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Web is moving incredibly fast. And, this speed is increasing almost every month. What are some of the web design skills you need to survive in this fast-paced environment? What skills you need to stay on the edge and thrive? This is the subject of this article. You will learn about the first three skills you need to learn and master. Some of these skills are obvious and some not. Also, some will have more impact than other. Yet, all of them are worth thinking about. Let’s begin.
Rest of web design skills in part 2.
The most important that has to be among your web design skills is visual design. Yeah, I know. Who would have guessed that? This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not so obvious. Today, a lot of people are entering web design from a very broad range of backgrounds. I saw web designers coming from fields such as psychology, architecture, business, communication, computer science, and this is just the top of the list. Even a hairdressers may one day decide to work in web design.
As a result, the level of web design skills vary a lot. Many of these people have no formal visual design training. They know nothing at all about layout, composition, typography or color theory, not to mention the design process. I don’t want to discuss whether web designers, or designers in general, should go to design school. Well, we’ve already discussed this topic. The fact is that a lot of great web designers developed their web design skills without going to design school.
It is also true that some people have an intuition for visual design. What about the rest? Should they just give up and move on? Definitely not. Anyone can develop all the web design skills necessary to do great work. All you need is to put in hours, weeks, months, and years of learning and deliberate practice. If you want to be a great web designer this skill is necessary. In the age of Internet, the resources are abundant. So, there is no excuse and the only one stopping you is you.
Where to start?
Start with learning about graphic design. Namely, learn about layout and composition. In this article you will some very good tips. Another great article is Design Principles on SmashingMagazine. When you are done with that, get train your typography skills. I recommend my 33 Laws of Typography series. If you want some tips for working with typography in web design, read 6 Simple Secrets of Perfect Web Typography. I know, catchy title.
These are the must-haves of web design skills. In addition, there is another skill you should train. It is drawing or sketching. Call it whatever you like. A lot of great web designers are still using pen and paper to sketch their initial ideas. Yes, I’m talking about those old school tools. It doesn’t matter how far the technology is. Simple pen and piece of paper are still amazing when it comes to brainstorming your ideas. These tools are very cheap. And, they don’t need electricity.
I recommend that you include sketching into your daily practice of web design skills. Don’t worry, you don’t have to create master piece. Just learn how to draw the basic shapes such as line, square, circle and triangle. Again, remember that it doesn’t have to look great. It is just for outlining the rough idea quickly. You don’t have to present it anywhere. When you find the idea you like, you can create more presentable materials using some wireframing software.
Let’s move on to something simple. Should designers code? I’m just kidding. Starting this debate would be like pour gasoline into the fire. Although it could be interesting to know what do you think about this subject. So, feel free to share your opinion through comment or send me a ping on twitter. My opinion is that knowing how to code should be one of the web design skills. My reason for thinking this is simple. I believe it can make you a better designer. Still too vague.
Learning to code and systems thinking
Why should coding, if it is part web design skills, make you a better designer? Coding is great tool to teach you how to think in terms of components and system. Sure, you can learn this also by studying design topic such as layout and composition. However, this is not guaranteed. In design, this type of thinking is rather a bonus than a prerequisite. A lot of web designers have no idea about what modular or atomic design are. Still, this doesn’t prevent them from doing their work.
In case of coding the situation is different. Have you ever seen a veteran coder or programmer who was not working with code in the form of components and systems? Meaning, writing reusable code and keeping it DRY? This is very unlikely. This guy, or girl, would soon jump out of the window. Imagine writing the same lines or blocks of code over and over again. Even someone who loves writing code would get mad doing this.
It is important to remember that we are talking about working with code in the long term. If you are working with code only sporadically, you can code in a way that would bring other web designers and developers to tears. In the long term, you would be either dead–probably a suicide– or educated–master of thinking in the terms of systems and components. You can call this a tough love, but it works. Can you say the same about design?
Learning to code and problem solving
Systems thinking is not the biggest benefit of learning to code. Although there are many situations where this type of thinking is beneficial, you will not use it everywhere. However, coding can make you better at solving problems. Think about it. Writing a program is basically about solving some problem. You have something you need to solve or automate so you write a program to do it for you. To do so, you need to know what steps the program has to make.
If you want to solve any problem effectively, you need to divide it into smallest steps. When you want to create a website you also need to outline set of steps. These steps include outline the structure of the website, sketching, wireframing, etc. Otherwise, it is very unlikely that you will get to the finish line. Or, that you will achieve a good result. Can you build a website without being a good problem solver? Yes, you can do it in reasonable amount of time. However, it will suck.
Is the same true about coding? No. Unless you are working on some really easy problem, you need to break the problem into smaller pieces. Otherwise, it will take you a lot of time to solve it. And, it is still not guaranteed that you will reach the finish line. If you want to know how interrelated coding and problem solving is, go and find some exceptionally good programmer. I will bet he is also exceptionally good problem solver. It is like good gymnast without muscles. Not possible.
Also, this is one of the arguments for teaching kids to code at school. Thankfully, it is never too late to start. So, even if you are not the youngest, you can improve your web design skills. Code or not?
Better relationships with developers
Another benefit of knowing how to code is that it will make you a better teammate. How many times did you hear or read about some problems when designers and developers work together? When web designer and developer work together it can be difficult for both sides to get the work done. First problem is when designer creates some design developer has no clue how to realize. Also, it doesn’t help if designer delivered only PSD files, without assets and some information.
How could the designer know all this? Sure, he could ask the developer. However, what if that developer doesn’t have time to talk about these things? The same about the designer. He might have other projects to work on. Let’s now assume that our designer knows how to code, at least a little bit. Then, the situation will be completely different. In that case, designer can put himself into developer’s shoes. He has some idea about what he would need to code the design.
Thanks to knowing to code, our designer can predict what will the develop need and provide him with these assets upfront. As a result, there are will not be as many things that create the tension between the designer and developer. Sure, it would be awesome if the developer knew something about design. Then, he could put himself into designer’s shoes as well. Is it too far-fetched? Well, if designer can learn a bit about coding, the develop can learn a bit about design. Let’ be fair.
Where to start?
I like to think about this as either learning a foreign language or using vocabulary or translator. Can talk with people if you have vocabulary, but don’t know any words? Yes, you can. However, what will happen when you don’t have access to your vocabulary? For example, the battery in your phone dies and you can’t use the app. Or, you have a physical dictionary, but you forgot it somewhere. Now, you are screwed. This is not true if you know at least a few words.
Work with frameworks
My last advice related to coding is about learning to use frameworks. A lot of web design projects are built on frameworks such as Bootstrap or Foundation. These frameworks do a lot of heavy lifting for you. And these frameworks are not that hard to learn. So, you don’t need to take all your web design skill to advanced level if you want to work with them. In a fact, you can build simple website just by copying and pasting snippets of code from documentation of the framework.
Communication & presentation
The last of the web design skills we will discuss today is communication and presentation. Presenting your ideas to other people will be part of your job as a web designer. These people will usually be either your teammates and colleagues or clients. Creating great design is not everything. That is just one half of your job. You must also have to present your design properly if you want to get other people on board. Otherwise, they may not approve it.
Every designer must learn how to communicate and present his ideas in a way people outside the design industry can understand it. This is one the web design skills that often separates the best from the rest of the crowd. The best designers know what to say and how to say it. They can use their words to inspire others with their vision for the design. As a result, their approval rate is a lot higher. And, they also get much better clients, paychecks as well.
A lot of designers are introverts. For these people, the idea of presenting their design to other people can sound horrific, not to mention speaking in front of a large crowd. Still, communication is just another skill anyone can learn. It takes practice, but it is doable. In the terms of some resources, I recommend two specific books. The first one is How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. This is a classic. It is probably the best book about communication.
The second book is Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini. As the title says, this book is more about persuading people. As such, it is more focused on psychology behind our decision making process. So, I recommend starting with Carnegie and then move to Cialdini. Also, Cialdini recently wrote another book called Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. This book can be the third step to becoming a master communicator.
Closing thoughts on web design skills
This is all I have for you today. Some final words? Remember this. Everything requires practice. You can’t learn any of these web design skills just by reading books or blogs. Reading can help you get started, but it will not get you to the finish line. You need to invest a decent amount of time in practice. Also, you should go back to what you’ve already learned sometimes. It is like learning new words. Reading once is not enough. You have to read it repeatedly to remember it.
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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