LearnNew Year’s Resolution: Become a Better Designer


Allison Grayce
writes on January 9, 2013

When designing interfaces it can be easy to rinse-and-repeat – to do what’s worked in the past without necessarily thinking harder and more in-depth about the design problems at hand. It’s one thing to “Honour Thou Design Patterns”, but avoid letting yourself slip into design-zombie mode. Ask yourself, “What could be done differently? How could this be better?”

This year, take more time upfront to really think about whether or not the design solution is simply a reflection of what’s been done in the past (whether by you or other designers), or if it has the potential to be something truly unique and special. Instead of turning and burning projects, use the opportunity and the allocated time to push boundaries and create something truly innovative. We’re lucky to still be pioneers in our industry in 2013, so we should take hold and seize the opportunity.

Become a Linchpin

At a certain point in my career I felt as though I had plateaued. The marketing director would create a wireframe, I’d design it, someone else would code it. That’s what my job was as a designer, right? I make things pretty? You’ll quickly burn out if you box yourself in. Don’t be afraid to step outside your job “requirements.” (Just don’t step on anyone’s toes.) Read more books, take on more responsibility, show initiative and you’ll turn yourself into a linchpin. If you’re multi-talented, you’re more desirable – and more difficult to replace. Or in Seth Godin’s words, “Indispensable.” Not to mention it just makes you feel proud, more confident, and more accomplished. It feels good to be smarter. This year, become (or continue to improve at) one or more of the following:

  • A designer who can also code
  • A designer who’s a great writer
  • A designer who knows marketing

Manage Time Better

At the beginning of my professional career I was admittedly horrible at gauging how long it might take me to complete something. If I didn’t get my work done at work, I’d take it home to finish. At the time, I didn’t see anything wrong with using personal time to finish up work, almost as if it didn’t count toward the project hours or something. Wrong. You need personal time to relax and recharge. Chances are, If you’re not finishing your work within a normal 9-10 hour workday (excluding extenuating circumstances) there’s something wrong. Either the deadlines or work loads are unrealistic or your time management needs some work.

When you’re working on something, try to better track the time spent on the project. This will be helpful too when/if you plan on taking freelance work and charge hourly rates. If you’re like me, you have lots of little tasks like checking email, skimming through RSS feeds, checking social media, etc. that tend to pile up and suck up time. This can get in the way of bigger, more important projects. Try something like the Pomodoro Technique, introduced to me by Pasan, our business teacher, where you focus intensely on a project for a period of time, and then switch to focus on task-type stuff for another period of time. He wrote an article about his technique here. If you’re taking on freelance work outside of your full time job, set specific hours to dedicate towards this work and don’t take on more than you can handle.

This year, get better at tracking your time. You’ll get a better idea of where time is going and over time you’ll see your efficiency and productivity increase. You’ll be able to more confidently estimate your time for hourly projects which makes for a happier you and a happier client/boss.

Allocate Time to Give Back

When I first realized my passion for graphic and web design, It was when online diaries were all the rage (…or maybe that was just for teenage girls.) Instead of doing homework, I would design and code entry layouts for people to use in their own diary. One of my favorite quotes is by Jessica Hische who said something like:

“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.”

It seems obvious, but I honestly had no clue back then that creating diary entry layouts (or some variation of this) was something I could actually pursue as a career. I wanted others to find the same joy and passion in designing and coding that I did. So shortly after this revelation, I started writing step-by-step tutorials on how to create your own layouts, with the hopes of inspiring others to learn how to design, too.

“It’s good to share what we know. You needn’t be the first, you’ll just help if you’re the first that somebody finds.”

Create a great resource for other designers, like Photoshop Brushes, textures, or UI mockups. If you’re a designer who loves to write, take advantage of the opportunity to write for blogs that accept guest writers like Treehouse, Smashing Mag, or CSS Tricks. If you’re a designer who loves to code, create an open-source plugin and post it to Github or contribute to WordPress. If you’re a designer who loves to meet people, host a podcast or networking event.

Allocating time to give back to the community will help you gain visibility and notoriety; it will position you as an expert and solidify your presence in the community. Care about your personal SEO. Associating your name with as much professionalism on the web is vital for anyone in any industry. But most importantly, giving back will make you feel good.

Become a Better Designer

Much like a resolution to eat healthier or work out more, becoming a better designer is a long term goal. It all comes down to determining what kind of designer you want to become, and then break it down into achievable short term goals. To get closer to my ideal of a better designer this year, I plan to push more boundaries, keep learning and dedicate more time to inspire others. What was your New Year’s resolution and how do you plan on achieving it?


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