Unless your job as a designer requires you to wear multiple hats, it can be easy to become content in doing only what you’re an expert in. You’re comfortable with your process and feel at home in Photoshop, HTML & CSS. A master of one is better than an novice of many, right? Maybe not.
I’m not suggesting that you spread yourself thin and learn anything and everything related to the web. Just that you get out of your comfort zone and become familiar with these 5 things web designers like you are typically afraid of.
1. The Terminal
I’ll be the first to admit that I avoided the terminal for as long as possible. Literally, like it was the plague. I am perfectly content with a GUI for most things. But once I needed to learn Git, becoming comfortable with the dreaded terminal was inevitable.
Using Git for version control makes both backing up and iterating versions of websites that much easier. This includes smaller projects you might work on independently and larger projects that you collaborate on with other designers or developers. Setting it up and learning the lingo is a bit of a learning curve, but after that it’s smooth sailing. You’ll wonder how you ever worked without it.
Git is also a skillset that is beginning to make regular appearances on web designer job postings, so you won’t regret learning this one. (And you just might impress a few developer friends along the way.)
2. Digital Marketing
Typically a client or agency only expects a designer to create the visual graphics and interface for websites and digital marketing campaigns. It’s easy to stick to what you know and design what’s in the brief (with hopes someone else has already done all of the preliminary research), deliver the graphics, and move onto the next project.
But how effective of a designer can you really be if you don’t know whether or not what you created actually worked? It might look great, but did it perform well? Did visitors actually convert into customers? Imagine the value you’d add to a website or digital marketing campaign if you were to take the time to understand how and why they performed the way they did, and make decisions moving forward based on the information you’ve gathered.
Become a designer who makes data-driven decisions in addition to emotional decisions, and see a huge improvement in the effectiveness of your designs.
When I was fresh out of design school, I had a horrible habit of not reading what I was designing. While I’d pay attention to typography from a design perspective, it was almost as if I zoned out the words themselves. So, first step – read before designing. Thoroughly understanding the message behind content will help as you try to then convey that message to users through design.
Once you’re an expert at designing and presenting content on the web, don’t stop there. Learn best practices for writing for the web, and start writing! After all, words are directly related to usability – and often the most effective tool to communicate what the user should do next on your website.
Improving your writing skills will help you in all facets of your job, but gaining insight specifically into effective web writing tactics will be incredibly valuable as you design and develop the online experience.
When you’re knee deep in code and pixel perfecting graphics, it can be tempting to ignore that actual humans are on the other side of your website or app and design based solely on intuition. The ability to transition the way you approach designing websites from technology focused to human focused isn’t easy, but it starts by involving the user early on and often.
Challenge yourself to gather user research early on and test your design with real users along the way to validate its effectiveness. You’ll be surprised at how willing users are to provide feedback. People love to know that their opinion matters. Although it can be scary to open up your design for critique and input in the early stages, doing so will result in a better and more effective end product.
“There is always someone out there who knows less about something than you do.”
A mentor of mine told me this a few years ago as he was encouraging me to begin writing and speaking. It seems obvious, but it was inspiring. I had always been hesitant to share my opinions until that point because I wasn’t sure whether or not what I had to say would be new or interesting to others. Did I have a unique approach to solving design problems? Was my opinion on worth listening to? Is my solution really the best out there?
What I failed to realize was that I didn’t need to solve the internet’s problems with a few blog posts or talks, and neither do you. No one becomes web royalty after one blog post. (Okay, maybe some people.) Get over those initial fears and share what you’re knowledgeable and feel passionate about, even if it seems simple or obvious to you. Chances are, it will be new and interesting to someone out there.
Overcoming your fear of the terminal, digital marketing, copywriting, users, and sharing is no small feat – but once you have, you will certainly find yourself a more well-rounded and valuable designer.