This post was written by Jay Hollywood

By Jay Hollywood

29 February 2016

5 Comments

How to be a better designer

The value of design in today’s world is unprecedented. It impacts everything around us, from business to culture and how we interact with each other. Good design can deliver better experiences, make our lives easier and solve real problems… but as designers, we often fall way short of our potential.

You’ll find many opinions in favour of using a particular typeface, utilising flat design or adopting the latest Photoshop replacement to become a ‘good designer’, but you know what? None of this really matters. Design is about solving problems, and the responsibility of good design lies directly on the designer and their passion for their craft.

The (not so) secret to good design, and what separates a talented designer from the rest is the ability to get personally invested in a client, the work and the problem at hand. That is, designers who believe in the brief and the goals for the project will always be able to deliver a better outcome than those who are just ‘doing their job’.

“Today’s websites all look the same”

Website singularity

In the past year or so a number of articles, tweets and posts have promoted the idea that we’ve found a format that works and are running with it. Anecdotally, it’s easy to identify with this. We’ve all seen (and perhaps created) websites that fit a prescribed pattern, sometimes because it works but most likely because it’s easy. This cookie cutter approach is familiar but it’s definitely not absolute. If you look beyond the aggregated screenshots being shared, you’ll find brilliant examples of unique and inspired designs created by talented designers/design teams solving real world problems.

Besides, we’ve been here before.

Examples of web design trends over the years

Grunge, starburst, flash, splash screens, gloss, skeuomorphism etc are all trends that have evolved from both the limitations and potential of the technology and style of the moment. Yet at the same time these were popular, you will still find many examples of designers pushing the boundaries of the web without necessarily following the same conventions.

It’s human nature to find ways to make life easier; this carries through to our work as well. Sameness has and always will exist in design and the web only tends to exaggerate it – but it’s by investing ourselves deep into our work, encouraging exploration and seeking complexity, that we can foster more considered and relevant outcomes.

It’s much easier to do something that has been done before and aim for a passable result, however when we invest ourselves in design we’re able to see its potential for achieving something better. We actively immerse ourselves in the problem and adopt the solution as a reflection of our personal brand. We find a reason to take full responsibility for the outcome.

This is what makes a good designer – the passion to do better and create for something we believe in (design), beyond the boundaries of ‘the job’.

Creative work is a complex beast that isn’t easily solved with a simple answer or equation. Good designers thrive on depth, research and developing an understanding that puts themselves directly in the shoes of both the client and the audience. When we don’t invest in design itself and only consider things from the surface, when we ‘just do our job’ – we end up relying on conventions and existing examples to increase efficiency and reduce friction, ultimately continuing a pattern of mediocrity. This habit threatens to remove any notion of investment in our craft and can stifle the motivation to push ourselves further.

Sweet portfolio.

Many of the most impressive websites we see each day belong to freelancers and agencies. While there are a number of possible explanations here (marketing & exposure, the ability to experiment, relaxed budget/time considerations), the immediate differentiator is that everyone is inherently invested. When you care about your brand, your own website is very much a passion project built on pride. You want to deliver the best possible outcome without restriction.

Side projects and startups often share this characteristic too – passion and drive facilitating personal investment, particularly if everyone believes in what they’re building.

Investing yourself in your client, your work, and the problem at hand, and taking personal responsibility for the outcome requires discipline and dedication, but it is something all of us can achieve. A personal attachment to your craft is essential to doing better work, even if it means changing your routine or even your environment.

Getting started requires motivation and a belief that you can make something better, as you would when you’re passionate about building your own brand or a side project. When you’re personally invested, when you treat your project like it’s yours, you’ll do everything it takes to ensure the end result is the best you can give. So the question is, do you want to just do your job or do you want to become a better designer?

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  • CFF

    That sounds awesome as a high promise, the motto helping you to get up every morning! I do appreciate a lot that you put our design in the real context of “doing the job”. And your thoughts generated other thoughts to me : how to regenerate desire on a routine, in a climate or environnement when you don’t have the complete spectrum of the projects you are assigned to? like you are in an agency, working on a small small piece of something where you are trying your best and this best is not the right answer in that context? what when is more appropriate to be mediocre than good or precise in a work context?

    • jayhollywood

      Hey CFF, thanks for the comments!

      Maintaining passion and motivation is a tough one, and probably deserves a post of its own – burn out is not unusual in our industry. Try finding inspiration from places other than the web itself, and look at ways to balance your design work with other responsibilities. I agree, not all of our work can be glamorous, but sometimes a change of mindset is just what is required.

      Working on something small can be just as rewarding, but it depends how you approach it and your attitude towards work in general. In reality there will be days or tasks you have to do that are mundane, but perhaps you can find a balance between doing your job and being passionate about your design career here. If you find that this is the typical scenario, perhaps you should consider whether its the right environment to help your design career thrive.

  • jayhollywood

    Hey CFF, thanks for the comments!

    Maintaining passion and motivation is a tough one, and probably deserves a post of its own – burn out is not unusual in our industry. Try finding inspiration from places other than the web itself, and look at ways to balance your design work with other responsibilities. I agree, not all of our work can be glamorous, but sometimes a change of mindset is just what is required.

    Working on something small can be just as rewarding, but it depends how you approach it and your attitude towards work in general. In reality there will be days or tasks you have to do that are mundane, but perhaps you can find a balance between doing your job and being passionate about your design career here. If you find that this is the typical scenario, perhaps you should consider whether its the right environment to help your design career thrive.

  • http://iredale.co/ Reide Iredale

    “Design is about solving problems”

    This is what separates juniors from seniors in the field IMO. Naming 2000 typefaces is great, but can you use 3 to get a user to buy something?

    • DaveSlaves

      Seriously, anyone that can name 2000 typefaces obviously has a real passion for typography though, right? While I’m sure your clients appreciate that you design for the bottom line, this article was about having a real passion for design and how that motivates a personal investment.

      While every designer in 2016 is now a “problem solver”, I think it’s really about egos. It’s the same reason every copywriter is now a “storyteller”. And every agency is now a “multidisciplinary agency of problem solvers and storytellers”. They only say that because they saw another agency say that and they think it sounds cool.

      All the most inspriring work comes from juniors these days anyways.