I’ve been designing for the web in varying degrees since 2003. But it’s only since starting at cxpartners 2 years ago that I’ve really grown as a designer.
These are my observations from how I’ve grown and how I’ve seen other people grow around me.
1. Design is more than face value
Design isn’t just about how it looks. It’s deeper than that. I’ve written about this before, and it’s something I’m very passionate about. Good design is not just how something looks, it’s about how it works, and about how appropriate it is.
Form over function is never the right approach. Ever. If you’re designing for likes on Dribbble, you’re doing it wrong. Your 3,000 followers on Dribbble and Twitter usually aren’t the audience you’re designing for, so don’t design for them.
2. Think big
It’s easy to get trapped in a bubble of ‘oh this will be on Device X or Screen Y’, yet it’s impossible to know where, when, and how someone will be viewing your interface.
Imagine your design being seen on a television in a board room, or imagine that new brand piece you’ve done being blown up to the size of a billboard. It might be one day, so consider those scenarios.
3. Avoid the best case scenario
Making assumptions when designing is bad, and it often means you’re designing for the best case scenario. Don’t make assumptions on what images will be used in a hero area, or how much text will be in a column.
If you’re designing a hero where white text is over an image, consider what would happen if that the image below it has a light background. Come up with a solution that works for both light and dark images and you’re onto a winner.
4. Never be selfish
Other people are working on this project before, during, and after you’ve finished on it. Consider them. I’ve gone from being a selfish designer, to thinking about how what I do affects things other people have done or are going to do. Fuck your ego.
For example, I might see an interaction in a prototype I’m polishing that I don’t like the look of. A few years back, I would just redesign it to how I wanted it… Now? I’ll go and have a chat with the interaction designer who worked on it to understand how it works… Then we would redesign it together so that functionality remains.
I also consider the costs on development. Is this module I’m designing going to have significant impacts on page speed, and is it a reasonable module to expect the developers to code? They might not have time in the budget to create it, so don’t expect them to.
5. Fight your corner
I am the designer, and I’m being paid for my skills, so it’s okay to be confident in what I believe is a good decision, and it’s okay to fight my corner when it’s appropriate. Sometimes it’s okay to be selfish and push back on decisions from others.
A developer might abhor the idea of adding development time for a module, or it decreasing the page speed, but if I have solid rationale, then I will fight for it.
6. Have solid rationale
If I have an idea or have come up with a design language, then I better have some good rationale behind my decisions. Why have I chosen this colour palette, this font, and this tone of imagery? In the end, if I don’t have solid rationale behind my design decisions, my design could fail when it gets critiqued.
This has the added benefit of making you think about every little bit of your design when you’re coming up with concepts, and when you’re coming up with additional designs for the project in the future.
Quick tip: When you start a design project, spend some time with your customer to come up with some design principles. Follow these throughout the project, and you’ll be onto a winner.
7. Be consistent
I try to be consistent to the point of it doing my head in. I develop a type hierarchy during the concept phase / initial designs and I stick to it. It is gospel. If later on, it turns out that the hierarchy is inappropriate, then I change it… but make sure I go back to all my previous designs and change it there too.
Consistency is better for everyone. We can hand patterns over to developers that they will quickly understand, and new designers can clearly see how to design new elements or modify existing ones. Most importantly, users will find patterns (e.g. interactive elements) and find the site easier to use.
8. Avoid new patterns
During a project, I try and come up with a series of patterns. This could be panel styles, form elements, or even blocks of text. Once I’m happy with the design, I re-use patterns and refer to them in the future.
When I get a new idea, sketch, or wireframe to work on I always ask myself if it is a new pattern or if an existing pattern can be used. It’s often the latter. I avoid new patterns where possible.
9. Fuck your comfort zone
Step out of your comfort zone. Don’t get stuck designing the same thing over and over again. Try and do something interesting, exciting, and different with your next design.
Using Proxima Nova for most of your designs? Stop that. Go for some interesting font pairings. Bump up the size of heading text. Use a bright colour where you would usually choose a muted colour. Do things you wouldn’t expect yourself to do.
10. Transparency is important
Transparency also inspires confidence.
You’re only human. Stuck? Ask someone else to critique what you’re doing. Their input might be what you need to get the project going in the direction you want.
It’s not healthy to shield yourself away from the eyes of others. Be transparent about what stage you’re at in the design, be transparent about what you’re doing, and be transparent about your processes. People see the work you’re doing, and see how great you are at doing it. The best part? People will chip in and give you little tips and you’ll become a better designer because of it.
11. You’re never as good as you’re going to be
Don’t ever be content with where you are right now. Feeling content is not a good place to be. Always be critical of your work and strive to be better. This doesn’t even have to be ‘better design’ it could be ‘better design rationalisation’ or ‘better design thinking’.
Today, I’m a slightly better designer than I was yesterday, when I stepped out of my comfort zone and worked I took a different approach to a project.
12. Drop bad design
Even if I’ve spent 2 days working on a concept, it isn’t final. At any point in that process I may drop the design and start from scratch.
It is easy to become attached to a design. Don’t worry about it. If you lean back on your chair and the design you’re looking at isn’t good enough, consider scrapping it. 9 times out of 10, you’ll produce a better design than your original idea.
13. Avoid over-designing
It is possible to over-design something. Too many effects, too much white space, too much colour, etc. It’s a cliché, but good design really is about taking stuff away, not adding things.
14. Have a sense of humour
People take themselves far too seriously. Not just in this industry, but in many. Humour brings people together, it makes people happy, it is fun. What isn’t okay is being in a drab office staring at a screen all day.
Inject a bit of humour into your daily life, and have fun whilst you work.
15. Have some humility
If you become ‘design famous’, then stay humble. You’re not Jony Ive or Dieter Rams. Even the most famous web designer is only as famous as the most famous SEO expert. Matt cuts what?
Everyone has been published or has written a blog post that has been RT’d by Jeremy Keith. Anyone can speak at a conference, and anyone can get 10,000 followers on Twitter. Don’t let it get to your head.
16. Be nice to people
Design is an important job, but it doesn’t make you important. Any number of people can do what you are doing, so feel privileged that you can work in this industry without acting like Don Draper.
Just because you’re a designer doesn’t mean you have to act like Don Draper. He’s a dickhead. Don’t be a dickhead. Nobody likes a dickhead. Be nice to people and try to have fun.Add your comment