Starting a design business
• Knowledge and ability
• Business plan and objectives
Try, wherever possible, to utilize the equipment and communication
infrastructure you already have rather than rushing out to the stores.
Whether you are a Mac or PC person, you
will need a fairly decent computer with large
disc space, fast processor and bags of RAM.
If I was starting out today I would buy
something like an Apple iMac 27-inch
3.1GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5 for around
$1500/£1100. With a 3.1 GHz Intel i5 dual-core
processor, 4GB of RAM (maxed out to 16GB)
and 1TB hard drive.
In order to do some design work, you’re going to have to get some
software. There’s a lot of great free and open source tools out there that
in some cases do the job as well as the expensive stuff. But, for graphics,
unfortunately, you pretty much have to get the Adobe Creative Suite or
The 3 applications I use the most are
Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.
Dreamweaver is not essential for creating
websites you can use a text editor and an
After you’ve had a few jobs you may
want to purchase a font management
program. I use Suitcase Fusion 3.
Further down the line, you’ll have your hard drive stuffed with client work,
software and not to mention your own personal photos and movies. What
happens if something should go wrong with the machine? You need back
up and a portable alternative.
The cost of external discs keeps going down and down. Here’s a 1TB (that’s
1000GB) Western Digital USB external drive for only $67.00.
There are plenty of options:
Other free tools you can use
• Online image editors. Pixlr is one of the best. FotoFlexer is also worth a
• Open source alternatives to Creative Suite/Cloud There are free open
sources versions of Creative Suite applications although they are no real
substitute. GIMP has been around for a long time and is a good
Photoshop substitute. Pixelmator is not free but is cheap compared to
Photoshop. Inkscape, which is popular with the Linux community, is a
free alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
• File Sharing. If you want to deliver large files to a client there are a host of
free services, I use YouSendIt.
• Images There are lots of places to get great free stock photography, stock.
xchage and Flickr Creative Comms search are two of my favorites.
• There are lots of great free vector resources but, instead of searching
through these resources, I find a Google image search for “free vector”
does the trick.
• Fonts You can pick up free fonts at DaFont and a host of other places.
WhatTheFont can identify a font from an image. For fonts to use online,
Google Fonts now has a catalog of around 300 excellent fonts that will
work across most browsers with just a line of code in the head and a CSS
• Grids If you like to use grids in your web design (or even if you don’t)
then check out 960 Grid System where you can download grid templates
in HTML & CSS, Photoshop, Illustrator, GIMP, etc. All these grids are for
websites that are 960 pixels wide.
• Web developer tools These are a standard fare for most web designers
with many of us using these tools many times a day: Firebug – awesome
Firefox add-on that will inspect and change HTML and CSS and help you
– these do about the same as Firebug and are bundled with their
respective browsers. Handy for working out IE hacks. Web Developer
add-on for Firefox and Chrome – ultra handy add-on that can disable
styles, disable browser default styles (handy for cross-browser
compatibility), show alt text for images, resize window, validate, etc. The
list is endless.
• The HTML Validator and, to a lesser extent, CSS Validator that can be
reached with one click using the above Web Developer add-on are
services that most web designers will use all the time.
• Other online services of huge importance to the web designer are Google
Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Docs.
• Cross browser checks You can check websites across different browsers at
BrowserShots and Adobe BrowserLab. ViewLikeUs allows you to check
out how your website looks in the most popular resolution formats.
• Speed In order to analyse your page speed, use Google’s PageSpeed (try
to get your score up to 100) and Yahoo!’s Y!slow.
• Downtime Use Pingdom‘s free service to be instantly informed of any
downtime on your site so you can contact your host and sort it out asap!
• Color Color Scheme Designer can help you choose complimentary colors
for your website designs. And Adobe’s excellent Kuler lets you browse,
search, and modify color themes directly in your browser.
• FTP client Filezilla is my favorite.
Knowledge and ability
Of course, I can’t teach you how to design websites here.
You know how you can help your clients. The challenge is getting the clients
with needs relevant to the services you offer.
You’ll need to develop a network of trusted freelancers you can work with as
well as an ability to outsource.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll be getting people from oDesk or Elance to do the
work for you while you put your feet up and take all the credit.
Have a plan
It’s important to have 3-monthly, 6-monthly and
annual goals of where you’d like to take your
Try to make the plans as SMART as possible –
Allied with plans is writing a simple philosophy that sums up your
business. We talk about this in the Dealing with Clients lecture.
I am a great believer in just starting.
The most important way to start is with your own website which works to
get clients to contact you. And we’ll start talking about that in the next