Web design is a huge field, and there are many aspects you could devote yourself to learning. This tutorial will cover the basics of how to get started. The most important thing you can have is a "do it yourself" attitude-the confidence that while it's complicated and there's a lot to learn, you have the ability to find the resources you need to learn what you need to in order to accomplish your goal, whether it's to make your own website or to become a professional web designer.
- Decide to learn HTML. While it is true that you can create websites nowadays without knowing a bit of HTML, if you want to truly understand web design you will need to learn it. The good news is that it's not that hard. It's not a true programming language, with complex logic and lots of syntax to learn. It's a markup language, which means that its main function is to make text look pretty. It's very forgiving, compared to a true programming language, and it's easy to learn the basics. So take a deep breathe, and dive in.
- Use that "View Source" command. Any webpage on the internet (unless it's made in Flash), has HTML source that you can view using your browser's View Source command. Let's say you are browsing along and you see a really neat effect - you can just View Source and see how they accomplished it. Some code will be very difficult to read, as it is generated by programs instead of hand written by people, so it might be easier to start with simpler, more home-grown sites to try this trick on.
- Start making real websites. The best way to learn is to do. If you're intimidated by the idea of purchasing web hosting and learning to FTP your files to your server, then start with a service like Blogger.com where you can start with template files and then modify them with HTML. But eventually, you will want to get your own bit of space on a server and start creating your own websites from scratch. Web hosting now is very affordable - plans start at around $5/month.
When you start creating real websites, you'll get the kind of knowledge that can only come from experience. You'll start to get a feel for how tables work, for how much CSS you want to use in your layout, and you'll develop your own coding and design style.
- Build a portfolio. Volunteering to do websites for family, friends, or local non-profitsis a great way to gain experience problem-solving various people's needs, and to build a portfolio.
- Think about your goals for the website. Websites are in essence communication vehicles. Make sure when you are making a website that it has a purpose, and that you are accomplishing that purpose. This will help you make decisions about things like whether to use Flash or not. Obviously Flash is very "cool," but does it further your goal for your site? Is it necessary? Will it provide a benefit for your users? Learning to think strategically and create websites for your users needs is a very important part of being a good web designer.
- Research, read, and ask questions. The web is literally swamped with tutorials, tips, and how-to guides for HTML, CSS, and every other aspect of web design. Anything you could want to learn about has been covered, over and over. So just hop on over to Google and start exploring.
- Join forums. One of the best avenues for learning is forums. Forums give you the benefit of seeing answers to common questions, and of asking your own. There is a certain etiquette to forums-basically, follow the forum rules, and don't waste people's time by not searching for your own answers first. Web geeks love to learn and love to share, but if all it takes is a Google search to find the answer, you're likely to annoy somebody.
- Expose yourself to great design. I've talked a lot so far about the technical parts of website creation and how to learn them - the "web" part of web design. To learn the "design" part, you need to develop your sense of aesthetics. There are some basic design books that are very helpful - "The Non-Designer's Design Book" by Robin Williams is a great place to start. It discusses basic design principles like alignment, contrast, proximity, and repetition. Start paying attention to design all around you in magazines, on billboards. Notice what websites look cohesive and neat, and try to identify why. Get a good web-ready graphic design program like Macromedia Fireworks and spend some quality time playing with different layouts and different ideas.