Top 21 Essential Skills Needed
For a Web Designer

See also: Careers in Information Technology

Web design is an incredibly popular and lucrative profession. As businesses are moving online, the demand for web design professionals is going up quickly. Organizations depend on their online storefronts to boost the bottom line, and customer expectations are high when it comes to interacting with professional websites.

Web design expectations have evolved significantly over the last decade—with many companies expecting their web designers to be masters of multiple coding languages, graphic design, digital strategy, and more.

Are you looking to hire a web designer for a project? We’ve put together this list highlighting 21 essential skills web designers must have.

Web designer sitting at desk with two computer monitors.

Technical Skills

The website design process naturally includes tasks that require programming skills and knowledge in site usability. These “hard skills” are a must-have for any web designer.


HyperText Markup Language serves as the foundation for almost all websites and remains the most vital skill to learn for web design. Even if you use a content management system or a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editor, understanding HTML allows you to control your workflow and work outside of these editors whenever necessary.

2. CSS

While HTML handles the structure of a business website, Cascading Style Sheets, which works alongside it, defines the visual appearance.

3. JavaScript

JavaScript is an advanced programming language that handles the interactive components of a website. It complements HTML well by powering videos, search bars, and other elements.

4. Content Management Systems

Take WordPress for example, one of the most popular CMS options used by web developers for both personal sites and businesses. It’s a free site framework that’s usable by anyone from the beginner to the experienced designer. It’s worth knowing how to use the “block editor” in WordPress and expand the functionality using plugins.

5. Other Design Applications

Depending on the client’s needs, you might need experience in image processing programs such as Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Illustrator. There’s also an interactive wireframing tool called Mockplus that can help with prototyping pages.

6. Web Server Management

No matter how robust a company’s servers may be, issues and downtime are inevitable. While the web designer likely won’t need to work on the back-end, knowing about the basic functions of a web server could help you resolve issues more quickly.

7. Online Marketing

Business sites are mostly about making sales, so they typically find web designers with some awareness of copywriting. Being able to get the message across in a succinct way will help to inform and engage potential clients.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) leads into this skill. It goes without saying that web design and SEO are heavily connected. To secure new leads in the vast ocean of Google search results, a web designer may have to use keywords, improve page load speeds, boost domain credibility, and provide regular page updates to rank the site highly.

8. Responsive Design

Making a webpage responsive is all about accessibility. Many visitors will only stick around for a short time, so you want to make sure the menus, text, and buttons are clear and usable throughout the page.

Responsive design includes optimizing the website to run well. It’s incredibly common for a visitor to click off if the site takes too long to load.

Company sites must also be mobile-friendly, as many users browse on a smartphone or tablet nowadays. Web designers must accommodate their layouts to support a wide variety of screen sizes and resolutions.

9. User Experience (UX)

The user experience is everything today. According to Forrester, every $1 invested in UX can translate into $100 in ROI.

Web design involves fine-tuning the user experience. That is, you need to make the page enjoyable to use and navigate. Unclutter the layout and intuitively organize the page in a logical fashion. UX also requires you to tailor your design to a specific target audience.

10. User Interface (UI)

While UX focuses on the broad aspects of web page design, UI deals with the specific aspects of how users interact with the site. When one thinks of the UI, one usually considers the buttons and menus that make up the navigation.

These come together to form a consistent experience and a straightforward interface. Do not forget to add a prompt and an obvious call to action.

11. Graphic Design

Graphic design is fundamentally a separate job from web design, but professionals in both fields often work with each other. Web designers handle the programming, while graphic designers generate visuals to communicate the right ideas.

If you never used Adobe Lightroom before this might be a real game changer. Why? Because it can use thousands of presets to instantly enhance any photo. The easiest way to get started is to download a bundle of lightroom presets and follow a few basic guidelines to apply them to your photos. 

12. Color Theory

The way a page aesthetically looks greatly impacts how a visitor perceives the business. Even if a web designer does not specialize in graphic design, it’s still worth learning how to use complementary and contrasting colors effectively. For instance, when should you use light colors and dark colors? How can you tweak the contrast and saturation in ways that make the site look more appealing?

Soft Skills

While technical skills are essential, the ideal web designer has a variety of soft skills to guarantee a successful project for the client company.

13. Setting Up Projects

When web designers search for projects to take on, they usually research the business, ask about their goals, and figure out what they expect from the website. They typically look at the competition and find out what they can do to stand out.

14. Communication Skills

Communication is a necessity for almost any business professional, but it’s incredibly important in web design. A designer must not only understand the goals of the business but also be able to convey their decisions to the client and explain why they contribute to the success of the website.

15. Interpersonal Skills

Web design is almost never a single-person job. You might have to talk with people who aren’t designers themselves and explain your vision of the project in a layman’s terms.

Design often involves working alongside other departments in the business, like marketing or IT. For instance, you might talk with marketing to find out how to optimize the site for making conversions.

16. Critical Thinking Skills

How will a visitor react to your design? What can you do to keep the users engaged and interested? Web design is a significant test of one’s decision making skills. Everything you have to consider, from the planning to the execution and marketing, involves making subtle yet important decisions regarding even the smallest elements of web design.

17. Project Management

Professional sites take a long time to complete and often require regular revisions. You must understand how to start a project and keep yourself aligned with the goals of a business throughout the process.

18. Minimizing Distractions

Whether the designer is hired or works freelance, keeping an eye on deadlines is another vital skill. Clearing distractions and making constructive use of company time ensures that costly last-minute rushes don’t happen.

19. Patience

From taking client feedback to making difficult decisions regarding interface design, web design will involve a lot of setbacks and potential frustration. Patience makes working with a web designer more constructive.

20. Taking Feedback

Always find web designers who are willing to take outside opinions and commit changes that the company requests. Creating a website means making constant revisions to fine-tune all the components. The ideal designer knows how to implement feedback.

21. Acquiring References

A business searching for web designers will almost always turn to the list of references before making a final decision. What other projects has a designer worked on, and what did the previous clients think about the results?

Web design skills alone aren’t enough today. Web designers today are expected to be jacks of all trades when it comes to websites and digital marketing.

So, look for a web designer who understands the bigger picture—everything from your digital strategy to the creative aspects that tie it all together.

And most importantly, set clear expectations and don’t settle for “good enough.” Talented web designers can help you take your vision and turn it into a reality.

About the Author

Philip Deeley is the Founder of, a Website Design, Ecommerce, and Digital Marketing Agency based in Toronto, Canada. For over 20 years, he and his team have helped clients in Creating new businesses online, branding, website design, eCommerce solutions. When he is not working, he loves to play music and walk his pet across the neighborhood in downtown Toronto.