Being Better In 3 Easy Steps Design Edition

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This isn’t about being better than someone else. I am by no means preaching on how to live, despite the clever title. These are just my observations, things that have made me better, do with them what you will. These are things that have changed the way I work and work with others. I’m not out to tell people what to do.

I do believe there are three solid ways you can improve your designs, with simple changes to your mindset. I have learned that shifting focus, drawing new inspiration, and taking time to rethink a situation have made more of a difference for me as a designer than anything. These things don’t necessarily have to apply to design, but that is what I do, so that is what I wrote about.

Forests & Trees & Yada.

As a designer I focus so much on details and each pixel being placed perfectly. Each shape having crisp edges, beautiful text, and a harmonious color palette. Which is important and any designer should. However I never feel like I take enough time breathing in the bigger picture. I’m not just talking about all of the details making a whole. I’m talking about taking the time to visualize not just design, but the operation of it.

How will it be used? Do the elements of the design ask to be interacted with? Am I being critical of this as much as I should be? It is my design after all. I really have to force myself to think like the user. Some of the greatest UXer’s out there understand people as well or better than they understand the web (or whatever platform they are designing for). Wire-framing is great, but you can often improve interaction so much in the design and build phases. Lately I have been combining the two. I begin building while I am still in the design phase. A hybrid between build in Photoshop and build in the browser if you will.

Taking the time to see the elements in their natural habitat help me to make better design decisions. I try to take time after laboring over details to really put the final picture into focus. This has helped me to make better design and interaction decisions and have more fun designing too. I have to challenge myself to look beyond the trees and the forest.

The road less traveled!

Chances are you are reading this indoors. Chances are you are used to getting inspired by the screen you are reading this on. This is the biggest challenge for designers I think. We spend so much time admiring others work in our craft. We obsess over another designers details and execution. It seeps into our subconscious. I don’t think anyone sets out to rip a designer or for to follow the flood of a specific trend. It happens because we are involved in a medium driven by inspiration. All art is. We are all inspired in some way by sights, sounds, touch, and emotion. The challenge is to add some inspiration from outside of our tiny design pool. To quote Chef Auguste Gusteau from the Pixar film Ratatouille

There is excellence all around us we need only stop and savor it.

The challenge is to notice something you have never seen before on your way to the office, or the coffee house, or wherever. Starting out this is surprisingly easy, we are oblivious to so much in our lives. Take photos of everything interesting put them all someplace that you can draw on for inspiration. Use the world around you, especially the outside world around you to really inspire you. If you don’t travel much, absorb it all when you do. Take a camera, use your cell phone. Shoot everything, photography allows you to have a big picture view while simultaneously capturing all the detail. Start making your personal inspiration gallery, and try reducing the amount of time you spend browsing inspiration websites.

On second thought.

I haven’t met a designer not guilty of this. We have all, if not directly to another designer, ripped another designers work to shreds. What if we all took a second look, and gave a second thought to another persons work? Not every designer is on the same place in this journey. What if the designers you admired ripped into your work? Chances are they won’t because many have already learned a valuable lesson:

We are all still growing.

It is so much easier to write off someones work as terrible than to take the time to help someone improve. Now I am not saying to go giving design advice to everyone on dribbble. However there are many designers who enjoy constructive feedback and many who enjoy a fresh pair of eyes scrutinizing their work. If you have a tip that has made work easier for you, and it changed your design habits when you began using it, chances are no one will be pissed if you share it. Example: the little snap to pixel grid check box for the shape tool in Photoshop. How amazing was that the first time you checked it? All of your shapes lining up in pixel perfection. No more nudging, glorious! Take a second thought to really understand another piece of work and remember no one likes to be judged, but everyone likes to grow.

This applies in the opposite fashion as well. Taking the time to accept someones criticism rather than immediately writing it off has helped me tremendously. Sometimes there is great value, sometimes not, it is always easy to ignore nonconstructive comments.

These are the three things that have made the most difference for me this past year. They are just things that I have learned to do through habit. If you have any awesome ideas at being better, please share them.