Progression of a Web Designer

I spent the first several years of my career just learning how to design. Sure, at the time I thought I was pretty slick, as my employer and later, as a budding freelancer living in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside, clients apparently did as well. But looking back, me and every other designer were largely stuck in a world where a handful of fonts and some squares were your canvas, and it was the limitations of one browser rather than the innovations of many that determined how far our designs could go.

The next phase of my career focused on mastering CSS and HTML, and while the latter is a relatively simple language, cascading style sheets are anything but. Particularly learning how to bend our markup to meet the requirements of our design across all browsers with as few hacks as possible. Floats, clearing, absolute positioning, these are the first tricky spots we need navigate. Then sprites, minimizing code and later custom fonts and font icons add to our skills. And of course, the ever evolving nature of both CSS and HTML means one can never really become absolutely fluent in a fluid language.

Finally, we begin to desire more control over our preferred backend development environment and, typically through tweaking WordPress functions and creating our own themes, we slowly learn PHP. The natural progression is to step out of the copy/paste/tweak/test mindset and begin writing our own PHP. MySQL follows. Learning to SSH into a server perhaps afterward.

Mobile considerations, responsive design, adjusting for retina displays, learning how to speed up sites with http requests and compressed files, these all are slowly added to our box of knowledge until we’re as bleeding edge as can be. That is, until some new tech comes along next week to blow our minds and shift our paradigm once more.

It’s a satisfying career, one that provides location independence and unlimited room for growth, and certainly a profession which will never know a master, only eternal students.

Up Next: The Very Basics of jQuery, for Beginners Like Myself Used to Be