Most people assume that designers were placed on this earth to make things look pretty. Not quite. Makeup artists make people pretty. Kim Kardashian’s stylist makes her (butt) pretty. Florists make flowers pretty.
Web designers, however, do much, much more. And now one of the most exciting things you can do is to be a digital nomad … here’s a kickass guide on how to become a web designer and travel the world making money as you go!
Table of Contents
- What is a web designer?
- 7 reasons why you should become a web designer and travel the world!
- 3 reasons why being a web designer may not be the right job for you
- How to become a web designer and travel the world
- How to find paid work as a web designer
- Factors you need to consider to become a web designer
- The best places to work as a digital nomad
- Useful resources
What is a web designer?
Behind every well-made website is a web designer who knew their shit. Web designers are like ninjas of the design world, carefully crafting seamless experiences for unsuspecting visitors.
They design websites and internet experiences that make your browsing bearable, your perusing pleasurable. They are the ones that decide everything from the fonts that are used, to the colour schemes of websites, to the exact number of pixels between images. The mark of a good design? You probably didn’t even realise how slick the design was.
So what constitutes a good web designer? A flair for the fine arts? The ability to memorise every colour code ever? A fetish for rulers, protractors, compasses, and Post-it notes? Far from!
(Except for the Post-its.)
Lucky for you, now is an excellent time to become a web designer and travel the world. As our lives become increasingly dependent on the internet, the demand for web designers is also increasing. The average web designer in the United States can expect to earn between $60,000 – $80,000 per year, though in places like Silicon Valley, web designer earnings can hit six figures.
This can come as part of a 40-hour workweek, or an 80-hour workweek–it’s all dependent on factors such as freelance versus contract work, and the work culture of your company or clients. Creative jobs are often flexible if demanding, and being a web designer is no exception! So read on, on how to become a web designer and travel the world…
7 reasons why you should become a web designer and travel the world!
- These days, everyone and their mom and their grandmother wants/needs a website for their business. Unless the internet suddenly becomes passé, this won’t change anytime soon.
- Websites have replaced business cards when it comes to lasting first impressions. Savvy businesses and people understand the importance of a well designed website, and a competent designer.
- Web design is practically language dependent. The client needs to be able to communicate their wishes to you, but beyond that, you’re in the clear! The fact that you only speak English doesn’t mean you can’t design a website for an Indonesian hostel.
- Inspiration fuels design, and travel fuels inspiration! Living and working in a new place can help you bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to the drawing board day after day.
- Web designers don’t have to meet with people in the same way that people in business or sales do. Skype and email can often suffice, so long as you have Wi-Fi to send over your new designs. Why chain yourself to a cubicle when you can work on a beachfront patio?
- Designers are in high demand in the remote working field. Programming jobs take first place, but remote design jobs come in a close second.
- Design favours a flexible lifestyle. You can’t always force yourself to be creative, and need to manage your time Why not be flexible in location as well as work habits?
3 reasons why being a web designer may not be the right job for you
- Working with clients can be supremely frustrating. Design is very visual, and as a result, many people think they fully understand it. Every detail of your designs will be visible before your clients, and many will feel entitled to play the expert and take the helm from you. If you can’t handle someone ordering to add more sparkles and rainbows to your design without punching them in the face (as tempting as it may be), you should probably look for a different job.
- It can be hard to work up to a decent pay grade as a web designer. There are a billion and one self-proclaimed designers out there, and many of them are willing to offer the lowest price possible to undercut the competition. Many clients are seduced by a $5 quote from India, rather than the promise of quality.
- Web design involves lots (and lots) of iterations. It isn’t cut and dry work where you do things once, check for mistakes, then go home for the evening. You’ll need to redesign things over and over before you reach something to be satisfied with, and the process can be disheartening. Be strong!
How to become a web designer and travel the world
The qualifications you’ll need to become a web designer and travel the world
- A portfolio, of course! It can be hard to build one up in the beginning, before you have several projects under your belt. If you need more content, try redesigning a terrible website or two, or design some creative solutions to common website features, such as a signup button or form.
- A website to showcase yourself and your work. What kind of web designer doesn’t have their own website? Make sure it’s to the point, easy to use, and, most importantly, beautiful!
The experience you’ll need to become a web designer and travel the world
- An ability to deal with clients professionally comes above all else. As a designer, your clients will often assume you’re just a tool for their grand visions, rather than an expert with a brain and creative skills. You’ll need to handle criticism and steer brainstorming sessions, and cultivate relationships while working.
- A good understanding of Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop or Sketch. Knowledge of mockup tools such as Balsamiq and Invision can also be a boon. Whatever helps you get the job done!
Where to learn the skills to become a web designer and travel the world
The best way to learn about good web design is, of course, to use the web! Start paying attention to websites you visit. What makes the good ones a pleasure to use? What makes the bad ones miserable? What design styles are in right now? Which sites grab your interest? For more on how one actually applies all of these thoughts to web design, check out the super witty Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.
Next, it’s good to get your hands dirty with a bit of technical practice. Behance and Dribbble are online art communities where users post finished works… and works in progress. You can find lots of constructive criticism on your work there, as well as see thought processes and finished products of other people in your field to-be.
If you’re interested in making a bit of cash monies while honing your eye for design, start up an account on Usertesting.com. It’s a website where clients pay to have their websites and apps tested and reviewed by average Joes and Janes. You can earn up to $15 per test (score!) and since you’re encouraged to be critical, often with a prompt, you’ll start to be more perceptive of common design flaws, what makes websites absolutely brilliant/painfully wretched, and how you can improve things!
Finally, a good foundation in business is incredibly important to have before attempting any kind of nomadic working lifestyle. The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Web Design Business has everything you need to know about getting started from both a business and a design perspective.
How much it costs to become a web designer and travel the world
- Forget fancy degrees and costly certifications–to get started, all you need is some time, motivation, and the wonders of the internets.
- The only costs you need to incur when starting up are those to make you look professional. A domain name and hosting for your website will be your first expenses. Bluehost offers a package that includes a domain name and a year of hosting for only $2.95/month. Aside from that, business cards are a very good idea, though not strictly necessary. Moo.com is a reliable place to order business cards, and offers a great variety of fun printing options you usually won’t find at standard online print shops.
The physical tools you need to become a web designer and travel the world
- Having internet is generally a good idea if you’re trying to work as a web A computer is also a good idea–most clients will not be particularly thrilled to receive hand drawn sketches by mail, especially if you’re working abroad!
- In more seriousness, you’re going to want to stock up on the software you’ll need to create your designs. Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are a good place to start. The Adobe options will cost you about $50/month, though more resourceful (cough) people can start out with a free version. You didn’t hear that from me, though. Sketch is a cheaper alternative to the Adobe suite, ringing in at $99.
- Another hot software tip: look into presenting your designs with apps like Invision or MarvelApp. They’ll help you to organise your mockups in a professional manner, let your clients comment on your work (a major timesaver when working remotely!) and you can use them to make interactive mockups. They both offer free trials.
- Last, but certainly not least, you’ll need an arsenal of fonts to use in your designs. When starting out, Google Fonts will be your best friend: it’s free and has a wide variety of web fonts for use. Some of them are even good! You may eventually want to diverge from Google’s offerings and invest in some premium font licenses for your designs… until you have the inevitable holy sh*tballs this font is more than $300! But never fear–you can often bill these costs to your client as project expenses. If they’ve got the funds for $300 fonts, that is.
How to find paid work as a web designer
Practical things you need to know when becoming a web designer
The first step to landing a paid gig (over the table) is to make sure that you are legally allowed to live in the country where you’ll be posting. If you’re going to be working for people in said country, you also need to get a work visa, otherwise you run the risk of upsetting your not-so-friendly local immigration officer. Not recommended–being deported might disrupt your work schedule just a bit.
Where to find work online as a web designer
Finding work online can be a bit tricky, not because there is a lack of work to be found, but because there are so many people online (especially from developing countries) that will offer to do the same job for way, way less. The bastards!
To avoid this, look for work in communities that understand the value of good design. Dribbble has a job listing section for remote jobs, and design positions are relatively common on Working Nomads. You can also put out a call for work on Facebook–there’s always someone that knows someone that’s looking for a designer. If those don’t pan out, you can always look for calls for help in blogger Facebook groups, or on job-related subreddits such as r/DesignJobs.
As a final resort, there’s always infamous freelancing sites such as Upwork and Elance. This is where you’ll have to battle it out with the Indian competition to snag a job. Just remember to hold your (virtual) head high, don’t undersell yourself, and be confident about your mad skills!
Where to find work offline as a web designer
I know, I know–you’re a digital nomad, right? That doesn’t mean you can’t go knocking on doors looking for work IRL. Doing some job recon offline is a great way to find people that you can build a lasting relationship with. Instead of being a masked e-Zorro, only existing inside a screen to do their bidding, clients will see you as a business partner, and will likely value your time and effort more.
So where should you start knocking? To start, try lurking in places frequented by other digital nomads, entrepreneurs, and startup folk. Every great idea, person, and business needs a website. Maybe you’ll be the one to design it! You can also try approaching existing businesses with… mediocre websites, and subtly let them know that your services as a web designer are available. And, of course, you can always just go out for drinks in your sa-weet new nomad hotspot, and see what the tide turns up!
Most importantly, when going around making calls/networking/boozing and cruising, be sure to bring business cards with you. Mention what you do, toss them a card, and ask that they keep you in mind in the future. It’s a good way to get your foot in the door without being too pushy (or needing to resort to straight-up insulting their “mediocre” website).
Factors you need to consider to become a web designer
Negotiating job contracts as a designer can be tricky. The following tips are mostly related to freelance web design work, though they can apply to projects with employers as well. Always be cautious when signing your soul over, no matter who’s employing you!
Questions to ask yourself before accepting a job or project:
- The most important question: Is this person actually going to pay me in the end? Unfortunately, many a client has skipped out at the last minute, leaving the designer broke and hanging. You can weed out the freeloaders by having A) a contract! and B) a term in your contract stating the client must pay a percentage of the project fee up front. This could range from 25-50% of the fee, depending on the client and how much you’re being paid.
- Is what you’re being paid actually going to cover all of the time and effort you’ll be putting in? Don’t charge someone $100 for something that’s going to take you two weeks. And don’t work for free–it’ll only devalue you in the future.
- How many iterations of designs will you go through with your client? Things can drag on for too long if you let clients make changes over and over (and over) again. Restrict them to 3 solid redesigns to avoid this.
- Who has the legal rights to the work that you create? Will you be allowed to display your finished work in your portfolio? This is usually up to the client, but should be clarified beforehand.
- Will you be overseeing the actual implementations of your designs? Sometimes web designers spend hours on a new design, only to find out that the developer was lazy/sloppy/inept/all of the above when implementing the design. You don’t want a sloppy job attached to your name! If you’re going to work with the developer, make sure you account for that when budgeting time.
- Will the client be providing any images or stock photos for the website? If you need to create the images as well, don’t forget to charge for that, or let the client know about stock photo costs up front.
The best places to work as a digital nomad
Obviously, the best place to work as a digital nomad has white sandy beaches, hip and cool working spaces, lots of other nomads, cheap drinks, and lightning-fast internet. Unfortunately for you, such a place only exists in 21st century myths.
If it’s internet speeds you’re going for, Europe is the place to be. Western Europe generally tends to ravage one’s wallet, however, so consider eastern European havens such as Riga, Latvia or Bratislava, Slovakia.
If you’re ready to sacrifice a bit of speed for warmer climates and cheaper living, turn your eyes towards places like Chiang Mai, Thailand or Ubud, Indonesia. They’re both magnets for digital nomads such as your future self, there’s always some fun to be found, and decent internet is fairly available. So be sure to check these kickass options out. Your dream to become a web designer and travel the world is just wee bit away.
Ready to jump into the web design world? The sites below are all great places to start.
- Awwwards – all kinds of sexy web design inspiration
- Behance and Dribbble – discover other designers’ work, free design resources, receive critiques on your work and WIPs
- Smashing Magazine – a very comprehensive blog related to all things design and interwebs
- Creative Bloq – a solid design blog with a section on web design
- Working Nomads – remote job offers
- r/web_design – a subreddit revolving around all things web design
- Remote Nation – all kinds of advice about remote work and the digital nomad lifestyle
- io – Design jobs that can be done from anywhere in the world
Who better to give the down and dirty on working as a web designer than a veteran web designer themselves? I hunted down a wild web nomad and asked them a couple of burning questions that any aspiring web designer might have on how to become a web designer and travel the world.
Hello! To start, can you give us an idea as to what kind of work you’ve done as a web designer?
All kinds of things! I’ve designed websites and crafted their content from the ground up, updated existing websites to match new branding, and worked on specific website and software features while working as a user experience and interface (UX/UI) designer.
A user experience designer? Is that a field of web design?
It can be! Good web design includes consideration for the user’s experience when visiting the website, and designing a website is basically designing an online user interface. Many web designers could say they’re also UX designers. It’s a useful field to be knowledgeable in, as there’s a healthy demand for UX designers for web-related services.
Gotcha! Let’s backtrack a bit to web design in general. What do you find most challenging about the web design process?
Hmm… I’d say finding a way to fit large amounts of information into something aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. It’s one thing to build a small website with only a few pages and a sprinkling of information. It’s another thing entirely to design something as complex and comprehensive as a blog, or a really large corporate site with tons of content. Some websites have hundreds of pages, widgets, menus, etc. It can get crazy!
Urgh, that sounds like a headache. Is this something that new web designers will have to face often?
It’s possible, but much of the time people start out just making websites for small businesses with less content, or updating existing websites, which gives you something to build upon. So never fear! If you are saddled with a massive undertaking at the start, don’t hesitate to ask your client or boss if it’s really necessary to have all of that content. People often go overboard when it comes to dumping things on the designer!
I’ll bet they do! One final question before we round things up: any advice for aspiring nomadic web designers?
Don’t lose heart. Getting started is the worst part! You’ll be desperate for work, and things will come in slowly, if at all. Don’t undervalue or undersell yourself–it might sound doable to design a whole website for $100, but when you’re two weeks in with a client from hell, you’ll regret accepting the job. Just be firm, confident, and patient. The more you do, the more people will find you, and the more work you’ll start to find! If allowed, don’t forget to include “Designed by X” with a link to your website somewhere in your design!
Recommended reading on how to become a web designer
The Design of Everyday Things: One of the most important (and most famous) books about design thinking that you could possibly read.
Don’t Make Me Think: A very witty look into the thinking that goes on during the web design process.
Universal Principles of Design: A beautiful and well-illustrated encyclopedia of design principles. Guaranteed to cover everything and anything design-related that you may encounter in your work, it’s a very useful reference book to have on hand.
The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Freelance Web Design Business: Everything you need to know about getting started from both a business and a design perspective.
Get started today
So, you’re now oversaturated with all kinds of information on how to become a web designer and travel the world. Now is as good a time as ever to get started… but where to start?
If web design seems to be your calling, here are some first steps to get you on the path to Digital Nomad-dom:
- Peruse the links in this article and the recommended reading. A good foundation is always a good place to start. Knowledge is power!
- Assemble or create a portfolio
- Pull together any previous design work you may have done
- If lacking in previous work…
- Redesign some existing websites OR
- Design your own websites for a fantasy business or purpose
- Set up a website for yourself – Best to do this before getting on the road!
- Purchase hosting and a domain name from Bluehost or Siteground
- Determine what content you do and do not want to include
- Determine how you will build the website–will it be via a developer? A site builder such as Squarespace? A modified WordPress theme?
- Design the pages and content based on the previous answer
- Implement your designs!
- Begin researching and planning your next home/destination
- Check out visa requirements
- Research cost of living and explore location options
And that is that! Go off, young grasshopper, and the best of luck on your digital nomadic quest!
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Writer and hustler. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will has been on the road for nine years, travelling to far-flung lands on a budget. Today, he runs a number of online ventures. He is passionate about teaching others how to ditch their desks, hit the road and achieve real freedom by earning money online. Currently, Will is based in Bali where he plans to open his first Tribal Hostel in 2019.