML and CSS.
  • Firefox, everyone’s favorite browser is also my choice for viewing and testing my web pages. But don’t forget to test your pages on other browsers as well, such as Internet Explorer (v5-7), Safari browser for Mac, Opera, Mozilla, and Netscape. You have to make sure that your web page displays properly on different browsers.
  • FireFTP is a powerful Firefox plugin which allows you download and upload files to and from your web server.
  • Flash is another web design software that is use to create animation. You can actually create a full flash based website. Although I suggest that you learn Photoshop, XHTML/CSS, and web standards first.

3. Resources

Imagery and typography is paramount in web design. Here’s a list where you can get them.

Stock photos:

Istockphoto (price starts at $1 per download) - www.istockphoto.com
Stock.Xchng (free for personal use. restrictions apply) – www.sxc.hu


Linotype - www.linotype.com

4. Creative talent

Do you agree? My answer is no and yes.

No, because anyone can come up with a design. All it takes is some technical knowledge and basic layout principles. The question is, is it a good design? Is it a design that sells?

What defines a good web design has 2 standpoints. The first focuses on usability and functionality. The second is on aesthetics. This means that a good web design should be both usable and visually appealing.

Don’t be discouraged. I don’t think it’s always like that. I know many designers who are not great with designs. But why do they have customers could be 1. they’re a good salesman, or 2. their designs looks good on their customers even if it looks crap to others. Which only proves “Beauty is bought by judgement of the eye”.

That might work if you are carving your own path as a freelance designer. But what if you are applying to a design agency? Web design is part of the creative industry. Ofcourse the talented designer is more competetive, right? I also answered yes, creativity is required. Well, not really required, but preferred. A good designer is more competetive than ‘just a web designer’.

I’m having a headache while I’m writing this. I wasn’t really sure where to stand lol All I can say now is, if you want to design and if you have a passion for it, go for it! All it takes is inspiration and experience to come up with a good design.

Recommended Sites and Books

Video Training:


Photoshop Effects Tutorials - There are lots of tutorial sites out there. Google is your friend.


Training Center (Philippines)

If you have any comment or additional tips, please do. But no brawling please ^_^

Love and peace,

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26 responses so far

  • fabian says:
    Jan 13, 2008 at 3:07 am

    Fantastic write up Luc.Im just about to make that decision…something pretty (mac) or a big grey turd.PC’s just take up so much room.

    It true about talent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But sometimes it’s behold my eyes…their burning LOL

  • Gavin says:
    Jan 13, 2008 at 4:39 am

    I think some people really need to realise that if they get a system, the software and look for inspiration and build their own website that they are not a design agency.

    I am seeing far too many “new blood”, learned from a book and still using tables beginners making sites that is displaying them as a ‘web designer’ or a ‘design agency’ when they are nothing more than beginners and even putting prices up on their websites.

  • Samuel Faith says:
    Jan 13, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Well Luc, I was thinking to write a similar article on this subject when I started tracking back towards the days I began as a freelance web designer.

    And now you got it first :D. Anyway, it’s a nice and inspiring article. I love it, and I am sure a lot of people out there striving to be a freelance/full-time web designer will love this too.

    When it comes to creativity and design talent, I can only remember the times I started off. I was not a talented graphic designer, and not yet till now. Back in those days, I thought aesthetics was the only thing that make a designer successful.

    I knew I am not talented when it comes to creative designs. So I tried to compensate it by doing a lot of designs. I visited many tutorial websites and did almost all tutorials, even irrelevant ones. This taught me a lot on aspects of graphic design, and tips & tricks in Photoshop.

    I didn’t know much about design galleries in those days. The best ones today might not exist 4 years go back. Maybe it’s only me not knowing the galleries. But Google was my best mate. I queried web design firms and went to every single site, and looked at their portfolio. I saved and took screenshots of the websites I liked. Then I tried to make exact clones of those designs. No, don’t take me wrong. It’s only to hone my design skills, not for any live sites.

    When I though I could at least make some good replicas of those outstanding designs, I tried to differentiate. Yeah, that’s the real beginning of my freelancing career. I did several designs which look different, but took inspiration from the designs I liked.

    Nonetheless, despite that I tried so hard to compensate my lack of talent in creative design, I still sucks when it comes to vector illustration. I think I just can’t do it :(, not yet!

    Oh, for resources, I’d suggest you to add Freelanceswitch.com for freelancing career advices, and Sitepoint.com for other resources on web design and development.

    And regarding to softwares, there are open source alternatives for beginners who cannot afford expensive ones like Dreamweaver CS3 or Photoshop CS3. Try using the followings:

    * GIMP (Windows version)
    GIMP is produced under GNU/GPL license and although it cannot compete head-on with Photoshop in terms of features, I am pretty sure that for web design, it is just enough. Besides, you can use GIMP on Linux, Windows and OS X. There are hundreds of free plug-ins available too.

    * Kompozer (Windows version)
    Kompozer is another GNU/GPL WYSIWYG web design software which is an upgraded & bug-fixed version of Nvu (development for this is discarded). Again, it cannot match all the features Dreamweaver provided but it’s a good one. Plus, it’s free and available on OS X, Linux and Windows!

    For a web designer with hand-coding abilities, Kompozer is sufficient enough.

    hmm… I think that’s it, Luc. And keep up the good work! I like your designs and also would love to meet you in Singapore :).


  • Samuel Faith says:
    Jan 13, 2008 at 8:55 am

    Oh I forgot one thing about stock photos, Luc.

    When you go to Creative Commons site (http://creativecommons.org/), you will see a link leading to Search page. There you can search CC licensed works from many websites, including Flickr.

    I am pretty sure that you can get incredible photos from Flickr, with Creative Commons license so that you can use it freely on your website, just like GNU/GPL!

    But be sure that you check the licensing terms properly, because even in CC license, there are some variations like Noncommercial Share-Alike, and so on. But there are thousands of pics with a CC license that allow you use it commercially. Sorry that I couldn’t remember that CC license name :).

  • Luc says:
    Jan 13, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Hey guys, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Keep ‘em coming. :)
    And Sam, that’s quite long! Thanks for the tip :)

  • Samuel Faith says:
    Jan 13, 2008 at 5:17 pm


    Don’t mention it. I just poured in some thoughts popped up in my mind while reading your article :).

  • 如何成为一个网页设计者 | 帕兰卓一得 says:
    Jan 15, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    [...] 我一直梦想着成为一名网页设计者,哪怕只是业余的,但我认为要得到这个名号那是相当困难的,所以我一直只敢称呼自己为“设计爱好者”。可我今天看到了下面这篇文章,How to be a web designer,里面介绍的大多数东西,我都有基本的一些掌握了,于是,我开始发梦,只要我愿意,我行的! [...]

  • Luc says:
    Jan 15, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I love those characters! ^_^ Thanks!

  • Aj says:
    Mar 25, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Hi, Nice website you have there mate. i really like the header.

  • Luc says:
    Mar 26, 2008 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks Aj! :)

  • Verity says:
    Mar 27, 2008 at 12:03 am

    I used to be a PC user and got tired of working blind. I finally got a Mac and working is made easier, because everything is easier on a Mac.

    You say there’s nothing in it, but having used both for similar tasks I can’t agree with your statement. There’s more to Macs then looks and price tag, they work, save you time and money. PC constantly fail in all aspects even checking your mail is hard work with so many made for PC viruses, no such problem on a Mac.

  • Luc says:
    Mar 27, 2008 at 6:47 am

    Thanks for comment Verity. I agree that Mac is a better computer. I didn’t say that there’s nothing in it. But what I’m saying is it’s a matter of preference.

  • Julie says:
    Apr 2, 2008 at 2:27 am

    Hey Luc,

    I’m a recent subscriber to your blog and I thought this was an enjoyable article to read. I’m currently in college to become a web developer/designer and I think your designs are awesome! Great style :)

    Ps. the header is adorable!

  • Luc says:
    Apr 2, 2008 at 9:13 am

    Thanks Julie! Good luck with your studies :)

  • mia says:
    Apr 2, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Very nice article. You make sense :)

  • zoel says:
    Apr 18, 2008 at 5:14 pm

    How to be webdesigner ? I think designer web is multi talent why? we must have skill for graphics designer, coder, marketing and more…:-)

  • Keego says:
    Aug 11, 2008 at 11:09 am

    all the things you wrote in the article, aka the links and stuff you provided, is that where you get your inspirations from? was it ez when you started off as a freelance?

  • Luc says:
    Aug 11, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    Hey Keego,
    Yes, that’s correct. Not just when I started as a freelancer. I still go to these links.

  • Keego says:
    Aug 11, 2008 at 3:52 pm

    has your mind ever gone black at some stage and you had to do something to get your inspiration back? mayb like go out and take photos and things like that?

  • Luc says:
    Aug 11, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Designer’s block, oh yess, it happens sometimes. What I do is reward myself with food, go shopping, and exercising helps a lot too because it gets your creative juices flowin ;)

  • Keego says:
    Aug 11, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    haha thanks for the reply :P and yes i noticed u enjoy food lol

  • loans23 says:
    Sep 3, 2008 at 4:32 am

    hey :)
    its very interesting article.
    Good post.
    realy good post

    thx :-)

  • a e r says:
    Sep 14, 2008 at 3:10 am

    and why the first is platform between pc or mac. i think being a web designer is not depend from platform. but i agree that mac’s a lot expensive than pc… and because of that im still working with pc

  • arvee says:
    May 30, 2009 at 6:56 am

    hi luc… i love this article. but how about hosting? i’m thinking of shifting to the wordpress software. i’m kinda confused whether i would go with upgrades or with my own server instead. what’s your take on this?

  • Lisa Haaland says:
    Aug 22, 2009 at 6:13 am

    I am a beginning web designer, almost done with school, and I was really impressed with all the things you listed in here to help out those that are just starting out. This page will definitely be in my bookmarks, lol. Thank you again for taking the time to help us newbies!! :)

  • Rauno Merisalu says:
    Aug 9, 2012 at 5:02 am

    Your article was great, Luc! Even though it’s short but it had a spark in it that made me want to learn more about web design. Thanks for that! :)

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