How To Stop Ruining Your Designs

by Amber Weinberg

on June 15, 2010

in Resources

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Although I go by the title of developer’ I actually have a background in design. I went to college several years ago to get my degree in traditional print design, but I just didn’t enjoy designing for clients as much as I did coding.

That being said, I’m still a fan of beautifully designed pieces of work, and it’s disheartening to see so many terrible designs out there today. While the community has definitely gotten better in terms of quality, we all still have a long way to go.

If you’re new to the web design world, or if you have no formal education in design, it can seem a daunting task to get started. After all, its one of the hardest things in the world to please both a client and yourself design-wise.

There are several common mistakes I see designers do that can really hamper their design quality.

Designing for trends

We’ve all seen the recent backlash against the horrid “Web 2.0″ type of design. During the past few years, gradients, shiny buttons and rounded corners became a trend on almost every site. Instead of designing for the client’s audience, these designers were designing for trends instead.

The problem with designing for trends is that by the time you’ve done yours, the trend is already overused and outdated. Instead of trying to keep up with the trends, you should instead be focusing on balanced, meaningful designs – and perhaps your work will eventually become the trend!

Copying other designs

I’m guilty of this one myself. Since I don’t design very often, I’m a bit rusty (especially when it comes to content/UI layouts), so my natural response is to look at other sites with designs I like to see how they did it.

While there’s nothing wrong with getting inspiration (not copying) from other sites, this practice can actually influence our work too much and hold us back from doing our own layouts. For example, if you like the way site A’s call to action button is designed and decide to do something similar, you miss out on coming up with your own, and potentially better, design.

Listening to your clients

This may go against most conventional freelance advice, but you really should stop listening to your clients – at least you should stop listening to them so much. While it’s important to physically listen to what they’d like and to take note of it – the reality is that they came to you for dsign work. You’re a designer, not a pixel pusher, and it should be your job to figure out what the clients and the client’s intended audience really need.

Just like looking at other websites for design inspiration, designing solely based on what the client says he wants (or thinks he wants) can hold back your quality. Yes, its important to do something they like, but isn’t it also as important to exceed their expectations? While you can certainly get by with giving the client exactly what he wants, will he come back to you for more work? While it be something you’re proud of?

So how should we go about designing?

Eveyone starts their designs off differently. But we should also focus on beginning the projects off the computer first, which includes sketching, brainstorming and research. I learned this the hard way after launching my first web app, Codesnipp.it. I had focused on getting the designed down first, instead of working on the UI and the layout. Now when we realized we missed some features, it’s that much harder to implement into the current design.

You should also try to focus part of your free time in learning new things. Read books and blogs, watch movies with great cinematography, listen to podcasts, go to parks or visit a bookstore. All of these things actually influence your creativeness and are a big help when starting a new project.

What makes the great designers great?

What makes the great designers great? Is it their knowledge of typography and how they use white space? Quite possibly. Or is it because they go their own way in the design world? What would Elliot Jay Stock’s or Chris Spooners’s designs look like if they decided to follow trends, base their designs off of others or listen fully to their clients? Would we still be calling them great?

Your thoughts

What do you think distinguishes mediocre designers from great ones? How can we improve our designs?

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About Amber Weinberg