8 Things you Might Believe about Web Design

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I guess I should start this post out by saying that I don’t consider myself a veteran of the web design industry. I have only been out of school for a little over 2 years but in that time and during my time in high school and college I have had the pleasure of having some great opportunities to become better at what I do. One of my favorites among these is the opportunity I have had to share my thoughts and experience with web design in blogs for various communities.

Between trying to write on a regular basis I try to stay involved with the community via all of the standard social networks and a lot of reading… a lot of reading. Through all of the reading and tweeting it is inevitable that I see similar ideas and topics coming out of different sources. When you make an effort to involve yourself with as much of the design community as possible there will be some overlap. However, there are some topics that seem to come up quite frequently and I fear that their popularity is driving people to actually believe them.

Now I’m not trying to say that any of these articles are necessarily wrong or always leading you down the wrong path but I can only imagine how misguided someone might become if they are interested in getting into web design and reading to learn about it. If you are just starting out in web design and reading popular design blogs then I would say you are on the right track. That’s what these blogs and communities are here for and I can assure you they all love the idea of helping out newcomers to the industry.

However, for anyone who is simply reading about web design or trying to get an idea of where they fit in around here there are a few things they may believe that concern me.

1. Telling everyone no will make you a millionaire

This one has always bothered me the most. There are hundreds of blog posts out there advising designers to say no to clients, or maybe suggesting how to find the right client. Does this client not have a high budget? Say no. Do they not have a clear and specific goal for their project right now? Say no. Did they fail to provide you with a timeline of progress in their initial e-mail? Say no. Did they spell your name wrong? Say no. Are they from that place that has a lot of fans for that sports team you can’t stand? Hell no.

So many people treat this topic like if you start turning clients down they will go back to the secret web design client cave and tell everyone there that you mean business. All of the sudden the next day you have 25 new requests for work in your inbox, all of which give you total creative freedom, promise fortune and fame, and need to be done any time in the next 7 years.

Look, if you are trying to get a start in web design or if you aren’t earning the money or experience you want then you might want to say yes to some of these people. Regardless of how enjoyable or profitable the experience may or may not be real world practice on someone else’s project will always trump your personal side project of making a web site for your dog Skittles.

2. You need to raise your prices now/money is terrifying

How much do you charge for your work? $15 an hour? Too low. $40 an hour? Too low. $300 an hour? Way too low. You’ve seen these articles, about how much you should charge for your service and how dangerous it is if you undervalue yourself. I know what you are looking for when you stumble upon these articles too. You want to find a portfolio and tell yourself “Hey, I could do this stuff. How much did this guy charge?” But you may not find it, that’s because talking about money is really scary.

Money is always such a hush-hush situation; this extends beyond web design of course. In the confines of web design (for the sake of having a topic here) there is a mixed opinion on whether we should share our rates or not. I really don’t know why, it’s not going to kill anyone. Here watch. I rarely take on jobs that will result in a paycheck lower than $1500USD when everything is all said and done. I don’t really have an hourly rate; I think it’s a rip off for my clients because the more I suck at my job the more it costs them. When I estimate project costs, I use rates anywhere from $30 – $75 an hour, depending on the complexity of the work.

Let’s get back to the original thought. Do you need to charge more for your work? The only real question that matters here is if you are bringing more value to the table than you are charging for. At the end of the day your clients should be getting a lot more value out of your web project than you are charging them for it. If you charge $500 for work that is worth $10,000 to the client then you have a right to raise prices. Don’t know what your work is worth to your client? Ask them.

3. Everything Adobe touches sucks

This is one you are more likely to run into following your favorite designers on twitter. Seems like a few times an hour a crashing Photoshop or Illustrator has destroyed an entire day’s work and the appropriate social media outrage ensues. Designers love to curse Adobe because their overpowering market share stifles the need for growth and development in their software solutions.

To some degree I have to admit this is true, we would all be better off if there was a legitimate competitor out there fighting for the designer market share and producing top notch solutions. But let us not forget how much easier Adobe makes our lives. Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver and the entire Creative Suite provide us with tools that make hard tasks simple. We take for granted how much we can do with this software, things that were impossible just a few years ago.

4. Everything Apple touches rocks

On the flip side of the Adobe bitch fest is the Apple orgy that exists among the design community. In case you haven’t noticed Apple allows us to listen to music, make phone calls, have computers with glowing fruit, send man to the moon, fight global hunger, etc.

Sure Apple has some good products, they put time into testing things out and putting user centered design at the core of their interfaces and products. I won’t deny that they have some impressive technology. Of course designers happily pay higher prices for a lot of these products too. Everyone should realize that Apple is not as profitable as it is just because they make fantastic products. They also do a great job of marketing these products and tricking you into thinking everything they do is a monumental world-changing event.

Good for Apple for convincing so many people that their technology cannot be beat and buying another product will surely shorten your life. I mean have you been on twitter during an Apple product unveiling? I’ve never seen so many digital nerdgasms.

5. Everyone has an iPhone

We should all be on the same page these days that ‘mobile’ or device browsing is a real thing that we need to implement into web design projects. Device oriented browsing activity is skyrocketing and not just in a way that implies users are always “on the go” with their devices. When it comes to smartphones the iPhone has set the standard for a few years now. And when it comes to talking about mobile browsing web design blogs will always start at the iPhone.

People are setting up mobile frameworks and media queries around the resolutions of iPhones and iPads. But why? You may be shocked to learn that the iPhone isn’t the only phone on the market with a good web browser. You may be even more shocked to see what the numbers really are.

Don’t be fooled by all of the articles out there about “designing this for the iPhone” and the amount of attention that designers give to Apple products. After all we did just discuss how obsessed we all are about Apple’s gadgets, since it’s what we have in our hands it’s what we refer to. However, all good designers know that it’s all about the users so do some research and see how many different types of devices they have and build your design solutions around that.

6. Staring at someone else’s work will solve your problems

“42 purple designs for your inspiration”, “85 creative uses of parallax scrolling”, “114 sexy login forms to inspire you”, “Showcase of 5,000 minimal web designs”. Do any of these titles sound familiar? They should. Design blogs load up with these kinds of articles. First of all they are SEO magnets but that is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For some reason we try to convince designers that the best way to come up with a creative solution to your problem is to look around and see what other people have done. In reality this just gives you someone else’s solution to your problem. Finding your own creative way will always involve purging yourself of the ideas of others, which will never involve reading these kinds of posts.

Now, there is nothing wrong with seeing what other designers are up to and taking joy in seeing how others have solved problems. There is a lot to be learned here but these kinds of posts are educational, not “inspiration”.

7. Freelancers are always taking care of business things

Does freelancing suck? Is it awesome? Who knows! People who are freelancers, have been freelancers, or want to be are always talking about whether it’s worth it, what are the risks vs. rewards? One thing that seems to always come up is that when you go freelance all of the time and effort involved in doing it on your own is a daunting task. Between proposals, invoices, time tracking, taxes, marketing, communication and learning is there any time left to design?

Well… yes. None of these things take a lot of time unless you suck at them. The good news being that the first time you do all of these things you will suck at them. The first time you file taxes as a freelancer you will probably curse yourself for not keeping better track of your income and expenses. But everything has growing pains. Freelancing is not a terrifying task that consumes your life with business management tasks.

8. Everyone involved in spec work immediately bursts into flames

I have a challenge for you. Find a designer you respect and revere and ask them what they think about spec work. You may come away under the impression that we all get together once a week to sing gospels about the beauty of raising rates and denounce the evil of spec work as the devil of web design. A lot of people might just hate me for saying this but this isn’t true.

Spec work comes in several degrees of supposed evil. First off there is the stuff that we have all done. Spec work that leads to opportunities is perfectly acceptable in my book. If a potential client has reached out to you and told you that they have a few designers in mind and want to get a grasp of their talent levels by giving out a simple project you might want to ignore all the hype about evil spec work. This kind of stuff is standard practice when applying for a full time design position so what should make designers exempt?

Beyond that we see a special circle of hell reserved for crowdsourcing projects and companies who invite a mass of designers to all design them a logo for which 1 person might get paid. In these situations you simply ask, are you an established designer with clients? Do you have work? Are you broke as a joke? If you find yourself leaning towards the joke end of things or you are just getting started as a designer this kind of work won’t hurt you. What you are gaining here is experience towards a real world project with real requests and restraints. Pay day or not, we all started learning with these kinds of projects, if you have the opportunity to do it for someone other than a family member or friend, take advantage.

So who to believe?

It is important to realize that there is still valuable information to be taken away from a lot of the articles that cover these topics. Any opportunity we have to learn from the experiences and expertise of others should be cherished. However, these eight topics are among those that I consider to be on the wrong end of the publicity-to-importance scale. We see articles about rates, products, and clients all the time yet none of these things are actually at the core of what a web designer does.

So feel free to experience these kinds of articles and build an opinion on them but keep in mind that there are very few publications out there that are gospel when it comes to design advice. No amount of reading and social networking will be able to replace practice and experience. So while reading is a great way to learn, doing remains the best way to get better.

3 Responses to “8 Things you Might Believe about Web Design”

  1. Andrés Max

    Very good points Jason, couldn’t have said it better myself. We work in an industry in which we need to stay competitive and not let egos drive the way we work and do business.

    Reply

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