Being a good designer is a lot like being good at math – you either have the talent or you practice, practice, practice.
Learning from the best
I remembered doing a lot of projects, trying to do better than the last. After about a year, it still sucked. Then something hit me. Yes, I have been practising but I haven’t been practising it right. I have been taking bits and pieces of ideas from different websites and putting them together in one site – and you guessed it, the final result was Frankenstein.
Don’t take pieces. Do exactly. Find a website you think looks great and copy – the exact layout, the closest font you can find, the image size, similar images, the heading styles, every shadow, every line, gradients, colours, white spacing between each and every element, everything! Reproduce their work. When you do the copying, you will start to realise that for example their buttons look better than yours because perhaps there was inner shadow or the font has drop shadow or that all the white spaces between all elements are 40px. These little revelations are very important.
But please take note, this is just for practising. Not for submission to clients or your boss. Don’t plagiarize.
It Takes Time
Someone once said to me “it takes at least five years to be a good designer”. Unfortunately, that’s true – for most of us, anyway. Ok, maybe shorter if you practice more often or you are a tad more talented. Basically you can’t just practice a handful of times and expect to churn out fantastic results.
Even for one who has been in the profession for years, we sometimes still make crappy work and reiterations are necessary before it is satisfactory.
UX Matters Too
To be a good designer you cannot focus on aesthetics alone. In case you are unaware, apps with great UI but bad UX scores lower ratings than uglier designs that has better functionality. If your design kicks ass but your site is a navigational/functional nightmare, chances are good that you have lost some audience. If your product looks great but the interaction tiresome and annoying, chances are high that your audience are not coming back for seconds. If the users can’t get to what they want on your site, it’s a lot like a kid standing outside a candy store – it can be a frustrating experience. You need to think and then rethink about the user experience.
So if you think you suck at design, don’t worry, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Just practice – and sorry, there are no short cuts.