In my experience, the single most
difficult and important skill for a web designer is: Remembering
what you're doing.
It is incredibly easy to get bogged
down on the surface level of design, pushing boxes and buttons this way
and that around the page until it appears to have perfect visual
balance. This is: A Complete Waste of Time.
Before looking at how to design on
screen, let's consider how to think like
a successful designer.
To be most successful, you've got to
know what you're trying to achieve, and take the most direct path to
From a Samurai point of view
In the words of the ancients, one
should make his decisions within the space of seven breaths. Lord
Takanobu said, "If discrimination is long, it will spoil." Lord
Naoshige said, "When matters are done leisurely, seven out of ten will
turn out badly. A warrior is a person who does things quickly."
When your mind is going hither and
thither, discrimination will never be brought to a conclusion. With an
intense, fresh and undelaying spirit, one will make his judgments
within the space of seven breaths. It is a matter of being determined
and having the spirit to break right through to the other side.
(The Book of the Samurai), Tsunetomo Yamamoto
Web design takes as long as you give
it. The time it takes to design a web site can vary hugely. The main
reason for this is that design is so subjective:
- everyone has an opinion
- something can always be improved
- there is an infinite number of
possible solutions - how do you know the right one?
- the more you look at it, your
While I really enjoy diving into a
design project, sometimes I can find it extremely hard to stop
I think that those endless projects
have been those where I've not been clear what I've been doing. In
other words, when I don't know what my goal
(Note: "Designing a nice web site" is
NOT a goal! It's an activity, and activities can go on for ever...)
You can only achieve what you aim for
If you don't know what your goal is
in very clear terms, how do you know when you've achieved it?
What is a goal?
A goal is a
state, not an activity. You create your own vision, so when you focus
on activity (like 'designing a nice web site'), that's what you'll get
- lots of activity!
When you focus on your end point,
that's where you'll get. When you focus on the path, that's where
A goal should be described in the
present tense, such as: "This site is complete. It communicates a
compelling message of capability and expertise."
Sometimes I've spent half a day
designing and only rearranged a page design and then rearrange it back
again. This is called "fiddling" and it's bad.
The times that I've most enjoyed my
work have happened when I've managed to keep a certain professional
distance from the design.
The difference comes when I remember
my purpose and have a picture in my mind's eye of "what success will
look like" i.e. my GOAL.
That's why I encourage you to get
clear on what it is you're working towards, and to keep clear.
The Seven Steps of Think-then-do
- Recognise your GOAL,
write it down, and keep it handy as a touchstone
- Refer back to it frequently
- If, at any point, you can't see the
wood for the trees, it's time to leave it alone
- Take a break, forget all about it,
rest your mind, come back, read your statement of purpose touchstone
again, get the mental picture back, then look at the design as it is
- Tell yourself out loud what's right
about it and what's wrong about it
- Tell yourself what you're going to
do, or even better - write it down
- Then - sit down and do it.
With a bit of practice, you'll soon
be a black-belt in Think-then-do.
How to evaluate your work
The act of designing places you too
close to be able to analyse your output with objective clarity. In my
opinion, developing this skill is the most important differenting
factor for any successful designer or creative worker.
The best way to evaluate a web design
is - Get someone else to do it. (Or, develop a split personality.)
Failing that, these steps will help:
- Do it from fresh - take regular
breaks from a job, and come back to it with fresh eyes
- Ask: "What did I miss? What's hard
to look at? What draws my eye?"
- Trust your first reactions: write
down action points without being tempted to dive in and fix anything.
- Then, do exactly what you've
written down, as quickly as possible, without re-thinking.
- Repeat (from fresh).. In the
meantime, maybe work on something else, say another page or section of