How To Get Started in Web Design

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

Here’s an answer to how to get started building websites that I fully endorse and isn’t vague. This is going to cost a little money, just like learning to play the guitar requires buying a guitar and some accessories. This is also going to require a little time and mostly isn’t directly about the coding itself. It’s about getting you to a place where you’re doing web design for real and you can’t help but learn!

I’m going to mention specific company names without linking to them, just to be clear this article isn’t an affiliate marketing thing. Googling them should bring them right up.

1. Buy a domain name

Buy a domain name from Hover. Buy something useful, like or Or buy something silly that you will actually do something with.

2. Buy some web hosting

Buy the cheapest hosting plan at Media Temple. Tell them you already have a domain. I think it’s preferable to separate your domain buying company and your hosting company1.

Once it goes through, you’ll get a service activation email.

3. Point the nameservers of your new domain to your new hosting

The link in that service activation email will take you to Media Temple’s guide with all kinds of information in it you need to finish setting this up. Under the DNS section, you’ll see Media Temples nameservers. We need to change the nameservers for our domain over on Hover so that the domain properly points over to Media Temple.

When we’re changing these nameservers, we’re changing DNS information. Whenever you change DNS information there might be some time involved. This information needs to propagate it’s way to routers all around the world that power the internet. That’s how the internet works!

Just know that it might take a little time for this to start working (for your website we’re about to put up to actually show up).

4. Get some FTP Software

FTP is for transferring files. We’re going to use it to transfer files from your computer to the web hosting server computer. We’ll talk about those files in a minute, but for now we’re just setting it up.

If you’re on a Mac, get Coda. Coda is an FTP client, but it’s also a code editor, and when you’re just starting out as you are, that’s mighty convenient.

I’m not as familiar with PC software, but googling “FTP client for PC” brings up plenty of stuff. I’m sure there are some nice ones.

5. FTP into your Web Hosting

That Media Temple guide area will also include FTP information, meaning a:

  1. hostname
  2. username
  3. password

Enter the FTP credentials from the email into the FTP client (create a new Site).

Connect to the server.

6. Add the Domain to the Hosting

When we bought the hosting, we told them we had our own domain. So let’s set that up in there. This will certainly vary from hosting company to hosting company. Here’s how it worked on Media Temple:

7. Find the web root through FTP on your server

There is always a particular folder on your server that is the “web root”. For example, if you put an index.html file there, that is what displays when you go to, or if you make a folder there called “cool” and put an index.html file in that folder, that is what displays when you go to


Whatever you put in that web root is live on the internet!

If you put an index.html file there, that’s what shows when you go to your domain in a web browser.

9. Go find a nice template to download, and upload it to your server

Go download a template. Google something like “Free HTML templates”, or even find a paid one you like and buy that. There is nothing wrong with templates. Eventually you’ll be good enough to not need one or make educated choices about when to use one, but for now, it’s best to kick things off with a nice looking site that you can tweak and make yours. Kinda like how it’s more fun (and easier to get better) learning an instrument by playing a song you like rather than learning scales.

10. Congrats

You’ve now built a website. You absolutely have the ability to edit those files and make things happen. Without any further training at all, you are smart enough to find words that you want to change and change them in HTML and see the results. You are smart enough to find color values in CSS and change them to see the results. You are smart enough to figure out the connections between HTML elements and CSS selectors.

That’s how the vast majority of web designers started out. I know I did.

Now, everything else you learn you can learn in context of a actual site you’re working on. You can imagine how the things you learn might apply to your real website. And the more you do it, the better you get. Wanna get better? Just build websites!


I wanted to be very specific in this article. Nothing vague. But that doesn’t mean this is the only path. Let’s talk similar but alternative paths in the comments.

Leveling Up

After feeling pretty comfortable with this process, there are lots of ways to level up. Some of those might include

  • Install a CMS like WordPress (video series), Kirby, Perch, Ghost, or the like.
  • Working on your design skills in general, by designing more.
  • Learning some jQuery (video series) to add advanced functionality and interaction.
  • Learning about a version control system like Git.
  • Learn about running a web design business effectively.

There are a million ways to get better. You’ll likely discover most of them organically.

1For example, if you buy your domain from your hosting company, and then decide to change hosting companies, the hosting company is disincentivized to help you with your domain.