For nearly all businesses, having a website instills a sense of legitimacy and trust and can serve as a platform for gaining access to a greater number of customers.  This is particularly true if the website looks professional and is designed in a user-friendly, attractive way.  For this reason, companies will often hire outside help to design and implement their website rather than try to create it on their own.

Web design firms and freelancers that specialize in setting up websites can create multiple levels of customization to fit the specific needs of the business and its visitors. Websites are generally written in a combination of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, although some are also created using Flash technologies.  For sites requiring greater interactions or that necessitate using a database, scripting languages like PHP, Java, or Ruby will be utilized.  For the visual design of the site, professionals will use standard programs like Photoshop and Dreamweaver, or perhaps just purchase one of thousands of existing website templates that are sold on the web.  Once the project is complete, the company may look to other IT professionals for maintenance and support.

Website Design and Development Career Options

While some website professionals can do it all (design, scripting and maintenance), you’ll often see the role split into the following titles:

  • Web Designer – responsible for the visual design or look and feel of the website.  Works with a company’s marketing department (if they have one) to determine the color palette, proper logo usage and the sentiment that the website is trying to portray (e.g. serious, fun, corporate, personal, etc.).  Proficient in Photoshop, Dreamweaver and other visual design software applications.
  • Web Developer – involved in the initial stages of a website. Integrates hardware and software skills to meet the needs of the website based on its purpose.  Proficient in HTML, CSS, databases and scripting languages.
  • Webmaster – in charge of maintenance of a website, and constantly makes sure users are able to access the site. This job may also include adding new content and monitoring and analyzing the usage of the site.

Many jobs within this industry can be considered entry-level positions at smaller companies. If you can prove you have knowledge necessary (typically in the form of a portfolio of the websites you have worked on), you may not need a degree to be hired.  For example, when looking at current job listings for web designer, one California company lists its requirements but doesn’t otherwise require more education than a high school diploma.

However, training programs in website design or development can definitely give you an advantage during interviews because these programs will guide you through the process of creating a portfolio, with school projects used as portfolio entries.  Otherwise, you’ll need to find freelance work first through family and friends in order to create your portfolio before applying to a company or a design firm.

Salary Information for Website Designers and Developers

A web designer with five years experience can be earning more than $50,000 per year depending on the company you work for, according to new job postings for California. In California, average salaries can go higher to about $83,000 per year, according to the Occupational Employment Statistics.

Website Design and Development Training Programs

Most vocational schools offer diploma or certification programs, which is enough to enter the web design field. A 67-credit-certificate program at Laurus College will take you about two and a half years and will teach you about vector based drawing, HTML and XHTML, as well as Flash and Photoshop and project management.

One school that offers a Bachelor’s degree in California is Westwood College. Their accelerated program is completed in three years, and aims to prepare students to be eligible to earn certifications in Adobe InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, and Photoshop programs. The certifications will require you to pay to take exams that test your proficiency with the program you wish to certify on. A Photoshop certification for example will vary between $50 and $150. The school does not guarantee those certifications, but claims you will be prepared to pass the exam if you try.  The Westwood Bachelors degree curriculum also familiarizes students with Web 2.0 concepts, XML, and HTML.

Another Bachelors degree program is offered at Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The program requires 132 semester credits, usually completed in about 4 or 5 years, but if you already have another Bachelors degree, you can enroll in their accelerated program that only requires 66 more semester credits. At the Academy of Art University tuition is about $740 per semester unit, which means the Bachelors degree costs about $97,680.  The program teaches students to design professional websites using HTML and MySQL and visual design software applications.

View a list of schools in California offering web design and development programs.