The Major Reasons You’re a Poor Web Designer

Articles by Vlad Tudor, 17 Oct.2015

Don’t know what to change or where to improve, in order to get better as a designer? Some of you might consider the article below a harsh critic, others might just find it useful. The truth – we all check a few of the points below.

1. You are lazy! Really…?

To be good you have to start somewhere, to be great you have to push your limits. Design requires time, passion and dedication. The web industry is constantly evolving, so must you as a web designer or developer. It’s not enough to learn to use some tools or write syntax in a specific programming language. If you don’t keep improving, making research on your own and if you don’t pursue growing your skills set, soon you’ll feel outdated.

You will often hear, that attention to details is what makes the difference. As a designer you have to walk that extra mile and not stop at 80 or 90 percent. Are you ok with “just ok”? Do you often say “maybe later”, “some other time” or think somebody else will do it, so you don’t have to. The work of the designer is finished only when there is nothing more to add or to be removed from the design.

You might find yourself spending couple of hours in front of the monitor, only to make a cool looking banner or a great navigation menu and to have to change it again. This is one of the secrets of those you see creating awesome work. It’s not about talent, it’s about the time they’re willing to invest, the research done upfront and the effort needed to come up with something really great.

Almost anyone can install graphic software on their computer, but that doesn’t mean they also know how to use. Assuming they learned how to use it and what buttons to push, it’s still not enough – design principles, typography rules, color theory, usability and more need to be investigated. Good things don’t happen over night and you don’t get to know everything from the start – practice your patience and give yourself time, but be constant at it.

2. You Miss the Point!

Not understanding your clients needs and your users difficulties when interacting with your website or product means you have a big chance to fail.

The projects you’ll take on in your web design career usually fall into two large categories: the ones that you start from scratch and some that you get on board somewhere in the middle. In either case … research!

When you start a new project, carefully read the brief and go over the resources your client provides. When talking to your client ask what websites he likes or dislikes and for what reasons. Even better – ask him to provide branding guidelines including logo in vector format – if he has any, product / catalog images, creative or commercial copy, or video materials. The more, the better because the design should wrap with purpose and give meaning to the actual content, not compete with it!

If you decide to take on a project started by somebody else, the above rules still apply. A proper handover should be made and part of your job as a designer would be to get to know the team working on that particular project, the overall progress made and what are their next objectives – usually laid out as a road-map with milestones.

If a redesign is requested on some parts or on the entire project, try to figure out why and base your design decisions on the amount of data the business can provide you. Whether the data is collected from surveys, A/B tests, heatmaps, Analytics Tools, web-based monitored campaigns rolled out in different social channels, product messaging or email, some generic user profiles can be drafted (personas – is the term you will often encounter).

Bottom line here, is that a better understanding of your audience and the clients business needs will certainly make your life easier and help you deliver design solutions above expectations.

3. You Lack Critical Thinking

Always ask yourself (and the others) the right questions. Which might those be? The answer is “it depends” and the truth behind – you might never know until you ask.

Don’t be afraid to ask!! Most of the times in order to find an answer you have to ask a dozen questions.

If you ask a dozen questions you’ll get almost a dozen answers. You have to filter and make the logical connections. It’s also scientifically proven through data mining and statistics that the more data you gather, the bigger are your chances of discovering the actual facts.

Never settle for what’s only upfront. Try to go deeper into solving the problems and guess less. Many still go with their gut feeling only to efficiently compromise their time and work in the wrong directions.

4. You don’t Sketch, nor Wireframe

Same as research, data gathering and critical thinking – sketching and wireframeing should be part of the creative process. It is a real nasty habit of jumping straight into making the design, only to hurry and present something to your client or boss. As mentioned above, you risk steering the project in a wrong direction and avoid solving the real requests – which obviously translates into additional costs of time, money and effort.

Sketching is easy! You don’t need graphic talent – you only need a pencil and paper. Anyone can sketch in order to present their ideas or have a preliminary check if the pieces add all together.

You can always start over and you should be able to produce several sketches in a couple of minutes. A good advice which many share on this topic is that you can even ask your client to try and sketch or you can sketch in front of him and get instant feedback.

Wireframing is the next stage and we might cover it in detail in a later article, as well as some tools dedicated for this creative step.

When you move from sketches to wireframes you actually refine the work you did previously, by removing whats not important and adding more focus on the interactions and functions that will appear in the finished design.

The thing to keep in mind is that it will always be easier to come to an agreement with a client if you can visually show him the idea behind your selling proposition.

5. You get easily distracted

There are so many beautiful and interesting things around us…just being a little ironic here, but yes, most of the time spent in front of the computer is in vain if you keep open the chat, your favorite music channel, e-mail client, comic / funny websites, sport news or live betting and so on [the list might be too big to place it in one article 🙂 ].

There’s a reason for which companies limit the access to different websites and web portals outside their network or monitor the traffic that goes through their wire. From small apartment firms to large enterprises, their main interest is making profit. Lower productivity means a lower profit margin or negative results.

Before judging too harsh, the point I want to emphasize here is: ask yourself, how would you feel if you went through a surgery and the doctor would listen to loud rock music while operating?

Or what would you say to your hair dresser if he gave you a haircut and kept checking his latest mobile game character every 3 minutes?

Bottom line, weather you might say “…not true, I work better when I listen to music :)” discipline and concentration are mandatory factors.

Notice: Breaks don’t count! Regular breaks when you turn away from the screen are recommended, also standing and stretching if you feel the need.

6. You are always in a hurry and always late!

Admit it, you can’t be in two, three or more places at the same time. Even for experienced web designers is not an easy job to tackle more than 2 or 3 projects simultaneously. Switching projects is indeed a good idea, to refresh, experiment and do new things. In this industry people don’t like doing the same stuff over and over again and always try to avoid falling in routine and work in patterns – but proceed with caution.

Having too much on your plate and overworking yourself on long time periods will not only be bad for your creativity flow and drain your inner resources, but also for your health. Learn to say no, and avoid taking on too many projects at the same time.

Time management is pretty important for designers as well, especially when there is a high demand in the market for design jobs. Keep it real, measure as well as you can the amount of hours and effort you’ll have to put in a new project and prioritize. If you work as a freelancer – you’ll quickly get the hang of it and become a better negotiator with you clients regarding deadlines. If you work for a company, discuss with the internal stakeholders – usually your boss or team leader, about what needs to be accomplished and when.

Over a long period of time, I came to the conclusion that it is better to set true expectations from others and fulfill your promises, then set high expectations and serve incomplete tasks and disappointments.

7. You don’t have a concept

If you can’t explain what your are doing, the message behind it and the things you place in the design don’t seem to co-exist and be meaningful together, it is probably because you didn’t came up with a visual concept.

A strong visual key element usually helps and gives you the starting point. The graphics you plan to use must fit with the project idea and content – don’t place picture with cats, just because they are cute, if the website you build targets financial investors. I doubt they’ll “buy it”.

When brainstorming for the concept learn about the mission, values and tone used by the company, product or brand you’re promoting. Gather the keywords and put them into images. The stakeholders should easily relate to what they see at a glance and go beyond the home page.

Just to keep in mind – a design without a concept is just a casual design and there are quite a lot of those on-line.

8. You avoid talking to business analysts, developers, marketeers, copywriters and testers

Your design career path will surely intersect some of the people mentioned above. If you are a team player, have a good attitude and are capable of communicating well, many will give you new ideas, great feedback, precious data and even put you in contact with some of their clients. Which might be more work and more money for you. Yes, believe it or not – some of the projects I worked on came from developers that needed “a person with a good eye for design”.

Each of us has his own talents and his own field of expertise. Some are good at maths, algorithms, calculating or writing. Not everybody has to be a visual designer. As a piece of advice – it will always be easier to approach and talk to someone if you open a dialog on something more familiar to that person. Learning a bit of code, how to write a proper article or how to drive traffic to a website through social media campaigns won’t hurt so much!

Working in on-line you’ll get the chance to connect to a lot of new people. Be open, contribute to the community, share your work and ask for opinions, go to presentations, conferences and meet-ups when you have time.

9. You’ve Never Written a Line of Code

Starting my career several years ago, at a small digital agency – gave me the chance to learn some front-end developement – HTML, CSS and Javascript. Though many would argue and consider that only the developers should care of the coding part, I tend to contradict them, for the simple fact that code is what makes the things you design come to life.

Understanding a bit of the languages in which the websites or apps are written will take you a long way ahead of others. The development realm is indeed quite to grasp at first, might give you headaches and frustrations when things don’t work out the way you wanted, but it has its general rules and principles. A basic introduction would not only enrich you knowledge, but also make you a better web designer.

If you are designing for the web and are calling yourself a web designer – you’ve got to know some stuff about the medium you’re designing for: mainly the capabilities of web browsers, what interactions occur when you submit a form or when a page loads. Otherwise you’ll just end up with what I call a “pretty picture” – design that looks good, but misses its goal or it’s impossible to implement.

Most programmers know the basics of Photoshop and manage to take out the graphics and information they need to use in their implementation. You’ll work close to them or even wear two hats and become one of them from time to timee, so being on the same page is encouraged.

10. Your work ethic sucks

This is a sensitive topic which I drew out of the closet, but speaking about ethic in this line of business, it’s a “no-no” if: you replicate others design and call it yours, use that design for commercial purpose, don’t give proper credit for others work incorporated in your design and use unlicensed materials.

Lying in general is a bad thing. Have you ever masked the truth in job interviews, by trying to be something more than you really are, or took others work and placed it in your portfolio or committed to a deadline knowing you won’t make it in time?

In general, it is accepted the fact that you can’t always come up with something new and we inspire ourselves from others – but don’t steal.

11. You can’t handle feedback!

From real-life experience, positive feedback comes after a few rounds of negative feedback, so you have to accept this fact. Don’t expect to nail it from your first try and be ready to do more iterations on the design you are creating. Getting upset over some negative feedback and taking it personally will do you no good.

An experienced designer accepts what others have to say about his work and should be grateful towards honest and constructive comments. For the simple fact that people are different and think different, their opinions and perception are not the same with yours. Always let the ones around you speak up their mind and hear them out ’till the end, even when you disagree on what they have to say.

Filter the feedback and see what needs to be integrated in your design. You might be surprised that the second or third result is better than the one before.

12. You’re very confident and also pretty ignorant

You managed to take and finish successfully a couple of projects. Nice! You got some good reviews from your last clients. Great!

You stop keeping up to date with design trends and latest news in design, considering that you already know everything there is to know. Now that’s awful!

Ignorance and self satisfaction will get you no where above the average. No one likes to be average or called “Just OK!”. We all want to feel special in certain ways, but falling into this type of character will definitely lower your results and standards.

You don’t want to fall behind and you need to keep up. Make a good habit of reading, sharing and experimenting with new technology. There will always be something you haven’t discovered yet or never heard of before.

13. You’re always comparing yourself with others

Different from the character found at number 12 is the designer that constantly compares himself to others.

It is ok to constantly check other designers work. Communities like Dribbble or Behance are places designers like to show their achievements, present their portfolio and get opinions from viewers. If you like or appreciate something, it’s very nice to leave a comment and encourage the author to keep publishing and keep on doing the lovely things he’s doing, but don’t try to compare yourself to them.

It is one of the many ways the human brain functions – comparing and judging things. By doing it all the time you’ll probably end up hating yourself, the work that you’re doing and lose belief you’ll ever level up your game. Don’t forget that experts were newbies at the beginning. No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. It is more important to find your own style, strong points, practice and never give up.

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