University or online studies can’t teach you everything. Almost everyone gets a least a bit of a rude awakening when they dive into the big scary world of work, and the web industry is no exception – being able to create an awesome website layout without using a website builder and by using the latest responsive web design techniques is only half the job.
We rounded up seven web professionals from different corners of the industry to ask them what they wish they’d known when they first started out.
01. Nothing ever stays still
When Sally Lait (now a digital transformation consultant) started working a junior developer during a university year in industry, the rate of change in the web industry came as a shock.
“Embracing changes in technology, user expectations and societal shifts – even my own interests – over time was something that I initially struggled with rather than welcomed,” she says. “Change often feels scary and tiring but it’s also really exciting to naturally keep evolving on your own personal journey and keep finding new things that you enjoy.”
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02. You won’t get paid to experiment
Billy Fagan started dabbling in code as a hobby before turning it into a profession. Initially, he didn’t realise he wouldn’t be able to put all the cool new things he found straight into his work. “You’re not doing this as a hobby any more; it’s a professional situation. This means the client is paying for your time,” he points out. “The client almost never has the budget for you to test out your new shiny thing on their project and why should they? You just need to try the shiny stuff on your personal projects.”
03. Big reveals mean big trouble
You may be drawn to the idea of a ‘big reveal’ on client projects, but these can lead to unpleasant surprises, cautions freelance designer James Stiff. Clear communication throughout the design process will help keep things running smoothly (shared access to cloud storage is one way to do this easily). “Manage expectations and keep stakeholders actively engaged in the design process,” he says. “When presenting designs, remind stakeholders of the problem that they aim to solve.”
Stiff also stresses the importance of backing this up with a contract or statement of work. Alternatively, if you’re in-house, make sure you have a brief (even if you write it yourself).
04. It’s not all about aesthetics
When product designer and developer Catt Small was studying, most of her classes focused on aesthetics. However, in the real world you also need to consider usability.
“By thinking about the people who will use the experience, understanding them deeply and considering their stories, I have become a much better designer,” she explains. “My favourite thing to do is create scenarios that help me understand when people would use my designs. This not only helps me identify potential pain points but also helps me communicate better with collaborators.”
05. Under-pricing can ruin your business
No one wants to be ripped off, but designer and developer Diana Lopez discovered that pricing your services too low can also be damaging to your business, and repel good clients.
“They can’t have confidence in you if you don’t have confidence in yourself,” she explains. “Too-low rates can severely affect your business and you can end up feeling frazzled at the end of every month, from overwork and empty pockets.”
If you’re having trouble with this, Lopez suggests breaking your quotes into smaller chunks, and breaking down the price by line item in order to reassure clients. “When I started doing this, the scope of work became clearer so I could justify my quote easily,” she continues. “You stop feeling like clients will run away at the sight of your quote.”
06. Design or development is only half the job
Don’t underestimate how important business skills – both hard and soft – will be to your career, advises SitePoint co-editor Maria Perna.
“I didn’t realise how much I would need business skills and how much easier my professional life would be if I felt at ease building personal connections,” she says. “I took for granted that long-term professional development and continuing to be my usual geeky self would be enough. I had to understand the importance of building up bridges with other devs, both to stay on top of what happens in the industry and to learn about work opportunities. Not to mention getting to grips with marketing and business concepts.”
07. You can’t know everything
Web design event Generate London returns on 19-21 September 2018, offering a packed schedule of industry-leading speakers, a full day of workshops and valuable networking opportunities – don’t miss it. Get your Generate ticket now.