The Web Design Community Offers Advice To Beginners


At one time or another, we are all newbies. That’s right: you can deny it all you want, but not one of us got into this game with a full deck stacked in our favor. We entered as newbies, born fresh after the start screen loaded. However, unlike in a game, we are not immediately launched into a tutorial level to learn the ropes in this new world — what to avoid, how to progress, etc. And if we feel overwhelmed by our newbie status, we may not be able to find our way to the tutorials and guides that the community has put together to help us sort all of this out. So, feeling very alone in all this is easy.

Jumping in a new passion can be difficult and time-consuming at first. The support of the community can be extremely helpful in overcoming the learning curve and helping to find the right route for your career and your professional skills. Image credit1.

But this is the great thing about being part of the online development community — that you are never truly alone. Your experience may be unique in its details, but it’s not generally, which is great because the community is very open to sharing its experiences and offering guidance to help newbies navigate the twists and turns we are sure to face as we continue down the developer’s path. In most cases, all you have to do to get some helpful advice is to venture into the social media neighborhoods and ask the community at large. At times, the answers just pour in.

That is what we found when we went out on Twitter2 and on Facebook3 recently to poll our followers and fans. We asked “What is the single best tip from your experience that you would give to newbie developers?” This article is the result of all of the amazing responses we have received. Before we go any further, we would like to thank those who took the time to answer our query and who offered so much great advice to all the newbies out there in the development arena. As usual, the advice also serves as a nice refresher to all those seasoned veterans who have been in the game for a while.

Never Stop Learning

This answer, which we received repeatedly, is by far one of the best pieces of advice for newbies in the development field: never stop learning. This truly is one to keep in mind as you tread through this new world, because working in a field as dynamic and fluid as development, you can quickly fall behind if you do not actively strive to stay ahead of the curve. Without somewhat of a dedicated effort on your part, your progress could stall, and your skills and work could stagnate.


Once again, the online community and so many others have your back in this respect. So many wonderful books, blogs and other accessible resources are teeming with knowledge, just waiting to be absorbed and passed on. So, read. Implement and practice what you have learned. As noted in the replies below, trial and error is a fantastic method of self-teaching. You might even go so far as to schedule some kind of weekly assignment for yourself, to always keep your skill set growing.

  • Start with examples and muddle around with them. Change every line of code to see what it does. Then learn why those things work.
  • Be a sponge. Don’t let pride get in the way of learning from others.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Read. Oh god, read so many books on the subject that force you to practice things over and over again.
  • Learn how to learn for yourself.
  • Never think you’ve learned it all.
  • Don’t pretend you know all. Blogs and forums are your best teacher.
  • Read the docs. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Test. Learn.
  • Don’t copy and paste. Learn.
  • Always have a project on the go. It makes sure you keep learning.
  • Learn by putting as much as possible into practice.
  • Always learn more. You should never be 100% content, and always strive to constantly improve your skills.
  • Never stop developing their skills.

Take Criticism Constructively

… No matter how it is given. This is another important piece of advice that is both vital to learn and extremely difficult for some to do — especially because the anonymity of the Internet seems to give so many license to forget one half of the constructive criticism coin; they instead berate and belittle through their comments and their assessments of the developer’s talent. But no matter how harshly they come at you, find a way to distill the essence of their statements to see if you can gain anything from them. If they have no merit, let them go.


One thing to always remember, as pointed out in the advice below: never take criticism of your work personally — especially given that in this field we are never supposed to stop learning. We should always welcome feedback from others in the community that helps us improve. It is simply a means of keeping our skills sharp. Inviting open criticism allows others to help open our eyes to new approaches and even problems we are entrenched in. Also, thinking of it as feedback and not as “criticism” might soften the blow for you. After all, who doesn’t love feedback.

  • Be open to feedback as everything changes.
  • Learn to love criticism.
  • Test in every browser/OS config you can. And don’t take criticism of your work personally.

Be Patient

Here is another major tip to hold onto: be patient. If you can master this one, then you will have saved yourself many sleepless nights and hair-pulling-induced headaches along your journey to greatness as a developer. Remember that these skills do not develop overnight, no matter how much we wish they would. This journey is just that, a journey — not a direct flight to the final destination. Getting to where you want to be will take time.


Take your time. Don’t rush through the learning process too quickly, or you will likely burn out and get frustrated. Take the slow route, making sure you completely grasp one area before moving on to the next. If you hurry, chances are something important will slip past you. And as you work with others in the community, be patient with those both behind and ahead of you on the learning curve.

  • Have patience… a lot of patience. And if you have to get IE6 to work, start a pot of tea or something to calm yourself. :P
  • Have patience: with yourself, others and especially the code. :)
  • Take all the time you need to learn the basics. They are fundamental.
  • Prepare for frustration.
  • No matter how stupid what your client just said was, think before you reply.

Comment Your Code

Another pearl we found in the plethora of replies is a wonderful coder’s mantra (or at least it should be): comment your code. Comments are a powerful aid to new developers for many reasons, the main one being that learning through repetition is a fantastic way to make information stick. If you constantly comment on why you used a particular bit of code or how another bit works, then each time you return to it, you will be further cementing it in your brain.


Also, comments can provide just as much benefit to others who will be interacting with your code. Remember, it is not always about you. Comments are a way for others to learn from your work, just as you have learned from the code of those who came before you (if in fact they did think to leave comments). If you work with other developers on a project, this is an easy way to keep each other informed on why someone coded their part the way they did. It demonstrates professionalism, too, so keep up the comments.

  • Thoroughly comment your code! It will help infinitely in the long run.
  • Always use detailed comments. At some point, someone else will look at your code. Do them a favor and comment like mad.
  • When commenting: describe why not just how.

Be A Helpful Member Of The Community

This next bit of advice ranks quite high for many developers, not just because of its obvious benefits but because of the reward one feels from doing it: be a helpful member of the development community. It could prove to be an invaluable asset in your arsenal, not only because the lines of communication that you open will create great learning opportunities, but because you are building lasting relationships that you can call upon later when you find yourself in need of assistance.


Those of us who have gradually moved through the ranks have especially relied on these resourceful posts and helpful guidance to make the most of our skills and code. We should really stay active in the community and give back when and where we can. Paying it forward for all of those who have paved the way for us is not only an obligation; we really should want to help this community of ours thrive and grow. Reaching out through social media outlets, blogs, forums and more can really improve one’s skill set and viability.

  • Get involved in the design and Web community as quickly as possible.
  • Peer code reviews!
  • Set aside time to help other developers. It could be in online forums. It really helps you reflect on what you know and don’t know.

Learn The Business

Learn all aspects of the business side of the industry, especially if you are freelancing. We got a few responses about this. And it makes sense. If you want any kind of sustainability in your career, then having a solid grasp of the business side of things is important.


Knowing how the business operates and what clients generally expect will prepare you well for a freelance career… and will also keep you from being taken advantage of. If you learn the general pay scale and expectations of players in the field (including those of clients and other developers), then you’ll be well prepared to set your own rates and expectations. It also teaches you how to handle paperwork, which can be cumbersome and potentially overwhelming if you are unfamiliar with this side of the business.

  • You can only make so much money coding. Learn the business.
  • Quadruple your hourly estimate.
  • Make a careful and detailed estimate. Now triple it. You’re probably close to the truth.
  • Your estimates will suck for a long time, so be as conservative as you can, and offer discounts on overage.
  • IE6 is a bitch!
  • Choose your clients wisely. Bad clients end up costing you time and money.

If You Don’t Love It, Leave It

Some other words of wisdom that were passed along can be summed up like this: if you don’t love it, then this is not the right work for you. Developing is more than a job; it is a career — beyond that, even a way of life. Coding changes the way you see and interact with the world around you. It challenges you every day with something new to conquer or sort out. The hours seem to keep piling up, and your brain becomes harder and harder to switch off, continuing to solve problems long after you have bidden it to rest.


This holds especially true for freelancer developers. As a freelancer, you are so much more than the person behind the code: you are the person behind it all. This is where your love of code comes into play ten-fold. Passion goes a long way in development. True passion for what you do comes only from loving it. You can’t fake it, either. A lack of passion not only will reflect in your work but will impede your progress.

  • If it is just a job for you and you do not look forward to breaking nights, find another job.
  • Love what you do, and remember those who taught you.

Make Time For Yourself

Another bit of advice to keep you sane as you grow is to make time for yourself. The best way to do this is to keep some sort of side project going. There are many reasons to do this, your sanity being the main one. Staring at code for hours on end takes its toll, especially if your code is failing and a solution escapes you. One way to fight off this madness is to have something to work on that lets you unplug.


A side project gives you an outlet to recharge and sustain your interest in the field you have devoted yourself to. Make no mistake: this is a time-consuming career path, and without a side project to keep you engaged, you will quickly burn out. The work that once enthralled you will lose its appeal, and the passion that got you to where you are will fade. A side project also ensures that you constantly learn. You can choose projects that challenge you in ways that you don’t find in work for clients.

  • Keep sane with a side project of your own.
  • Work on a real project every day, even just a personal one.

Believe In And Be Yourself

Another powerful bit of advice offered by the collective that we polled was to always believe in and be yourself. Given people’s tendency to aim for the throat when “critiquing,” these words of wisdom are especially potent. Allowing negative words and disparaging character assessments to lower your opinion of yourself and your abilities will deflate your momentum.


Always be true to your personal voice. Don’t compromise it while finding your way. You want to carve out a truly individual path, and that includes your voice, too. So, don’t try to imitate others who have found success. As noted below, never try to be someone else, because that never works the way you hope. Being inspired by others is fine, but don’t lose your identity and voice in the process.

  • Believe in your qualities. Never try to be somebody else. Life is too short for that.
  • Don’t quit! Hang on! Everything will work out fine.

A Few More Words Of Wisdom

Below are other responses that we couldn’t just leave hanging in the Twitterverse:

  • Try everything yourself before asking someone else (trial and error to the max).
  • Find your niche and focus on it until you are an expert.
  • You could probably code it well, but there is a fair chance that there is a time-saving jQuery solution.
  • Think of the visitor who is trying to find out something. They need to understand what’s going on, not just be impressed.
  • Some bridges just have to be burned.
  • Web developer? Practice sleeping less.
  • Don’t scoff at new ways of doing things because you don’t initially get them, nor should you embrace them without honest evaluation.
  • Stay informed about the direction of the Web. There’s a lot to learn, and along the way you’ll pick up skills.
  • Google before you ask.
  • RTFM!
  • Use source control. After that, comment your code.
  • Never write anything but standards-compliant code: faster, more reliable, and you won’t have to fix it when new browsers come out.
  • Regression test.
  • Do not fall in love with the code you write.
  • Put functionality first. Beauty comes in second place.
  • Don’t be cocky.
  • Focus on one subject at a time. Start with CSS.
  • “Stay hungry, stay foolish.”
  • Learn to write and format your own code cleanly and in as few characters as possible.
  • Run away from clients with red flags.
  • Take the most pride in your team’s code, not your own. Don’t complain when people edit your code. Enjoy how it improves.
  • All the stuff you say about all the old code you read, someone will say about your code in 10 years. So, knock it off. :)
  • Stay organized. It’s the key to success.
  • It’s never a hardware problem.
  • Logical, step-by-step thinking will solve any problem you encounter. No doubt about it.
  • Find a good IDE (like Aptana4).
  • Appreciate the design in front of you, and design in general.
  • You don’t fully understand something until you can explain it succinctly to someone else. So, learn → do → teach.

Below are a few more articles and resources to help the newb start off on the right foot, armed and ready. If you have some time, we recommend checking them out.



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Rob Bowen is a staff writer for Web Hosting Geeks and Top Web Hosting, a longtime freelance designer, and burgeoning videographer and filmmaker whose creative voice and works can be heard and found around the web.

  1. 1

    Thanks for this article. But where can I get constructive feedback? I’m Polish but learn mainly from resources in English (books, blogs, articles). Can you recommend me a good forum/site where I can get feedback?
    Thanks in advance :)

  2. 52

    Great article! You worked hard to advice, but your words shows you love it.Thanks.

  3. 103

    There’s one thing I didn’t see: Find a mentor. In my last corporate job, my boss came from the freelance world – he taught me how little I knew about web design.

    He also had practical business experience: how to get residual income after the project was over, how to estimate my time and even when to fire a client. When I’d develop mockups, he’d sit down and tell me what I was doing right or wrong. He could say, more objectively than I, that really was improving.

    You can’t get that feedback from a blog or a book. Community support is good – but one or two folks who can actually watch you improve is great.

  4. 154

    Tom - New Evolution

    August 19, 2010 9:03 am


  5. 205

    Great article …very useful for a novice (who’s not trying to become a designer or web developer) but getting a community website written in WordPress!

    Thank you to everyone out there who’s been kind enough to help me – both the community and I are very grateful :). Agree with what you say completely as I now try and help (even more novice) people with things that baffled me for hours.

  6. 256

    Well worth the read! Will keep this one bookmarked and continue passing it on.

  7. 307

    I’ve been a designer for 10 years…. this is a fantastic read.

  8. 358

    All these points will really help me a lot as I am starting now with web designing and developing… Thanks a lot once again for this wonderful article!

  9. 409

    Thanks for this article, Robert! I’m very new to the field, and to Smashing as well, and it’s articles like this that keep me coming back for more.

  10. 460

    Animation Institute

    August 20, 2010 5:38 am

    Great article! You worked hard to advice. Thanks

  11. 511

    Brendon Kozlowski

    August 20, 2010 6:30 am

    I love that handwritten-style font used in the graphics. Does anyone know what family it is?

  12. 562

    Fantastic article, thank you! I am in the early stages of newbie web design myself, so this article is exactly what I needed right now. I have been in graphic design for 10+ years but transitioning into a completely new arena can be overwhelming to say the least. Anyway, thanks again.

  13. 613

    Anyone want to give me some (constructive) criticism on my site?

    I should have my database connected to my catalog by next week, so for now, please only judge the home page! :)

    What do you think?

  14. 664

    Great article! I needed that. I’ve been doubting myself while at the same time becoming overwhelmed. Impeccable timing.

  15. 715

    I agree with everything said here. I’ve worked for myself for a couple of years now, and even today I’m still learning.

  16. 766

    Igors Brezinskis

    August 21, 2010 2:46 pm

    First point of the post Never Stop Learning, the same as “STUDY, STUDY, STUDY”: LENIN’S SLOGAN IS STILL ACTUAL!! And it is more than true. =)

  17. 817


  18. 868

    Wonderful points. Can’t find a thing to improve.

    And I love this: “You don’t fully understand something until you can explain it succinctly to someone else. So, learn → do → teach.”

    Absolutely. That whole “those who can do and those who can’t, teach” is total bunk. If you don’t know it, you can’t teach it.

  19. 919

    A good article making me aware of some of the pits I should avoid. I giggled a little at the remark with IE6 and a cup of tea.

    Keep up the good work!

  20. 970

    Love this article! Has to be the most inspiring article out there! THANKS! :o)

  21. 1021

    Great article. just what i’m looking for. I’m very much interested to learn. I’ve already learnt very few basics. everything from web. but i feel lonely and lack of guidance. which sites should I rely on and which forums should I join to start learning more efficiently? and how to organize the learning process?

    Thanks so much!! :)

  22. 1072

    This article doesn’t just relate to new comers to be honest. A lot of people can benefit from these points.

  23. 1123

    Alastair McDermott

    August 25, 2010 3:44 am

    Great post, there’s some super advice in there. I agree with everything in the main topic, but there are a couple in the “words of wisdom” at the end that I’d disagree with:

    # Try everything yourself before asking someone else (trial and error to the max).

    This is a great way to waste massive amounts of time. It’s good to try stuff and learn from it, but don’t take it to extremes. If you’ve spent more than a couple hours on an issue and are making no headway, go ask your peers. There’s no shame in it, and there are no stupid questions, but getting stuck on something for days is stupid :)

    # Focus on one subject at a time. Start with CSS.

    I agree with the first part, but if the question was stated as “What is the single best tip from your experience that you would give to newbie developers?” then I wouldn’t agree that CSS is the first place to start. A developer should have a good knowledge of HTML, be learning components of the LAMP stack (or .NET equivalent if you swing that way).


    • 1174

      I second this: start with HTML *and* in notepad or another lowend text editor. Once you’ve written a few sites from scratch, start using HTML-editors who partially do your job for you.

      Those editors often come with unneeded HTML, but by then you should know what’s needed and what not.

  24. 1225

    Another great article from Smashing Magazine. Thanks again from an Up and Coming Developer.

  25. 1276

    Thanks very helpfull

  26. 1327

    Awesome post for all beginner like me

  27. 1378

    Great tips for beginners :)

  28. 1429

    deleting posts that don’t agree with the article now are we smashing?

  29. 1480

    Amaze! I have been seeking the search engines all day due to this and i also last but not least found it right here!

  30. 1531

    So far this is the best article for me about web development.
    I learn a lot of from this article and save as doc for collection.
    Thanks for providing such nice article.

  31. 1582

    Great article buddy, thanks for the information.

  32. 1633

    Thanks for such a nice article. Let me add my five cents to it.

    If you don`t have a budget or knowledge on how to use a Photoshop and still want to create a stunning website buttons for your website then check Cool Button Designer software. After trying 10 different web button maker softwares I found that Cool Button Designer is the best piece of software that cost 9.99 and delivering stunning professional web button in the matter of minutes. It is easy to use as well.

    Have a look a trial version of Cool Button Designer for free. Just google for Cool Button Designer.

    Try it, you will not get disappointed with abilities that little but powerful software can deliver. it is a nice tool for a beginner webmaster with low budget.

  33. 1684

    thanks, im new in your world, nice word of wisdom.!

  34. 1735

    Really good stuff! Thanks dude.

  35. 1786

    Great post for beginners !! Such posting really helps new beginners who have just started with it.

  36. 1837

    Excellent post…

  37. 1888

    Hello, I need some advice…I’m starting a consulting type company and want to create a website, almost like Blackboard, where I can post specific things for each individual client on my end, and clients can sign into their account and see what I’ve updated for them. So for example….let’s say I upload a customized “to-do” list for a client, she signs in and can check items off, i can sign in and make notes on things she’s checked off, etc. I’ve done a bit of research and I think this is called a portal platform? (correct me if i’m wrong).

    Anyway, can you tell me if I hire someone to develop this for me, is it relatively easy to create? Would I hire a web developer, a computer programmer, or what? I have purchased a domain name and hosting services from one of those advertised web-hosting sites…is this sufficient for what I’m trying to do or would I need my own servers or something? Any insight you can give would be extremely helpful.


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