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Pretty much anything connected to the internet is in a constant state of flux and evolution. Web design is certainly not exempt from this. That’s why it is important for every working designer to stay in touch with what is current, but for someone who may have graduated from school five, ten, or even more years ago, it is easy to not realize how out of touch you really have become by sticking to what you know.

Brian Morris, writing on Creative Overflow, realizes how easy it is to get disconnected from current web design if you aren’t making a point to stay up to date. But he also points out seven easy ways to make yourself a good current designer again.

Getting back in touch with what is happening is as easy as taking a class at a community college. I’m sure you don’t need a design 101 class, but just looking at a class catalog  you can identify areas where they may be teaching programs, skills, or ideas that weren’t en vogue or even created when you were in school.

The largest reason there isn’t an excuse for being behind the times is the community of web designers just spewing out tutorials, resources, and helpful articles available for free. Just browse design blogs until you find something you don’t know how to do, then follow the tutorial while you watch it. Just viewing a movie of someone telling you how to do something won’t help you learn it very well.

Honestly, most of Morris’ suggestions are things any good designer should be doing to start with. Constantly viewing colleagues and peers’ work helps jump start the creative process, and you can see ideas and skills you might not know, just like entering contests keeps you pushing to make the best design possible. What the suggestions do show though is the one thing you can’t do in web design: become complacent.

Web designers find themselves continuously facing the largest issue for anyone in an artistic career. It is often difficult to start a career making work you love while earning enough money to live comfortably. Every artist is used to cutting costs when they have to, like eating Ramen noodles for a week or two to afford a program or drawing tablet.

Of course, there are less drastic ways to save money so that you can be a successful designer. One of the biggest costs for designers is software. $400 Adobe products that get updated every year can take a huge chunk out of your budget, but there are plenty of small software developers creating cheap or free alternatives. For $50-$100 you can find software that can accomplish nearly everything that $1000 dollar Creative Suite can do.

Speaking of free resources, the design community also serves as one of the greatest methods to get free textures, photography, icons, WordPress themes, and any sort of plug-in you could imagine. Searching for blogs and sites that offer these types of free resources also gives you an opportunity to interact with others in your community which can lead to strong professional relationships down the road. Just a simple, friendly “thanks” for the free stuff leaves a nice impression.

The active design community offers another type of resource that can save you tons of money on books and classes as well. There are all sorts of free tutorials and workshops online you can participate in that will keep you up to date on the latest design standards while putting you in direct interaction with others in the community.

Brian Spero from Web Designer Depot has plenty of other ways designers  can keep their costs down. If you are a recent graduate or a newer freelancer, these ideas are definitely better than living off of Ramen.

You know how sometimes a group of words are thrown around together so much their meaning becomes blurry? If you don’t understand what I mean, think about how you understand brand, identity, and logo. Almost any article about logo design will intrinsically link these three words together without clarifying where the line between each one is. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else.

Jacob Cass from Just Creative noticed this and put it upon himself to clarify the differences between brand, identity, and logo, and what each does. Breaking it down simply:

  • Brand is the “perceived emotional corporate image” of the business all together.
  • Identity combines all of the visual aspects that form a brand.
  • Logos identify a business in the simplest form by using icons.
It is a heirarchy in which a logo is part of the visual identity of a company, which helps mold the brand as a whole.

Branding

It is hard to write shortly about branding, as Cass even points out, but to summarize the concept, it is the audience’s idea of a service, product, or organization. Visual aspects of the brand including its marketing and logo can help mold it, but ultimately, the audience decides the shared perception overall. “A designer can’t make a brand […] a designer forms the foundation of the brand”, which the audience then builds upon with their reception of the product and marketing as a whole.

Identity Design

That foundation the brand is built on is it’s identity, or its image. Every business creates sets of visual devices they use to interact with their audience including color palettes, fonts, layouts, etc. Every visual aspect is considered part of the identity, even things like a web page design, and especially the logo.

Logos

I’ve talked quite a bit about logos before, but when it comes down to it, a logo identifies your brand. It becomes one of the most prevalent aspects of the image, and shapes how customers perceive your brand.
According to Cass, a logo doesn’t sell or describe a company, but that is the only aspect of his article with which I don’t completely agree. Once a business is established, their logo is understood by the quality of the company and product it represents. However, for young businesses trying to establish themselves, a quality logo is important in attracting companies by letting them quickly know what that company does and showing they care about how their audience feels about them.

Conclusion

The three are absolutely linked, but when writing about them we often make it unclear what each seperate part really is. Logos affect identities, which set the floor for a brand. All are important, but they are all unique to each other

The limits that come from working with a strict color scheme can feel restricting and maybe even frustrating at first, but once you’ve put in some thought, it is easy to see the effect they can have on a design.

Strict color schemes add coherence to your overall layout and establishing consistency. Working with a monochromatic palette makes designing all about contrasts, and automatically establishes a message or mood on a web page.

Don’t get excited if you think working with just one color will be easier. A single set of colors have such a huge range of tints and shades that you can carefully manipulate to create a striking layout. There are plenty of ways to go about it, but Carrie Cousins from Designmodo suggests starting with a dark color scheme, and I agree it is a good place to start.

Before you try to start with a dark palette, remember that black can easily overwhelm the rest of the page and make content hard to digest. Balance is as essential as contrast when trying to design a page with black as a base color.

The first step is of course selecting the colors you want to use. As I’ve suggested before, using a full black is tricky for any composition, be it on a web page of a canvas. Instead, saturate your blacks with the other main color of your composition, so that “real black” is only used extremely selectively. Even using a dark gray is usually preferable to completely black.

For your lighter colors, select your other main color, and add black in ten percent increments to create a “set” of consistent hues for your page. You also need to decide how much contrast you want on your page, which is usually reliant on the feeling you are attempting to cultivate. If you want a moody atmosphere, less contrast can help create a spooky or creepy feel, while brighter colors and contrasts may suggest a slicker or hipper mood.

Carrie Cousins’ article on dark color palettes and designs includes some quick color palette tools you might use if you don’t know where to start.

 

One of the biggest priorities for designers is creating and maintaining a client base. Without one, the designer is out of work. Unfortunately, even after months of work with a client, you can lose them with just a single, simple mistake.

Alexa D’Agostino has a list of 15 mistakes you can make that will lose you clients. Most of the mistakes seem like common knowledge, but they are also mistakes we all still make.

From not responding fast enough to having a messy office, these small issues are enough to drive you out of business.

 

I’ve written a lot about branding for your clients, but do you know that personal branding is just as important to your success as a designer?

You hopefully do, because personal branding is far from a new idea, but social media has made personal branding as available as ever before. It is also a much more competitive field now.

To make yourself a valued brand, follow this collection of tips. They will help you climb above the competition.

  1. Set Goals and Plan Ahead – Before you ever begin to define your brand, you have to think ahead and see where you want to be a few months or even a year or two from now. Are you trying to get a new job, or do you want to stay a freelancer? How do you want to grow your business? Once you know where you want to be, you can layout a plan to help get you there.
  2. Know and Understand Your Brand – The look and feel of your brand is a lot more than just a brand or a couple of social media accounts. You have to keep a consistent image in all mediums at all times. As Jacob Cass from Just Creative puts it, “The fundamental idea and core concept behind having this ‘corporate image’ is that everything you do, everything you own and everything you produce, should reflect the values and aims of your personal brand as a whole.”
  3. Create and Maintain Your Brand – One of the best ways to set yourself apart from the crowd is to have a unique visual identity that is consistent and reflective of your goals. You should also maintain social media accounts in ways that reflect your brand positively. Are you of any value to your followers and friends? Or are you wasting the biggest platforms to promote your brand?

Above all, the secret to personal branding is the same for many things in life. Plan ahead, and follow through. If you put forth a solid, planned image to the public, and follow through with valuable content, people will come to respect your personal brand.

 

 

There are infinite ways to approach typography, and you will see just about every imaginable strategy across the internet. Some go over-the-top with their typographic choices, and some, either out of ignorance or laziness, underwhelm with blah text.

There are places for both of these approaches, but there is never an excuse for outright ignoring how your text looks on-screen. Typographic choices are absolutely essential to your design, and even if you don’t have much text on your page, the wrong typographic decisions can leave viewers with a bad taste in their mouth.

To keep you from making the mistakes many pages have, I’ve compiled a list of things to keep in mind when choosing typography for your designs.

Message

One of the first things a designer should consider when starting a design is what type of message you want to send. This should be equally true when it’s decided what text you are going to use. Gabi Azilla uses the example of fliers for disaster aid programs when considering what message you want to send. In this example, you want your message to be along the lines of “hope” and “aid”, so you don’t want your text to look like something from an action movie or business memo. If that example is too specific for your current project, think along the lines of whether your design is aiming for a happier, or darker concept. Happy designs should use light, soft fonts, while darker themes rely on sharp, dramatic text.

Legibility

It really doesn’t matter what you are working on, using text that is illegible is always a negative. It may look neat, but nothing annoys viewers quicker than having to struggle to read a simple header. There are times when more abstract fonts can be good, but they should be used very sparingly for effect, rather than the main font for any aspect of your page. Think about it in terms of the heavily illustrated letters beginning paragraphs in classic, old books. They liven up the entire page, but the illustrated, complex area of text only covers one letter.

Size and Placement

This one goes overlooked often, but where and how big your typography is has a huge effect on the success of your design. Placement and size are all about balance. No one wants to strain to read your text, and overly large text is just annoying, but you also want to make something eye-catching. Make sure the typography complements the rest of the design, and effectively uses the space it covers. The general rule for designers is the header or title area should be the main focus, and everything else should be roughly half the size of the header, or smaller depending on importance. Keeping a heirarchy in your text lets readers know where you want their eyes to focus.

Conclusion

With the near infinite choices designers have for typography, it is easy to want to dive in and play with your design to create something truly wild. There is plenty of room for experimentation and innovation, but restraint is key. Remember why you are designing the current project, and fit your typography to match the point of the design.

 

Most designers are aware of Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design, and, if you aren’t, you should definitely check it out. Rams created the entire visual language Apple is still using, and products he designed over fifty years ago are still being made today. He made the ten principles in 1970, when he decided he needed an objective way to criticize his own designs.

The list was originally made to critique physical products, but lately web designers have been using the principles for interactive design. While the list works wonderfully with interactive design, there is one issue stemming from how long ago the principles were established. In Rams’ time, there was no interaction design, UI, or UX. It doesn’t take into consideration the constantly changing software out today.

Fourty years ago, when Rams created the ten principles, designs were mostly for print or physical products, which rarely were updated. This is as far from true now as imaginable. That’s why Wells Riley, designer for Kicksend, has proposed an eleventh principle of design. 

Good Design is Iterative

Iterative design is flexible, and reduces the friction created from growth and change. It is common to think of every project with an “end date.” Designers usually consider themselves finished when they hand in a design, and get their money. Unfortunately, that manner of working will usually result in a total breakdown when it comes time to integrate new features.

Fixed, complex designs lead to complete disasters when it is time to update. Big companies have the money to invest to overcome this issue. Small companies, which normally need to update at a much quicker rate than huge corporations, can’t afford to not iterate on design just as quickly as engineers can code.

So how do you make an interative design from day one?

  1. Responsive Web – Responsive layouts allow pages to respond to different mobile and desktop browsers, which makes for much easier design changes. Sites using responsive layouts can make small changes constantly to continuously mold their entire product and brand image.
  2. Less is More – Designers love to build complex and interesting sites, but aside from possibly confusing visitors, these intricacies are also blocking fast updates from happening. Instead, stick with only what is essential. Minimalistic approaches to design allow for innovation. Think about Google’s front page. It is simple and clean, which makes it spectacular when Google Doodles show up to highlight an important day in history. If the page was cluttered with extra nonsense, the doodles would be harder to implement, and their effect would be severely diminished.
  3. Ship Every Day – Don’t ever let your design go stagnant. As any art student knows, there is always room for improvement in a design, and you should always be working on improving it. Use customer feedback and research, as well as your constantly growing knowledge of what is new, so that your designs grow at the same rate you grow as a designer.

The Ten Principles Rams set down 40 years ago are still an important way to critique your own designs, but, as with any list 40 years old, it needed an update. By adding a focus on iterant design, you will be able to criticize your own work objectively while making sure it works for the constantly changing field of web design.

 

 

Where is your phone? If you’re reading this, there is a good chance it’s in your hand. Over the past few years, Internet users have made a huge shift to mobile browsing as tablets and smart phones have made it easier to access the web while running errands, dining out or even talking with your friends.

This is why it’s important to make sure your website is optimized for mobile browsers. With almost fifty percent  of your audience using mobile devices as their primary way to browse the web, not having a mobile optimized website can cost you serious traffic and money.

So what do you do if you don’t have an optimized site for smart phones and tablets?

Well first, don’t just create a miniaturized version of your site. Users don’t want to be forced to try to pinpoint tiny buttons with their clumsy fingers and they definitely don’t want to read walls of text. Even more important is making sure the site loads quickly. Over half of all mobile users expect websites to load as quickly, if not even faster, on their mobile devices as they do on their computers. To make your site load quickly, make your mobile homepage streamlined with only essential content with minimum JavaScript and CSS files.

When optimizing your site for the Internet, it is also important to make sure your website works properly on every device. Ensuring your site supports every mobile operating system protects every visitor from having a bad experience with the site.

If you don’t already have a developer with experience in mobile sites, it’s time to get one. If anything, it is a little late. Your competition most likely already has an optimized version of their website for mobile devices and if your site isn’t ready for mobile browsing, your customers will leave you for your competition.  While it may seem daunting and costly to update your site for mobile surfing, making sure your customers have a pleasant experience with your site will save you much more money.

 

 

No designer wants to spend hours and hours doing unnecessary revisions and redesigns. You especially don’t want your client to throw out an idea at first glance. We know making the “best” design for your client’s specific needs on the first try is almost impossible but that doesn’t mean your first designs can’t have the potential to become the best design. With these few simple steps, you can make sure your designs have potential from the beginning and, hopefully, provide better designs for your client.

  1. Know Your Brand: Designers often ignore this step. It’s easy to think, when starting out as a designer, that the brand you’re working for doesn’t matter on the first try. They will just give you tons of revisions either way, right? Wrong. Knowing the business and the brand you’re creating for gives you a better understanding of what they need. Once you know what they need, you can give them what they want. Knowing a brand means knowing who they want to attract. By doing the research, you can help solve the client’s problems.
  2. Know the Industry: There are a few reasons you want to know what is happening in a client’s industry. To begin with, design is incredibly trendy and what is “in” right now varies by industry. You want to make sure your client sticks out in a positive and logical way. Don’t try to blend in but don’t let your design be the equivalent of a Hawaiian shirt at a formal event. Secondly, while knowing what is popular with your client’s industry is important, it is also essential to know what is attractive to their customers. Your design should focus as much on their needs as it does the client’s.  Researching the industry lets you know what people in that industry want and reveals what needs to be improved.
  3. Be Creative: When faced with creating something new, we all look for inspiration. Designers usually go online and look at other designs anywhere from blogs to showcases. After finding something that inspires us, many accidentally end up copying the original source. Using inspiration does not mean changing small features of another design to make an almost identical but subtly different design. It means being creative with what inspired you. You can borrow some things but you want your inspiration to push you to try something new. Good creativity and good design lead to innovation.
  4. Details, Details, Details: Rushing to get a design finished can lead to silly mistakes that are absolutely avoidable. While focusing on the layout is important, the details are just as essential. You don’t want to have a beautiful design with a misspelled banner or a typo in a sidebar. Some clients will brush off little mistakes like these, as they are easy to fix, but many will be less forgiving. If these mistakes are easy to fix after you’ve shown the design, they should have been fixed before you showed it.
  5. Explain Your Design: We, as designers, love to understand what we create and why we did it. The problem is, we’re often bad at communicating this to others. Sending an explanation of your design when you submit it allows you to answer most of the client’s questions before they can ask them. It shows intent and purpose behind the design. While a confusing design with no explanation will almost certainly be refused before you can defend it, allowing the client to understand it from the outset will help them see potential in the design, and offer their own opinions,

Every design will need revisions but there is no reason to fear them. However, if you make the best design you can for your client’s needs on the first submission, you will likely find they are more willing to work with what you created. Communicating with clients and trying to give them what they want, rather than what you like, will make your clients happy and could open up more room for creative freedom later.

 

For more ideas on how to improve your designs, go to Kendra Gains’ article at webdesignerdepot.com