The Non-Programmer’s Guide to Web Design

In the ever-evolving design industry, the distinction between website programmers and graphic designers is slowly becoming increasingly hazy. While classically trained designers such as myself may not be expected to crank out a website design in between developing collateral and guiding brand direction, the need to expand our base of knowledge has become imperative if we want to remain relevant.

Understanding the foundational principles of web design will help you collaborate more seamlessly with programmers and create stunning, user-friendly online spaces. Read on for some advice about working with developers and getting started in the coding world.

Learn the basics of HTML, CSS and Javascript

Getting your hands dirty in the world of programming is the most important tip I can provide. A foundational knowledge of programming can work wonders as well as save significant time when collaborating with a seasoned web developer. You’ll also more thoroughly understand how websites function and can then tailor your design accordingly. There are plenty of free or inexpensive coding tutorials on sites like, Codecademy and even YouTube. The information and applications are readily available; it’s up to you to take the first step.

Learn to communicate with programmers

Programmers and designers speak different “languages” when constructing a website. Programmers typically speak in terms of the coding and rules/guidelines in which a website is governed, while designers on the other hand, usually speak in terms of aesthetics. In order for ideas and direction to be conveyed between the two, there needs to be a clear understanding of the other’s language. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the main international standards organization for the World Wide Web and offers technical specifications and guidelines. Familiarize yourself with these web standards and you’ll be able to give, and take, direction more effectively.

Monitor and research current website trends

Website design changes quickly and constantly. What may have been trendy a few years ago might look dated and perhaps even ridiculous now. Remember those website backgrounds with flying toasters from the early-to-mid 90s? Or the glittery social media graphics from the early 2000s? A simple Google search of current website design trends will offer information about what is currently popular and perhaps spark some inspiration for the website you’re designing. But make sure you always prioritize functionality; if users can’t find what they’re looking for quickly and easily, even the most beautifully designed website will lose valuable traffic.

Work with programmers directly

Communication is key for most professions and design is one of them. When you’re in the midst of website creation, speaking directly to a programmer can save time and spare you of some of the frustration from the process. A website is never designed and programmed exactly the way it should be on the first go. The bulk of website development involves a lot of back and forth, as designers often need to edit and tweak the design to fit within certain website guidelines. If you’re working with an account manager or client, explain that this direct communication is vital for project efficiency. They’re sure to understand and connect the two of you.

Research thoroughly when choosing a partner

When possible, research potential development companies before launching a project. Development companies vary dramatically in size and pricing, and consequently can alter the timeline of the proposed website launch as well as associated costs. Some companies charge by the project while others charge by the hour. Some are single person shops while others have large teams. You should also be fully aware of the company’s locations and the consequential time zone differences. Having worked with both local and international programmers, I can say that time zones can dramatically affect the entire process of website development. If you work with programmers on the other side of the world, you will run into roadblocks due to work schedules. Before you commit, gather as much information about the company as possible.

Creating a website is a complicated and lengthy process, but one that is highly fulfilling; there’s something special about carving out an entirely new space in the online world. Equip yourself with the correct knowledge and tools, and you’re on the path to becoming a great design partner.  

On the other hand, if you don’t have the time or resources to create a website — let us do it for you! Contact us to get started.