Having recently launched a completely redesigned and re-branded WHD website, I thought it appropriate to highlight an issue that seems to affect a lot of web and graphic designers while the dilemmas and frustrations are still fresh in my mind.
As just about any designer (web or otherwise) will tell you; you are, always have been and will continue to be the hardest client you will ever work for. This is an unavoidable truth. The pressure to come up with something that perfectly fits the wants and needs of your users, shows an awareness of current trends but still projects individuality, separates your business from those around you striving to achieve the same goals, and that still manages to satisfy your own continually shifting desires time and again is a huge obstacle to overcome for even the most accomplished of designers.
Why is it so difficult to design for yourself?
Whether you run your own company, work as part of an agency or live by the seat of your pants as a freelance, your own site will be the biggest indication of your abilities to any prospective customers or employees. Websites are your domain. This is what you do. Your website is more often that not your stone-cold introduction and first impression, which is why you work so tirelessly to perfect it. But why is it so hard to design your own site?
Your own ambition and expectations
As a designer human being, you are always pushing yourself to be better. This is human nature. People are never satisfied. It’s natural to want your next design to be sleeker, leaner and more beautiful than the last. To continue pushing boundaries. To keep stepping up the ladder. Continued professional development is not an easy thing to master, particularly in an industry that changes and evolves as rapidly and unpredictably as web design.
Other people’s ambitions and expectations
People expect you to be on top of every trend and modern movement in your field. After all, this is your profession. You are a web designer therefore anything people see on the web, they expect you to be able to recreate or improve upon. What these people often fail to take into account is the size, experience and budget behind the teams that produce these enormously popular and well-built websites.
Industry respect and recognition
The web design world is an extremely competitive one. Gaining any degree of respect or recognition from the community can be exceptionally difficult. As a new or aspiring designer you might find yourself in the position I was in with version 1 of WHD – chasing approval of my work from every avenue available to me. I had a particular appetite for web design and CSS galleries. My site found it’s way into over 50, which was remarkably satisfying at the time. But I soon realised that there’s more to it than that. Having your work featured is a great feeling, but what does it actually do for your business? How does it help you improve as a designer? Apart from the initial burst of SEO goodness garnered from these little bundles of joy that are web galleries, there is reasonably little to be gained, yet you run the risk of becoming sidetracked and placing way too much importance on what your peers think of your work, rather than your clients. You should be looking beyond this. Don’t chase recognition, good design will always be recognised. Focus your energies on improving yourself and what you do.
This is a concept I was first introduced to by Paul Boag when he spoke about the difficulties users are often faced with on eCommerce websites that have too many options or products. But the concept stretches further than this. I’m a chronic procrastinator. I think about everything. I think way too much. I think about what I’d like to do, how I’d like to do it, the possible pitfalls and potential benefits of every aspect of every action. This leaves little time for doing. When designing your own site, you are limited only by your imagination. As empowering as that might sound, when you are sitting in front of a blank Photoshop canvas, it can be excruciatingly painful attempting to get those first marks on the page. What style will you go for? What resolution will it suit? What font will you use? What kind of imagery? Two column layout or three? The possibilities are endless.
What can you do about it?
There are various ways to jog yourself out of this black hole of indecision. Hopefully one of them will work for you.
Treat yourself as another client
This is the first thing most designers will tell you to do if you ever mention that you’re having issues working on your own stuff. The theory being that if you take out your own emotional attachments and work like you would on anybody else’s site, you’ll produce better and more efficient work than you would otherwise.
Browse web galleries
Web galleries are the perfect way to gather inspiration and ideas. They are choc full of the latest, most eye-catching and well-built designs. A good indication of what is considered good or exciting design. Here are some of my favourites that I will regularly visit if I feel in need of an inspiration boost:
This will not be your last site redesign. You can always change it. People handle pressure differently. Some people thrive under it, while others will crumble. But it’s always worth remembering that this is your website, therefore you can change it any time you wish.
It’s very easy to get bogged down with one particular area of the site. You can end up investing a lot time in something that was meant to be very quick. If you get stuck for too long in one area, try to tackle other areas of the site. Inspiration is an extremely unpredictable emotion and hard to control. So when you feel on top of your design game, you need to use it. You can’t afford to get stuck in one area and lose your motivation.
Shake things up
Sometimes you just need to break your cycle. Being in the same place all the time can lead to the same thought processes, even the same working patterns. Take a walk, change your surroundings. Work out of your home or office. Try coffee shops, parks, anything but your regular place of work. You might be surprised with what you come up with if you push yourself to work differently.
Example: On the way home from work every day I have a 20 minute slot on the train in which I sometimes try to break out the laptop and hit Photoshop with whatever I’ve got before I have to pack up and get off the train in a mad rush. It’s a slightly strange feeling rushing everything, but I find it forces me to just get something down on paper as it were. For me personally, getting started is always the hardest part so this works well for me.
Inspiration and creativity is integral to what we do as designers, yet they are some of the hardest qualities to keep firing on a continual basis. Added pressure from yourself or others can make it next to impossible to feel energised and motivated for your project and can easily lead to burnout if you aren’t careful. The trick is to use it to its fullest when it’s available to you. And when it’s not, to better understand how you can trigger it. Everybody is different. Find what works best for you.
When are you at your most creative and what are your tried and trusted methods for getting inspired? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.