Challenging Yourself as a Designer
Web design is a profession that requires constant growth and development of abilities in order to remain competitive. Technology is obviously changing constantly, and design trends certainly do not stand still either. A designer who is not committed to improvement will eventually become a designer that is searching for work.
A few weeks ago I published a post that examined a number of different skills that web designers can work to improve, including coding, graphic design, project management, SEO, marketing, communication, and more. If you haven’t seen that post there are links to some great resources that you may want to check out. Taking that idea of constant improvement a step further, putting yourself in challenging situations is a great way to promote growth. Sure, challenges are sometimes uncomfortable, but if you are actively seeking out the right types of challenges you can drastically improve your marketable skills as a designer.
Areas for Potential Challenges
A Different Style of Design
Many designers use a particular style for a lot of their projects. If you find yourself designing almost exclusively in one style, why not try to challenge yourself by creating a site with a completely different style? Do you design primarily minimalistic websites? Try your hand at creating something a bit more involved. Do you often find yourself creating sites with a typical two or three column layout? Challenge yourself to design a site with a unique and creative layout. Being able to design effectively in a wide variety of different styles can be difficult, but it can give you an edge over other designers.
Designing for a Different Industry
Typically, websites within a particular industry will be somewhat similar to other sites in that same industry. Because of this, designing a website for an industry that you have not been involved with before can be a good way to stretch yourself. Some designers and design firms specialize in a particular industry, which can be a good strategy, but if you are looking for a challenge to improve your skills, look for some diversity in this area.
Building an E-Commerce Site
E-Commerce websites can help you to develop several different skills. In order to be effective the site will need a shopping cart system that is easy to use, a search function, proper design and layout that features the products appropriately and encourages sales, and more. If you haven’t yet developed an E-Commerce site, it could be a good experience.
Designing Your Own Icons
Many websites use icons for visual attractiveness as well as to communicate with visitors and improve usability. Some designers create their own icons, but others use icons that are freely available or those that have been purchased for use. Have you ever tried creating your own icons for a specific project? Unique, attractive, and intuitive icons can really have a significant impact on the quality of a design.
Learning a New Coding Language
Re-Designing a Site with Only Changes to the CSS
CSS Zen Garden shows how much can be accomplished simply by changing a stylesheet without touching the structure and contents of a page. When re-designing a site, have you ever tried to limit your changes to CSS, or do you always rebuild the site? Of course, in order to pull this off you will need to be working with a website that is coded very well in order to have a good starting point.
Building a Full Website on WordPress
WordPress is the most popular choice for bloggers, but it also has the capability to run an entire website. A growing number of designers are using WordPress’s CMS features to create a full website rather than just a blog. Once you have an understanding of how the WordPress system works, designing for WP is not much different or more difficult than designing a standard website.
Fluid Width or Fixed Width
Do you almost always build sites with a fixed width? Why not develop your skills by working with a fluid width on your next project, or vice versa? Of course, the decision of fluid width vs. fixed width is something that should be considered on each project and you should make that decision based on what is best for each specific situation, not what is best for the development of your skills. With that being said, keep an open mind to the layout options and be ready and willing to try something new when it is appropriate.
Increased Use of Photoshop and Graphical Elements
Some designers are very skilled with Photoshop and the graphics design aspect of web design. On the other hand, some are lacking skills in this area. The graphic design of a site can make a huge impact on the overall quality of the site, so this is definitely a skill worth developing. If you are looking to learn more about Photoshop there are a number of websites and blogs dedicated to tutorials, PSDTuts is my personal favorite (also see our collection of Photoshop tutorials for better navigation ).
Coding from a PSD File
Many designers prefer to start their designs with a PSD file and then develop the code from there. Larger design firms will often have people dedicated to designing the PSD files and others dedicated to coding the site from the file. There are also a growing number of services available from companies that will take your PSD file and create the code for you. If you haven’t worked with this method before, it can be another challenge that will improve your abilities as a designer. Try taking a PSD file that has already been created and code the site based on the file.
Creating a PSD Mockup
Looking at the same issue from the other end of the spectrum, if you typically create your sites from scratch by coding the pages from the start, try creating a design with Photoshop before doing any coding. If you can develop this skill effectively you may be able to save a considerable amount of time by not coding for a design that really isn’t going to work.
Working with a Team of Designers
While some designers typically work on their own, others spend a good portion of their time working on projects with other designers and developers. If you normally work by yourself, this is another potential area for growth. Being able to work with others is necessary for larger projects and it will open up the possibilities and opportunities for you in the future. Regardless of whether you are working with other freelance designers or if you are working with other designers who are your co-workers, it will be a different process than if you were working on your own.
Many designers and design firms outsource a portion of their work. Do you have experience with outsourcing? While outsourcing work can bring new challenges and potential pitfalls, if done well it can increase your productivity and profitability. If you have more work than you can handle on your own, outsourcing may be a good solution.
Typically pages scroll vertically and not horizontally. There are a small number of websites that are designed just the opposite (see The Horizontal Way to see a gallery of some examples). While I’m not personally a fan of horizontal design, some clients may want this type of layout. Being able to effectively design a horizontal layout can make you more versatile as a designer.
Design a One Page Site
One page websites can be a great choice in the appropriate situation. Most projects demand more information than can be presented on a single page, but you are likely to run into a client at some point that wants an attractive one page site. This is just one more style of design that you can challenge yourself with.
Design a Logo
Some graphic designers also do logo design, but good logo design requires skills that many web designers do not have (including me). Being able to design a high quality logo can improve the overall product that you offer and it can help clients by keeping more services in one place rather than going to multiple different designers.
What’s Your Experience?
In what ways do you make an effort to challenge yourself? How does it affect your skills and your abilities?