The Back Story of Good Web Design: Part 1

As designers, we sort through large amounts of information, distill and bring forward the most relevant points and goals, and turn them into highly useful and engaging sites. We don’t just wave our creative wand and magically good design appears (although it may seem that way!). I’d like to share some some “secrets” from a designer just like Emily Henderson in Secrets From a Stylist (great show by the way) and give you a behind-the-scenes look at the back story behind successful design in a two part series.


The Value of What We Inherently Bring to the Table

The first part of the back story behind good design is the cumulative effect of time spent in the creative field, or living a creative lifestyle in general. I’m a web designer but have interests in specializations of many other art fields such as typography, photography, interior design, and cooking. I’m constantly absorbing inspiration from like-minded folks. There is something so exciting about someone who is passionate about what they do, and this in turn fuels my creativity.

One collects a lot of knowledge over time that is subconsciously applied to any given project. To illustrate this point I’d like to share some thoughts from Paula Scher in the Adobe Artist Series by Chris Hillman. (See 3:22 in the video.) She explains how the iconic Citibank logo came to be. After a meeting she literally had the perfect solution drawn on a napkin in a second.

“It’s all over the world. How can it be that you talk to somebody and it’s done in a second? But it is done in a second. It’s done in a second and 34 years. It’s done in a second and every experience and every movie and everything of my life that’s in my head. “

I love Paula Scher’s point because it is an extreme example that speaks to some of that effervescent, (and seemingly intangible to non-designers) strength and value we possess as designers. The value of our work goes much beyond the “time” we spend on it. We bring our collective knowledge base to the table, and the value of that is immense, and keeps growing with time.

The Value in Everyday Learning

Besides inundating myself with a broad array of information from my interests in various other creative fields, I also make deliberate moves to improve my skills and knowledge base on a daily base. Like the shifting sands of the Dunes I enjoy so much at Lake Michigan, the shape and form of the web is constantly evolving. Because of this, continued learning is essential to staying relevant. If we stop learning, we’ll be left behind in the dust. In this age we have to constantly feed our knowledge base to stay up to speed.

I spend a portion of every day learning. Reading is largely important and a big part of my daily research. Thankfully, this is easier than ever with access to wealth of informative blogs and news sites. I check out the latest social media news on Mashable, see what’s shakin’ in the web design and development world over at Net Magazine, or catch up on UI trends at User Interface Engineering. I keep up with these and more. Beef up your blog-roll and stay informed!

I also add new skills to my repertoire by doing tutorials. Most of the time you’ll do a tutorial and it comes in very handy down the line. I once did a tutorial on how to create a linen look background in Photoshop, and months later it ended up being the background for a sweet site design! Last but not least, regular, continued training on sites like Lynda is essential. Anything that furthers the mastery of your tools will just enhance your work flow. Mastering Photoshop’s most obscure tools can be deeply satisfying. Creative Suite, like the web, changes over time:every time a new version comes along, there’s new tricks and tips to go along with it. 

So you see it’s not magic after all! There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes before a single mark is made. The knowledge we bring to the table and the ways we keep ahead of the curve are just the foundation for a beautiful story. I hope this inspires you to fuel your passion by immersing yourself in many aspects of your field, and keep learning! What ways do you fuel your creativity and keep you skill set sharp?