Three months ago I decided that I was no longer going to suck at design.
This seemed like an impossibly daunting task at first. I started with a project: redesigning the MHVLUG website. Then I went to Amazon looking for a book on web design. Some searching, reading reviews, looking at related/recommended books, and I bought a bunch of books. And I spent the next couple of months reading through them. The best books out of the lot have been The Design of Everyday Things, Don’t Make Me Think, and The Non-Designer’s Design Book. I read more than that, which is an important point. If you want to learn something new you’re going to need to read more than just 1 book.
Basic design, like most other things, has rules and patterns. Just knowing rules and patterns isn’t going to make you a great designer, but it will keep you from sucking too much. Having a basic theoretical framework gives you something to work with besides the really scary blank page. These books definitely did that for me.
Books will only get you so far, because you can nod along when reading a book, assuming that you understood, but until you go to apply it, you have no idea if you internalized it. Fortunately I had a project, so after a couple of months of reading, I dove into the project, doing the bulk of the work over Thanksgiving Holiday, with a lot of tweaking since. The results, I think are pretty good.
You don’t need to suck at anything. If there is something you wish you were better at, it’s within your control to get better at it. It takes hard work, time, and practice, but that’s just life.
I’ve been part of a process of redesigning the Poughkeepsie Farm Project website, both visually and functionally since about March. It’s a group effort, with a good number of people from the PFP, all of whom expressed interest at the PFP annual leadership kickoff. Last night we did our first review of the graphic designs that were graciously done pro bono for the project.
It amazed me a bit how varied the feedback was. On most points there were people that had absolutely opposite opinions, and who agreed or disagreed with a point varied over ever detail discussed. It was spiritted but friendly. After about an hour of discussion we boiled it down to a base design, plus 6 concrete pieces of feedback that everyone wanted to see integrated.
I was thinking about why there was so many differences of opinion, and I realized web design committees are so tough because our interactions with the web are so personal. Browsing the web is a solitary experience. Everyone forms their opinions of what is good and bad in a vacuum, not influenced by others. This leads to opinions on good vs. bad designs that vary drastically. Page width/height issues, rotating content/or not, colors that are good or bad, what makes a good logo, how busy should things be, how often should things change.
Every one of us has some strong opinions in those areas due to what each of us use the internet for. That diversity of purpose is what makes the web as ubiquitous as it is, but it definitely makes the design process challenging, because we all tend to believe the rest of the world uses the internet the way we do. Which, ironically, is the only demonstrably false opinion that arises during the process.