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Being a successful web designer is hard. It requires wearing two hats, balancing two sides of the craft. Web designer has to be very good at design as well as with technology. Today, we will discuss the importance of keeping these two in balance. We will also discuss what happens when there is an imbalance. But before that, we have to talk about IE. So, let’s see what we can do to become better web designers.
8 Big Mistakes Holding You Back as a Web Designer Part 1.
8 Big Mistakes Holding You Back as a Web Designer Part 3.
Waiting for IE to die
Have you seen the movie Fight Club? If not, add this to your to do list. It is really a very good movie with incredible actors. I have to warn you. You may need to watch two or three times, and maybe even more, to really get the main point behind the story, and the philosophy of the movie. On the other hand, if you do know this movie, then you should also know that there is one rule everyone in Fight Club has to follow. What is this rule? You do not talk about Fight Club.
What has this movie, and this specific rule, to do with web design, and you being a web designer? No, there is no secret Web Design Club. So, don’t worry. You don’t have to punch anyone or anything like that. However, let’s imagine a scenario in which there is such a club, a Web Design Club. And, let’s also imagine that there are some specific rules every member has to follow. Then, one of these rules, probably the second, would be this: You do not talk about Internet Explorer.
Why Internet Explorer still exists?
Internet Explorer is one of these things every web designer knows about, but no one wants to talk about it. If you tried to develop a website for Internet Explorer 7,8,9,10 or 11, this is not a surprise for you. Trying to get something work flawlessly on almost any version of Internet Explorer is a nightmare. Okay, version 11 was maybe a small improvement. Nonetheless, Internet Explorer is still something we want to disappear from browser usage statistics graphs and finally forget it.
Unfortunately, there are still millions of people using this browser. Why? There are multiple reasons. Some people are still running systems such as Windows Vista, 7 or even XP. Again, why? You know, cheap and weak corporate computers and tight budgets and also many pirated versions of Windows, especially in Asia. This is not the whole problem, only the first piece. The second piece is that all modern browsers stopped supporting for these ancient versions of Windows.
Now, put these two pieces together and we will quickly understand why Internet Explorer still exists. In short, millions of people have no alternative they can switch to, other than Internet Explorer, unless they decide to either buy a new operating system or new computer. If we consider who are the main users of Internet Explorer (companies, pirates, and old people) we will also understand why these options are not interesting. It is, as usually, a question of money.
Many of these people don’t have the resources and simply can’t afford to buy a new computer or operating system. Then, there are those people who may have the resources, but they are not willing to pay for a new computer or operating system. Especially for these people, the pain of using Internet Explorer is still better option. Whatever the case is, the result is the same. Millions of people using something that should be available to see only in museums, not browser usage statistics graphs.
First way to get out
Now we know what the cause of the incredible endurance of Internet Explorer is. Or, at least one of the causes. The question that follows is, and to which every web designer wants to know the answer, how can we get out of this trap? I think that there are two options. The first option is the faster and less painful. Well, it is faster and less painful for you, the web designer. You can just ignore it. Forget there is such a thing as Internet Explorer. Focus on Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. And, Edge.
This decision will lead to consequences. Positive consequence will be that you will spend less time debugging your website. You can then use this time for improving the website in other areas, such as user experience, performance, accessibility, security, etc. Negative consequence will be that some websites you build may not work well on some versions of Internet Explorer. This might be a problem if your client wants the website to work properly and some of her users and customers use Internet Explorer.
How you react on this is totally up to you. You can try to persuade your client that Internet Explorer is a thing of the past. You can also add that her users or customers, currently using Internet Explorer, will sooner or later switch to modern browser. In that case, the website will work like a charm. If you have the courage and your situation is good, you can also decide to reject the project. In the end, you are the web designer and you decide what work you accept. Or, you can try the second way.
Second, better, way to get out
Second way, or option, is to dodge the bullet, as they say. Accept the hard reality that Internet Explorer is still here and will be for a while. And, even when IE starts to die out, it will take a few years until it will finally disappear. Then, do the best thing you can do. Instead of ignoring Internet Explorer and its user base, you will actually start with it. This means two things. First, you and your client will sit down and talk about this issue of browser support. What specific browsers should the website support?
When you and your client arrive at specific versions, it will be time for the step number two. This second step is about following strategy for web design and development called progressive enhancement. Progressive enhancement is about providing the core functionality of the website for as many browsers as possible. In other words, the website should load at least in plain text version everywhere, every time, on every device and connection. Well, at least almost every.
Then, you progressively add more advanced layers, functionalities and enhancements. These enhancements may not work well everywhere, but they are also not necessary for viewing the basic content of the website. For example, parallax, audio effects, animations and transitions, modals and so on. These are the nice-to-have features, not must-have. You can progressively add as many features and layers as you want and narrow the scope of support. Just make sure the basic website loads and works.
Don’t let IE hold you back
This could be a good joke. Unfortunately, it is the reality. Every web designer has to be ready for the moment when she hears “will it work on Internet Explorer?” This is almost inevitable. Yes, we should care about all users, even those using tools such as Internet Explorer. However, that doesn’t mean we should live in the past and let IE hold us back. Let’s use strategies such as progressive enhancement to provide the basic experience to everyone.
Focusing too much on design
There are usually two ways to become a web designer. First, you like code and programming. Suddenly, you also find interest in design. You decide to give it a shot, pursue both, and become a web designer. Since you started with code, your portfolio is probably full of that, code. You might have a lot of interesting projects and high reputation on StackOverflow. The problem is the design part of your work. Here, you have either almost nothing to show or completely nothing.
As a consequence you decide to focus the majority of your time on design. This is a good choice. It will help you work on your design skills and get better as web designer. And, you can also use your side projects and personal work to populate your portfolio with examples. This will give you some material to show to your clients, at least until you get some web design project. Then, you can replace your personal work with what you’ve created for your clients.
When too much focus becomes dangerous
This is all good, until it is not. It can happen that you will focus too much on design. As a result, your programming skills will start to deteriorate. You will slowly lose touch with current technologies. This is something you have to avoid. As a web designer, you have to constantly work on both sides of your craft and keep them balanced. In other words, it is important for you to stay on the edge with both, technologies as well as design and current trends.
So, set some time aside and take a look at your portfolio. Is it balanced? Do you have really good material to show. Is this material well-distributed between development and design? Or, is your portfolio stronger on side and weaker on the other? If it is, switch your focus for a while on that weaker side. When you reach a balance, you can either switch your focus to the previous state. Just keep both sides balanced.
Focusing too much on code
This is basically about the same thing as the previous section, but in opposite direction. You focus too much on code. As a result, your portfolio is again not balanced. We already discussed the most of what we can talk about here in the previous section. However, it is still important to talk about it, at least briefly. Focusing too much on code can be as dangerous as focusing too much on design. It is important for your progress in work and career to keep both these sides balanced.
I wanted to mention this because this is where I made a lot of mistakes. And, I am still not out from this trap. My Codepen and GitHub are full of projects. However, my design portfolio is weak. To say my work is unbalanced is a strong understatement. The consequence is smaller amount of new projects and higher amount of continuous, for stable clients. The solution is, as it usually is, simple. Switching my focus from code and programming to design.
It is time to switch
If you are in the same situation, or you think you are getting there, do the same. Switch your focus and focus more on design for a while. Start pitching clients who need either “full-stack” web design (design + implementation) or the design part of web design. Or, fire up Sketch, XD, Photoshop or the graphic editor you like and start working on personal projects. And, most importantly, finish them. Keep in mind that project you abandon is just as good as project you have never even started. It doesn’t exist.
It doesn’t matter if what you show is a personal project you did for yourself or something you did for your client. What matters is that you have something you can show to people who might be interested in hiring you, or your studio. Also, keep in mind that you can always replace your personal projects with those you did for your clients. In this way, you slowly transform your portfolio of your personal work into a gallery of great client work that will blow everyone’s mind.
How you get there is up to you. You can have a blank portfolio, with nothing to show and take every opportunity to add something to your portfolio. Or, you can do the same and work harder by working on personal projects. This path is harder and less comfortable. However, it usually leads to results and helps you build a name as a web designer faster. Which path you choose is up to you. The only thing that matters is the end result, portfolio full of great work you can present.
Closing thoughts on big mistakes holding you back as a web designer
This was the second batch of mistakes that could be holding you back as a web designer. The first part was more about the “soft” side. If you remember, we were talking about learning and experimenting and almost ignored the “hard” side of this craft. It was for this reason why we switched our focus on the “hard” side of being a web designers and talked more about technology and design, or the hard skills.
These two sides, the “soft” (you & your soft skills) and “hard” (technology & design), are the foundation of web design. And, it is important for every web designer to keep them balanced, just as we have to keep in balanced our knowledge of technology and design. We have to stay on the edge in both areas if we want to make continuous progress as web designers. The “soft” side will never work without the “hard”.
If there is imbalance, one area can’t supplement the other. This was the main theme or the general idea for this part. And, it is also the final message we should remind ourselves about. It all has to be in balance. When there is a weakness, we have to find it and do what it takes to correct it. Otherwise, it will hold us back. What’s coming next? The final chapter will be about both sides.
We will discuss topics from the “soft” side as well as from the “hard” side. And, we will also talk about marketing and promotion. How to get our work out into the world and build the name for ourselves, our business, our design studios. With that, I hope you enjoyed this second part and learned something that will help you make progress on your path of becoming a successful web designer. Thank you for your time and have a great day!
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