You’ve probably seen lists like this before, but here’s my take on ways to improve your skills and become a good designer. I believe that good designers don’t just do good design, but are conscientious, quick, and intuitive. Although there are many ways to become a designer, below is a list of ten things that I feel are important for every designer.
Create a reference library
It is always good to have good and bad references. Whenever I can get my hands on a piece of paper I try to keep it, whether it’s a business card or a flyer. Why is it useful? For one simple reason: you will have at hand a quick manual of what can be done in print (and more importantly, what cannot be done). With a library of flyers, for example, if one day you are hired to make one, you can already check what has been done before and what is interesting, and maybe use these references as a source of inspiration.
Do research, even if it is minimal
Although today’s market is very fast paced, and we soon notice that there is no room to run after semantic panels, market research, etc. But researching something for a design project is essential. Often, a good briefing with a client can answer many questions you may have open and save you from doing field research. Of course, if even the client doesn’t know much about your company, let’s just say it might not be such a good idea to work with people who don’t know what they’re doing. Do quick brainstorming or mind-mapping, even if only on a napkin. Research is very important, even when time is very tight.
It may sound like a Socratic hoax, but this is important. Know your limitations beforehand. If the client wants an entire site in Flash and you don’t know how to work with this program, don’t expect to learn everything necessary in two days. Say up front that you don’t have the knowledge. It is better to lose a client honestly than to accept the job and deliver the product four months late and generating losses for everyone. Don’t be afraid to admit that you don’t know how to do something. The most important thing is not to give the client false hopes only to end up thinking “my God, this designer has only fooled me so far”.
Get to know your work
A designer who doesn’t understand his assigned work is as useful as a donkey without legs: nobody is going anywhere. You need to understand what your client wants and how he wants it. If you are going to provide solutions, you need to know the needs. And often your customer will not give you all the information you might have, so research is important. Know what you are doing and why you are doing it, not just who you are doing it for.
Know who you design for
Although there is always talk about client this, client that, you have to understand that the final product is not going to be for your client, but for his clients: the general public. If your client doesn’t like something you have done, justify yourself and explain why you did it that way, and emphasize the general public. But don’t just remind your client that the design is for the public, you have to remind yourself that it is for a larger audience. So if your client’s general audience is 15 to 18 year olds, too much formal language may be inappropriate even though it is appropriate for your client, who may be 40 to 50 years old. What your customer likes may not be what their customers like.
Don’t try to create a work of art
This is a hard one for many designers: we are born perfectionists, we want something that we will look at and say “Wow…this will definitely go in my portfolio”. But often clients disagree, and we need to make something that they think is good. Remember that you provide solutions for your client, and your goal is not to create something for your portfolio but something to solve their problem.
It is important for a designer to receive feedback regarding his or her work. For websites and products that involve interaction with a user, it might be interesting to get someone without much knowledge of internet navigation to test whether your product is usable – the famous usability test. Ask other designers for their opinion as well. If they don’t like it, justify your choices. If they rethink their opinion, great. If not, maybe you really should change something.
Do some laps
Especially useful when you have a mental block. If something bothers you, if you are stuck between two options, or if you just don’t know what to do, go for a walk. Get out of the office or your house, walk around the block, observe the world around you. Notice the small things: the texture of the concrete on the stairs, the paint dripping off that graffiti on the wall, etc. Distract your mind. When you return to work, your mind will be refreshed and ready to act.
Try to surprise yourself. If you have an idea but it seems risky, try it anyway. Maybe your idea will be something extremely innovative and never tried before, and you will become a millionaire. Then you will remember this site and feel like donating a little bit of money, won’t you?
There is nothing better than a professional who loves his work. This reflects in the quality of their work and reflects in their clients. If you entered this business hating every second of it, honestly, why stay here? A designer not only works with design, but breathes design, lives design. And when your client sees your passion for design, he will be infected too. And his clients will be too. Love is contagious, so love it to the fullest. You can only win.
(Bonus) Study design
After all, what is the point of being passionate and knowing everything about Photoshop, Corel Draw and Illustrator but not understanding anything about gestalt, color theory and basic design principles? There are thousands of courses out there that teach you to be a designer focusing only on software. Don’t believe them! Design is not just messing with software, design is not just drawing. Design is finding solutions to make a product viable, add value to a brand, and increase profits for your client.