How can I find someone willing to let me, an amateur, design a website for them for practice?
July 31, 2009 9:50 PM   Subscribe

How can I find someone willing to let me, an amateur, design a website for them for practice?

I've worked amateurishly with website design/coding before, largely on my own, in a learn-as-needed learn-as-I-go style. Most of these projects have been done for fun, and as a result, most of them are simple websites & have not stayed online for too long. I'd like to eventually work for pay. However, since I've never worked professionally before, I don't think I have enough experience, so I'm looking for opportunities to gain more experience & expand my portfolio.

Can anyone suggest how I can find some people who would be willing to let me design a website for them? I can work for little/no pay, but I'd really like this project to be comprehensive in the sense that I get to work with all components of a website (coding/databases/etc). Also, I'd like to be able to use this as an example of my work for my portfolio.

This could be local, but I have already tried several non-profits in the area but most already have webmasters. (I live in a pretty small, non-tech town, so to speak.) I can also consider working over the internet with someone/some group, ideally with programmers more experienced than me so I can still learn new techniques.

Techniques I'm quite comfortable with/experienced in: HTML, XML, CSS
Techniques I'd like to practice: PHP, MySQL/databases, JavaScript, AJAX.

Any suggestions appreciated!
posted by oracle bone to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I sent you a mefi mail...
posted by jschu at 9:59 PM on July 31, 2009

I sent you a MetaMail.
posted by Mr. Justice at 10:00 PM on July 31, 2009

Sorry, I don't really have an answer for your immediate question. I offer the following as an alternative: you could maybe build a portfolio by coming up with redesigns/reimaginings for current sites. I know I've seen a few posts recently that have complained about the Twitter redesign and have offered up their own solutions.

If nothing else, it's good practice.
posted by gchucky at 10:00 PM on July 31, 2009

Have you tried advertising on Craigslist?
posted by crinklebat at 10:08 PM on July 31, 2009

Best answer: Craigslist really is a great option. Don't just write a "free web design" type post though. Take your time and really write something that tells people about yourself and what you're offering.

One idea is to target a specific type of site you'd like to build, and then seek out people who need something like that. I say this because if you just look for someone who wants a free website (or anything else for free), people will come crawling out of the woodwork. "Oooh! Freee!" What you really need is something you can use as the beginnings of a portfolio. A free site for some idiot with no content on the site you build for them won't do you much good.

A fun project that always looks great in a portfolio is a photography website. You get fun content to design around, and an amateur photographer gets a free site (well, it won't be entirely free. Most people without sites don't realize they have to pay for a domain name and proper hosting).

I spent years working in radio, so I've built lots of sites for on air personalities and voiceover talent. What are your talents/interests? Use those to seek work you'd be interested in doing. I realize that sounds easier than it actually is... I'm just saying that you'll enjoy the work so much more if you have some interest in it.

Come to think of it, portfolios in general are some of the best sites to build for your own portfolio because they have more visual POP that tends to suck in potential clients. Try seeking out graphic design or clothing designers and offering your services to them.

Make sure you save a working design of the site on your computer! I lost so much of my early work by not doing that.

Good luck!!!
posted by 2oh1 at 10:40 PM on July 31, 2009 [5 favorites]

I created a gift registry for my sister's wedding, using php/sql/javascript/css/html (she wanted to avoid commercial registries while still giving people suggestions and an easy way to coordinate with each other). You don't have to volunteer for a non-profit: are there some small stores/companies in your town that don't have a website, or have a terrible geocities one?
posted by jacalata at 11:01 PM on July 31, 2009

I'd suggest starting a blog and using Twitter to share your services. I know so many people who would have loved to get you on board - heck, if this post was a couple of months earlier I would have snapped you up.
posted by divabat at 11:26 PM on July 31, 2009

I got my start by building a whole lot of sites about random crap just to have something to work on. My first client saw one of these and contacted me to build a site for him. Then his friends hired me, and their friends and so on. In fact, if you're just starting out, it's probably best not to design for someone else because they're probably going to want things you don't quite know how to do. Or your style could be shaped by their personal interests and not your own design sense. I say practice on your own first. The clients will come.
posted by katillathehun at 11:31 PM on July 31, 2009

Oh, and on the "they might want things you don't know how to do" note, I meant to say that challenge is great! But not so much when it's on other people's time, and if someone else is pressuring you - despite your low cost, and it happens - it's tough to learn.
posted by katillathehun at 11:33 PM on July 31, 2009

What we used to do was to find local businesses with really bad websites and we would just go ahead and redesign them. Not looking to hustle anybody or use it as a sales pitch, but it was just an easier way to find project websites to work on where the content was mostly already provided. It gives you the chance to be fully creative, but with a purpose. And if you are so inclined after, you can show it to the original owner to see if they have any interest in purchasing it. But that was never our original intent, just turned out to be a bonus on a few occasions.
it was a great way to build up a portfolio without having to dream up ideas out of thin air.
posted by wile e at 11:38 PM on July 31, 2009

I second what gchucky was getting at about practicing redesigns for current sites. The more you learn about current web design and coding practices, the more you'll cringe whenever you see most sites on Geocities, Tripod, etc.

Find a site that looks like it was put on the web 5 years ago, and create your own design, incorporating current standards.

I had almost no acutal experience building web sites for public usuage. I was approached by a local ballet company that needed a very small site and now have something decent to show future small business clients.

Once you get more experience, check out Elance to get freelance design/coding jobs.
posted by mtphoto at 11:39 PM on July 31, 2009

This seems somewhat related.
posted by resiny at 12:02 AM on August 1, 2009

When I started doing web design in the '90s, I was terrible at it. Luckily, my first client's sites were even worse than what I was capable of, so they hired me and I improved things. So keep looking for sites that are currently below your skill level.

Another approach is to create a web presence for a small business you like that doesn't currently have one. Or one for your town that lists local businesses, services, etc., if it doesn't already have one (some kind of nice niche project that you can gradually improve is good to have).
posted by malevolent at 1:13 AM on August 1, 2009

I'd bet that there are far, far more people who have ideas for websites than there are people willing to build them for free. I think a Craigslist ad is a good idea, but consider positioning it so that you're the one vetting the ideas other people have, and choosing one in which to invest your time. In the ad, you could include:
--An offer to sign a nondisclosure agreement, so that people feel comfortable revealing their ideas to you. Someone here recently posted a non-binding one for use between friends that, modified to be a little less edgy (you'll see what I mean if you find it), could be sufficient for your purposes. I can't find it, but maybe someone will come along who can.
--An explanation that you'll work for free or minimal cost, but track your hours, and if the website ever makes a profit, you get x% until you've been compensated for your time (at a nice, fat rate that reflects that you didn't get paid until later, and never had assurance you'd be paid at all).
--An honest statement of your skill level, and that the reason you're doing this is to develop your abilities, as you've explained here.
--Some caveats that keep you in control if you decide you're done with a project or you don't want to do all the parts the person with the idea has in mind.

I bet you'd get a lot of people applying to have you develop their idea. You'd have to sift through a lot of dreck to find one that would be a great portfolio piece, and maybe even eventually turn a profit.

P.S., I'm one of the people who thinks they have ideas that might be profitable if made real. MeMail me if you want to hear about them and consider whether to take one of them on!
posted by daisyace at 5:35 AM on August 1, 2009

Best answer: Plenty of good advice in this thread - I don't think you'll have any trouble finding someone to build a site for, but having done some of this myself years ago I would say that probably the most important thing you can do as a favor to yourself is to try and limit scope while managing expectations.

That is to say, when you first meet with the person for whom you'll be building a site (or, if building a site for an organization, the person in charge of the project), try an establish some ground rules about the stages of the project.

* The first phase should be gathering requirements and coming up with an initial site map and feature specification.
* During development, if the client starts throwing out ideas for completely new sections of the site, or asking "Hey, would it be possible to have a menu that flies onto the screen with an animation and spins around in 3D and plays this awesome MIDI file that I found?", gently invoke the initial spec and politely say, "That's out of our original scope; in the interest of keeping everything on track, let's get this first iteration of the site built, and then we can review changes and new feature requests."

It's very tempting, especially when you don't know if X is possible but are curious yourself, to say "I think that's possible, let me look into it." That's always my first instinct; because I'm curious myself, and I want to make the client happy... but it's also important to keep your role in the project in perspective. Even if you're just starting out, you still know more about this web stuff than the client; that's why they chose you to build a site for them. If you push back politely but firmly on big change requests, most of the time the client will respect that.

It's been my experience that a lot of volunteer/non-profit organizations understandably tend to push to get the most out of their resources, so you do have to be vigilant. With a client who's always pushing the boundaries, a site that started out as a simple project can turn into a death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario where the thing never gets finished because they keep asking you to tweak things or add new stuff.

I've been building web sites for 13-14 years and I still have to watch out for this. The problem is that people see how quickly some changes can be made to a page or design, and get the notion that any change should be that simple.
posted by usonian at 7:08 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you very much, everyone, for the advice, offers, and well-wishing. I've been contacted by a lot of people with proposals, so I'll start there.
posted by oracle bone at 8:35 AM on August 1, 2009

With a client who's always pushing the boundaries, a site that started out as a simple project can turn into a death-by-a-thousand-cuts scenario where the thing never gets finished because they keep asking you to tweak things or add new stuff.

On the other hand, if the website starts working for them and you can start getting paid by the hour, this can be a pretty good arrangement. Plenty of people have websites that will always be evolving and never "done", and this is fine. In those situations, you and the other person can agree on a fair and reasonable per-hour rate, and then they know whenever they ask for a new feature, they will have to pay for it.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:37 AM on August 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is turning into something of a hobby-horse with me, but I just want to point out that you don't want to design a website, you want to develop a website.

Well, in fact you probably want to do both.

I've got a little project for which the HTML and the back-end coding is very much my area, and I don't feel I need help with that. But it could very much do with a graphic, visual makeover. So when I saw you saying you wanted to do design, I thought I'd get in contact. But reading further, I saw that you actually wanted to do the HTML/CSS/JS/back end, so my project wouldn't be of use to you.

I join with everyone else in wishing you good luck of course! Just wanted to point out a language issue.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 6:23 PM on August 2, 2009

« Older How do I find the motivation to leave the house?   |   In Search of Ancient Astronaut Pix Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.