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’s not good for you.
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 or a faster learner or you have a faster computer. 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.
Oh, didn’t anyone tell you?
While great looking designs are the fondant (cos they look real pretty – and that’s about it) on the cake, the actual taste of cake draws your visitors back. If your design kicks ass but your site is a navigational/functional nightmare, do you think visitors will forgive you because “it look so pweety!”? In case you are unaware, users don’t come to a site to admire the beauty. They are here for the cake, the content. Afterall, content IS King.
Bringing Together Brawn and Beauty
There is a reason why there is a UI and UX part to making a good site. To be a great designer you cannot focus on aesthetics alone. You need to think and rethink about the user experience as well. Good UI and UX can help greatly in making the content accessible and user goals achievable. 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’s a very frustrating 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.