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How to be a great web designer

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By Aaron Williams

So think of this more as a series of tips and practices that can help you become a stronger web designer and keep you on top of your game.

I hate the idea that you can either do something or you can’t. But after a long time in this industry I can definitely attest to that holding some level of truth in the web design world. The ability to point out what’s aesthetically right or wrong with something is incredibly hard to teach. Learning the rules and practices can help anyone do this to some degree but it’s a damn sight harder for those without the ‘eye’. Think teaching how to play the guitar to somebody that has no natural rhythm.

So here are a series of tips that I use regularly to keep my designs fresh and can hopefully be of some use to you.

Keep up to date – web design and development are rapidly changing disciplines. What was best practice and championed by the community can be ‘old-hat’ within matter of weeks or even days, so keeping on top of the latest changes is paramount. Some of the best ways of doing this are;

– Regularly visiting design focused web sites. Smashing magazine regularly features articles from brilliant designers.

– Find designers or agencies that produce work you like and follow them on social media. People often post about their latest work, things that they’ve discovered and stuff that they’re experimenting with.

Understand your limitations – This cannot be emphasised enough. Every web designer should have a thorough understanding of front end development. That doesn’t mean you have to be able to write sass and JavaScript, but the more you know, the better! Understanding why you are designing to a grid and how that grid will behave on different devices for example.

Don’t be afraid to go against the meta – Just because rounded corners and gradients aren’t the flavour of the month (I’m looking at you endless shadows on flat interfaces!) doesn’t mean that they don’t work. Each design has a message and old techniques sometimes emanate that message better than more modern trends.

Everyone’s opinion is an opinion – Design is always a tricky one when discussing with your critiques. Nearly everybody has an opinion and they are nearly always valuable. Knowing when to take on board someone’s views and when to dismiss them is a skill that takes a long time to develop. As a rule of thumb, take on board all suggestions, make a note of them and then analyse later.

All media is inspiration! – Kind of an obvious one to anybody that works in a creative position but definitely worth mentioning. Every poster, television ad, shop sign (oh how the list could go on) can serve as inspiration. Use of colours and typography, how a message is translated via imagery, all of these things should play a part in how you approach your designs.

Practice, practice, practice – All of us have a period between projects where we’re not designing and being creative. Maybe you’re waiting for sign off on a project or having to send never-ending back-to-back emails to clients. Use this down time to practice and hone your design abilities. Personally, I have weak illustration skills so any free time I spend sketching away and even after a small amount of practice my web design is benefitting thanks to the new rules and techniques that I’ve learnt.

And Finally…

Learn to take criticism – Oh golly is this important. Coming back to the point that everybody has an opinion, expect everyone to share that opinion. It’s not a cool feeling to have to deal with your work being slated but let me assure you, it will happen. Learning how to decipher why somebody dislikes your work can be hard but learning how to deal with it and even using it to improve your designs can feel enriching.

I hope that these points are in some way helpful to you and let us know how you keep on top of your game by tweeting us @zebwebdesign

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