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Are a good web designer, but clients are not willing to pay you what you ask for? Your skills are well-developed and you know a lot. Nonetheless, you feel you hit a plateau and can’t raise your prices? This mini series will tell you about some mistakes that might be holding you back. Find out what to do to stand out and get more and better work.
8 Big Mistakes Holding You Back as a Web Designer Part 2.
8 Big Mistakes Holding You Back as a Web Designer Part 3.
The number one mistake you as a web designer can make is stop learning, improving your skills and expanding your skill set. Your ability to learn new knowledge, tips, tricks, practices and skills is your biggest asset. The moment when you stop learning is the moment when your progress stops as well. And, with that, also your career as a web designer, or your business.
This may sound like to far fetched. However, it is true. Anyone who wants to stay relevant and especially in demand as a web designer has to make learning a lifelong habit. In some sense, this person has to live on the edge. Let’s say there is a new technology that is getting traction and gaining popularity on web design scene. It is in her interest to start learning that technology.
The question of maturity and risky bets
In the beginning, every novel technology usually lives under the radar. At this stage, there is not so much buzz about it, if any. The technology is used mostly by innovators, geeks, early adopters and other technology enthusiasts. When the technology gets traction in these communities, it is often the right time to jump on the bandwagon.
At this stage, there is usually little to no demand for this technology, from the client side. Lack of demand at this moment is something natural. There are two simple reasons. First, clients often don’t know such technology even exists. Second, they know something in that sense exists, but they are afraid to use it. It is too new, too questionable. What if it fades away?
Clients’ primary interest is keeping their business running. They can’t afford to make such a wild bet and use almost unknown technology. Unfortunately, a typical reaction of a web designer is to do the same and avoid using that technology as well. Why should she invest her time into learning something that may be gone in a month or two? Our web designer will rather wait until the technology reach maturity. Understandable, but wrong.
Our web designer should ask a different question. What if it really gets popular? What if clients will see that spike in popularity and usage and want it as well? Sure, this just a guess. However, predicting that something will be gone soon is also just a guess. We are trying to make a decision based on something that is uncertain and there is no guarantee.
Fortunately, our web designer is smart. She decides to make a balanced bet. She decides to dedicate only a fraction of her time to learning this technology. So, if it stops being popular she will not lose too much. On the other hand, if it gets even more popular and clients start talking about it, she has a lead over may other web designers.
Now, when other web designers are just starting to be interested in it, she already knows at least the basics. At this moment, she can dedicate more time to learning and start expanding her knowledge of that technology, and keep her lead. When she gets good enough, she can include that technology in her skill set, and start benefiting from growing demand on the client side.
The same applies to new features, specifications and updates to already existing technologies. Don’t wait until it is mature and everyone else is using it, at least not in case of learning. You don’t have to start using it on client project. Start learning about it as soon as it gets traction and enthusiasts start to talk about it.
A great example of this are flex and CSS grid. There was a time when these two were also experimental. However, time have changed. Now, almost everyone uses flexbox to solve many problems. And, you can bet that CSS grid will follow similar path. Soon, it will become a regular practice in web design to create website layouts with CSS grid.
Coping with unpredictable future
This is probably what you are thinking about right now. This all sounds great, but there is still that “what if?” question. What if that technology fails? There were a lot of things in web design that came, shone, and went away. What if the technology in question will follow the same path? It is still investment of my time, time I can spend working on client projects.
You have to accept that you are already participating in this race. Whether you like it or not. Now you have two options you can choose from. First, you can start running right when the race starts. This means investing some fraction of your time and learning that technology. Second, you can wait until the technology in question reaches maturity before you start running.
Choosing the first option will automatically make you one of the leads of the race. Choosing the second will put you on the bottom, or somewhere close to it. Ask yourself, where do you want to start this race? And, remember that your participation in this race is not optional. You are a web designer and this is about technology relevant to web industry. You have to participate.
Web designer meets Vilfredo Pareto
The simplest way to solve this dilemma is following the example of that smart web designer. Take only a small fraction of your time and dedicate it to learning while leaving the rest for client projects. Remember that you don’t have to bet your house. You can make just a small bet that will help you stay in the game, or race, and maybe even make you one of the leads.
How much time should you dedicate to learning? There is something called Pareto principle. This principle says that “for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes” and it is used in many disciplines. We can use this ratio to estimate the fraction of time to dedicate to learning, at least as a starting point we can then tinker with.
So, spend 20% of your time on learning new skills, expanding your knowledge and improving the skills you already have. Then, spend the remaining 80% of your time on client projects and other work that helps you make money. Remember that with the increase of quality and quantity, especially the quality, of your skills grows the amount of money you can make as a web designer.
This is very closely related to what we just discussed. However, there is a difference. Learning is about gaining new knowledge, skills or improving the ones you already have. Experimenting is about putting that knowledge and skills into practice. It is also about tinkering and trying out and testing new ideas, approaches, practices, methods and even tools.
In some sense, experimenting is often about reinventing the wheel. For example, as a web designer, you can try new compositions for layouts. Next, you can tinker with different grids or create your own. You can also tinker with current and previous trends and even combine them. And, you can play with different forms of content, from text to video, audio, VR and AR.
When it comes to experimentation, your imagination is the only limit. The main idea I want you to understand is that this all is about standing out by doing something different. Take a look at some of the top web designers, such as Mike Kus, Dan Cederholm, Andrew Clarke, Simon Collison, Ethan Marcotte, Chris Coyier. What do these people have in common?
They are often using the same grids, layouts, CSS properties and frameworks as anyone else. In other words, they stick to the basics and use the same foundation. That one thing that makes their work stand out from the rest of crowd, is their courage to experiment. These people always surprise you with their work. This is why clients are paying more. It is the uniqueness.
When everything looks the same
In this day and age, web designers often look for inspiration on websites such as Dribbble and Behance. And, there is nothing wrong with it. It becomes a problem when a web designer move from seeking inspiration to merely copying work of others. Take a look at some of the works published on Dribbble, especially landing pages. You will soon realize that many of these pieces are using the same layout.
The only thing that changes, from piece to piece, is the content and visual decoration. The rest, the structure, the grid, and sometimes even the typefaces, are the same. In short, everything looks the same. This is something to avoid, unless you are a beginner web designer who is learning about web design and working on his skills. In that case, shadowing work of skilled designers can help you improve your work. This is the only exception.
Other than that, it will only hold you back. Why should someone pay you premium price for a website that looks like copied from Dribbble? People who want a regular website can go on websites such as Freelancer and get it built for $100 in a week. On the other hand, clients looking for above-average web designer are different. They want a website that is really good and unique. They want something nobody else has. And, they are willing to pay adequate price for getting exactly what they want.
There are many web designers make a few hundred dollars per website and have to work like crazy just to make ends meets. Then, there are others who charge thousands and work half the amount of time. One of the reasons is often what we already discussed above. Web designer from the first group is not willing to experiment. Web designer from the second group is willing to take that risk.
Quality, quantity and uniqueness
What will help you stand out as a web designer and get more and better work? Is it quality of your work or it is the quantity? Or is there some missing piece? It is both. And, the missing piece is uniqueness. Quality and uniqueness are on the first and second place. Quantity is third. Quantity will never help you if your work lacks quality and looks like dozens other websites.
Quality itself will help you stand out as a web designer. However, you will soon hit a plateau, if your work lacks uniqueness. Pixel-perfect imitation, or even copy, is still an imitation, or copy. You know it, other designers know it and, most importantly, clients know it as well. Clients paying the most want more. Quality is not everything. They want uniqueness.
If you think you hit a plateau, that something is holding you back, this might be the reason. Or, one of them. Your work looks great and your clients are glad to work with you. Nonetheless, they are not willing to pay you more because of what we just talked about. If you want to charge more you need to give your clients what they want, uniqueness. This is the missing piece.
The solution is following the web designers I mentioned. Build on basics. Use the foundational knowledge of design and web design. Then, give your imagination free rein. Yes, look for inspiration, anything that can spark your creativity, but don’t imitate or copy. Every one of your works should look different. Every one of your clients should be surprised.
Remember that it is not just about the quality or the quantity of your work. Your clients have to know they are getting something truly unique, something nobody else has. Achieve this and you will see that the plateau you have been fighting with for so long will slowly start to disappear. When this happens, there is nothing that can hold you back as a web designer. Or, is?
Closing thoughts on big mistakes holding you back as a web designer
This is all I have for you for this part of this mini series. I hope you enjoyed this article. Today we covered only the first two big mistakes from the full stack. Just as a reminder. The first mistake was not learning new technologies, skills and knowledge. The second mistake was avoiding experimenting, sometimes reinventing the wheel, and doing mostly what everyone else does.
It is not a lot. I agree. The reason for spending so much time on them is simple. These two mistakes are also those I did as a web designer the most often. They are also the mistakes other web designers are doing most often. Fortunately, these two mistakes are also those that are very easy to fix. As a web designer, you are the one who is in control.
It is only up to you to decide to start learning more. It is also only up to you to decide to stop following the crowd and start experimenting, tinkering and playing. It is a paradox, but the safest path is sometimes also the riskiest. In the world where almost everyone is looking at and doing what others are doing the key to stand out as a web designer is to do something different.
This means taking the risk and experimenting. It also means learning new things. Finally, it is about connecting these two and delivering unique, creative and bold solutions for your clients. Just following these steps can help you break through almost every plateau in your career, or business, and create a name for yourself as a top web designer, or for your business.
What’s next? In the next part we will talk about other big mistakes holding you back as a web designer. We start with browsers. Well, one specific browser. We will also talk a lot about design and code and how to balance these two. There will be also a part dedicated to tools and practices. Plus something more. With that, I look forward to seeing you here again. Until then, thank you for your time and have a great day!
Do you have any questions, recommendations, thoughts, advice or tip you would like to share with other readers of this blog, and me? Great! Please share it in a comment. Or, if you want to keep things more "private", feel free to contact me on twitter or send me a mail. I would love to hear from you.
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