What I wish I knew when I started in web design

I made a lot of mistakes. Hopefully, this helps you not do the same.

A computer on desk showcasing a product, with a phone mug, notepad around it
A computer on desk showcasing a product, with a phone mug, notepad around it
Photo by Igor Miske on Unsplash

When I started designing websites years ago, I couldn’t wait to call myself I web designer. I thought it was the coolest thing ever to build a website from scratch and make it look awesome.

I was 18 at the time & had no idea what this thing called “UX” was. I would have 30-minute meetings with clients and use that snippet of information to build websites. I thought the best websites got done the fastest and looked the best.

I didn’t know what usability was, or any of these other fancy UX terms. I wanted to build things that looked cool. I wasn’t a web designer.

Yes, I made websites, but I didn’t design them. I didn’t focus on the process, or the experience. I didn’t focus on making the website easy to use or accessible. I focused on dragging and dropping elements together in a layout, completing ignoring the end user.

I was young & naive. New to industry, not knowing what I was getting my self into. I’m writing this post not to bash on my younger self, but to help people avoid the mistakes I made.

What I realize now is that I was missing this idea of “UX”. I was missing the framework this profession is built on.

If you want to consider yourself a web designer, UX designer, or anything of the like, here are a few things you should know.

Web design isn’t just web design

This is something I wish I knew from the beginning. As I said, I once thought web design was building websites for the client only. Now I realize, it’s about building websites for the users.

This one realization has made a big impact on how I look at websites & design. But regardless, that’s still not enough. To design great websites you focus only on designing a website for the user — a website is more than just a website. The same goes for web design.

What I mean is this, to the user a website isn’t a website, it’s an experience that is helping them achieve something. When you go on Medium, you don’t think, “Boy, this is a great website!”, instead you think, “This is a great place to read and consume information”.

Because of this thought process, the designer can’t think of design as just design. You must go bigger. Start thinking about how a user will use your design, what are they coming on the site to do, how can you make that easier?

Stuff like this is what separates amateurs from experts. Thoughts like this make your designs bigger than they are. You can have a much bigger impact if you design with the end in mind.

Medium designers didn’t design the site thinking about designing a great website where people could read. They thought about designing a place where people could exchange knowledge. They weren’t thinking about a website, they were thinking much bigger.

As designers, we all should do the same.

No one cares if you think the website looks good

When I was starting out, I would finish my web design and go right to my parents, or my girlfriend super excited. “Look at this! What do you think?” I would then explain why I thought it was good. I was so focused on doing what I thought looked good, not the user.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you think the website looks good. It doesn’t even matter if the clients think the website looks good (arguably), the judge & jury is always the users.

But how can you tell if the users will like something? Ask them. In other words, do your research.

Research was a foreign concept to me when starting out, but now I realize it is the backbone of all great design. Doing design research makes you forget about your ego and realize that you don’t know what the users want.

Usually, in the beginning, most designers think they don’t need to do research but that is far from the truth. Research is a safety blanket & a way to ensure your designs will be useful.

To sum this up, stop worrying about popular design conventions or what you think looks good. Start focusing on what will make a better experience for the user.

Speed is irrelevant

One of the biggest mistakes I did was to put more importance into speed rather than quality. I thought the clients would be happier if the website was done in half the time it should take.

Now, I realize web design is a process. You can’t sit down at your computer and throw elements onto a page and hope it works. You need to do extensive research and have extensive conversations with the clients. Not to mention, do many iterations, all before sending over a rough prototype.

If you want to land good clients and get repeat business or referrals, you need to showcase quality to your current clients. Don’t worry about the time.

Obviously, if they give you a time constraint, respect it, but don’t put one onto yourself because you think they want it fast.

Speed is irrelevant, quality is everything.

Nothing good is ever done solo

This last point is one of the most important. You need to collaborate.

Regardless of if you are a freelancer or part of a huge team, start leveraging your resources and get feedback from others.

When I was starting I would try do everything myself. I thought because I didn’t know any designers I didn’t have anyone to ask. This was wrong and hugely missed opportunity.

Asking for feedback from peers in your industry is a great way to get different insights and improvements for your designs.

If you’re like me and don’t know who to ask, go to reddit. Join a few of the user experience threads and post a link to your project and ask for feedback. Everyone in that community is there to help and will provide you with honest feedback and help.

No great app, website, project, or company was done solo. Jobs had Wosniak & Jordan had Pippen. If even the best had help, you should too.

Take this with a grain of salt. This is based on my experience and what I wish I knew when I started designing websites. I hope this helps somebody who is where I was and can help improve their design process.

As I continue to learn and grow as a designer, I realize two things:

  1. Never stop learning
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask

The best designers ask questions, and more questions lead to a better understanding. Design is always changing, and as designers, we need to as well.

Written by

21 yr old Product Designer. Masters of Information Student @ WSU. Student Athlete. Passionate about designing effortless digital experiences.

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