4 things I learned in becoming a web designer
Warning: the first couple of paragraphs are all about feelings. Feel free to skip
Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who reminded me about my growth as a designer. The growth that came from hours of watching YouTube tutorials, and being mentored by active professionals. The growth that lead to a web design career without a computer science degree. All of this growth came with the help of the design community.
And that’s what I’m writing for: to share the bit that I know in hopes of helping someone else as I’ve been helped.
Earn from Your Mistakes — Five Years a Failure
In order to grow I had to try things, fail, and continue. And that has lead me to my current workflow after over five years of failing. That workflow includes sketching, mocking up, and implementation.
Before, it was way longer: writing out personas, mapping the user flow, creating the site map, drawing wireframes, receiving approval for the previous steps, mocking up the site in Illustrator, receiving approval, implementing, and receiving approval for the implementation. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Though my old workflow was arduous and tedious — I was getting paid by clients to learn (who were ultimately satisfied with the final product).
And I’ve learned two important things:
- More steps won’t make you more professional. Pros take the fewest steps, but know all the steps that they skip.
- Iterate quickly, and communicate often.
These lessons are what shape my current workflow.
1. Know Your Client Better Than They Know Themselves
Above all else, we want clarity. Being the best web designer for your client means knowing them better than they know themselves. Speak with key stakeholders about the web design project to clarify their role in the process. Ask questions like, “How can this website help you?” or “What don’t you like about the current website?”
Having stakeholders talk about the web project will help you know what can be improved, and give you a good idea of the problems they face when navigating their current website. This portion of your research will show how the new website can address their specific needs. Ultimately, our clients have goals, and we’re trying to help their customers down a path to achieve those goals.
2. Sketch Your Ideas, and Try to Poke Holes
Draw out all of your ideas with a pencil and paper. Fight off the temptation to jump into your software of choice (Sketch, Illustrator, Adobe XD, Photoshop, etc.). I don’t always listen to this kernel of knowledge, but it helps me greatly when I do as it prevents me from getting too far down a design rabbit hole without thinking about as many options as I can. It becomes too easy to start tinkering with colors and fonts before the layout is somewhat hashed out.
I will even look at high-fidelity mockups on Pinterest or Dribbble, and sketch out layouts that solve similar problems as the one I’m trying to solve. More often than not, I will come across an issue, or solution, that I didn’t initially think of. Sketching quickly shows me the gaps in my design logic.
Okay, now we’ve got a sketched layout. What’s next?
Try to poke holes in the layout. Will the layout work on a phone? Can the goal be reached in fewer steps? Is it intuitive? Show your mum. Does it make sense to her? :-) Research is critical.