How web designers can enhance their skills or tools they can use to gain a competitive edge

At S

parkbox, we’ve long accepted that to be a great designer on the web means being fluent with the tools of the web: HTML, CSS, and, yes, JavaScript. It also means knowing how to keep up with the web, so I reached out to our team of Frontend Designers for their advice on keeping their skills sharp.

Practice Makes Perfect

Ethan Muller, the original Sparkbox apprentice, is quick to point out that “design is a skill that can be improved through practice. It's a boring answer, but the best way to get better at design is to do a lot of it.” Whether that’s in private or in public, exercising your craft will only make you a stronger web designer. “Consider getting a Codepen account, and start playing around the sandbox code environment” as Andrew Spencer our frontend design apprentice turned frontend designer suggests. “Pick a topic that interests you and make something that pushes your comfort zone with code and design. It could be a fun button style or an entire layout design. Be creative and have some fun.”

Community of Teachers

Medium, Codepen, Twitter, Dribbble. The web community is prolific in sharing their knowledge. Per Ethan, “Even if you don't tweet regularly, find some some web professionals to follow. They can serve as a barometer for where the industry is moving.” There are subReddits for nearly every tool, framework, and technology you can imagine.

You don’t need to be an “expert” to share your knowledge, as Andrew points out, “the act of sharing will cement your knowledge and help you be more confident as a web designer.” Exercise your ability to articulate and accept feedback on your designs, thoughts, and ideas with your team, at Dribbble meetups, and with clients.

Philip Zastrow appreciates the relationships created with both Codepen and Dribbble. Each service encourages users to interact with others’ work by giving their own take on it: “Whether rebounding a Shot or forking a Pen, these exercises will help hone your skills and can help you build relationships with other designers and developers.” That network of relationships and improvising on each other’s work is bound to lead to new opportunities.

Of course, if you’re looking for something more fundamental, a paid apprenticeship can be a great opportunity. At Sparkbox, we’ve seen for some time the value that exists in a paid, focused apprenticeship curriculum for those that have become part of our team and those who embark on the next phase of their web career.

Stick to the Fundamentals

As Ethan likes to say, “Tools and frameworks come and go, but their underlying technologies (HTML, CSS, JS) are here to stay.” React, BEM, and the rest are built on top of fundamentals.

One of the most interesting and easy techniques to stay a step ahead can be reading about the various “Latest Features” of fundamental web tech on Even browsing the Index of Features can give you an awareness of nuanced CSS properties, JS APIs, or SVG features.

Glimpse at the Future

Staying up to date on every HTML, JavaScript, or CSS framework can feel like an uphill battle. In many ways, it is. Fortunately, the folks at the working groups who manage those specifications have realized this. The W3C, for example, has delivered the very digestible Roadmap of Web Applications on Mobile, which attempts to summarize the web platform additions they’re working on to “increase the capabilities of Web applications.”

Similarly, TC39, the committee that oversees JavaScript as a language, publishes their proposals for public discussion and research. In many cases, they even provide polyfills, examples, or implementations that you can try out on your own.

Own Your Own Career

The web can be a wild and exciting design environment. Growing your skills and keeping a sharp edge is not out of reach. Above all else, create goals and have a plan that allows you play, practice, and explore the areas that interest you. Find the community that suits you and engage. Encourage, mentor, and grow one another each and every day.

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