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5 Pitfalls to Avoid for New Web Designers

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New web designers often find themselves in a common scenario: fresh out of college or just barely starting your career... but unlike other careers where there are defined training programs to show you the ropes, you end up wandering around the internet, hoping to pick up enough experience to land a job. Today, I am going to discuss a few areas where rookie web designers can drop the frustration and begin making high quality web sites faster.

Pitfall 1. Don't Try To Re-Invent Layout

A very common theme amongst beginners is trying to "re-invent the wheel" when it comes to layout. Why? One of the reasons that this happens is younger designers have little experience with actually having to develop the sites they design.

Other beginners hope to revolutionize the industry by creating wild and crazy approaches to simple design problems.

Perhaps a better analogy is trying to re-invent man's invention of flight. What we take for granted right now took hundreds of years of trial and error to perfect. Just like flight, it would be silly to waste time trying to re-invent some of the fundamental design solutions for the most common problems on the web.

Common design themes like navigation, fixed content columns, and a footer are all perfectly acceptable ways to start a design... they aren't boring because they work, they are effective and web surfers have come to expect them.

Starting with a basic layout like this is a great way to start a project on an established, successful layout.

There's nothing wrong with improvising on a design or introducing new and exciting ideas, but learning when and where to introduce these kinds of ideas is crucial to succeeding as a designer. Remember, a web design should be functional first and foremost - interesting visuals and funky design patterns should always take a back seat to practicality.

Here are some tips:

  • Explore the Internet. Go out and look at your favorite five websites and acknowledge their layout. Notice anything similar? Different?
  • Don't ever just start from scratch; With any project, take a look around the web to see how other designers laid out similar sites
  • Don't dismiss a common layout because it's "everywhere"
  • Define a desired layout and then build a website with only basic colors and standard fonts. Design for usability first, not appearance.

Remember that there are not 5,000 different types of web layouts out there... If you are a new designer and your website does not resemble anything you have ever seen, chances are you didn't invent something new and useful, you just need to better understand layout. Creativity and innovation will come with time - learning the "fundamentals" is the best way to get there though!

Here on some layout tutorials that might help you get started:

Pitfall 2. Don't Get Lost in "Design Land"

If haven't already hit this stage in learning design, you soon might find it. I call this phase, "Getting Lost in Design Land". Quite simply, once you go there, it's hard to pull yourself back out. There is literally a never ending supply of gimmicks and "tools" on the internet at your disposal.

New designers often look at things like Photoshop brushes, flash plug ins, vector graphics, crazy fonts, and stock photography as "cheats".

For intermediate to skilled designers, these are invaluable tools that are used sparingly for specific tasks. They are distractions for learning designers though, and can easily become crutches rather than the tools they were intended to be. Rookies find brushes and these interactive elements as "flashy" and they feel as though incorporating them into their design will make people think they are more advanced than they are.

In some cases, I have actually seen people pull this off... but the reality is that newer designers get lost in these things and use them to an inappropriate extent. Experienced designers can spot this kind of gimmicky silliness a mile away.

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Tips to Help You Overcome Add-On Addiction:

  • Don't use them! Force yourself to find alternate methods of doing things. Instead of downloading some web 2.0 buttons from a random site, head over to PSDTUTS and learn how to build them from scratch!
  • Allow yourself to be average at first. Instead of having some "awesome" fire breathing dragon at the top of your page, try and do something clever but subtle with typography.
  • Don't look for reasons or excuses to go and use a plug in or brush. If you are dead set on using something of this nature, look for and seek out exactly what you are looking for.
  • When you are in a situation where you are seeking a plug in or Photoshop brush, use proven vendors. Codecanyon, Graphic River, etc. Random things downloaded off the internet can oftentimes cause you trouble or make your site look really bad.
  • Clean out (or completely purge) your plugin and font libraries once every year - only keep the absolute essentials. You'll be surprised what you can live without!

Here are some safe resources for professional downloadable plug-ins and content:

Pitfall 3. Setting Unrealistic Goals for Yourself

Today's up and coming web designer is definitely an ambitious fellow. Most web designers spend a great deal of time learning on their own. It takes a special person to spend the amount of time it takes to master web design. With this in mind, it is also imperative that the goals you set on initial projects are realistic goals.

Ambitious people always have ambitious goals. Many times, when sitting down with new designers to go over their current project, the focus seems to always stray to what they "want to add"... but adding things isn't always the best solution to a problem, is it?

For Example, "I'm going to add a video up here, an image slider over here, and I want this basketball to fly in from the right and go through the hoop over here." Obviously, my first question is "Do you know how to execute these ideas?" The frequent response is a smile and a shaking of the head. It sounds great and all, but a bit unrealistic. Rookie designers spend a lot of time thinking about what they wish they could do, and not enough time learning what they can or should do.

Ways to Avoid Unrealistic Goals:

  • Set one "reach" goal per project. If you are doing your portfolio site and you want a lot of things you don't know how to do, pick one of them and make it a goal to learn how to do it before the site is complete.
  • Don't be discouraged that you are not capable of what more advanced designers are. Nobody will think less of you for starting simple and slowly building your skillset over time.
  • Ask questions! A simple, "Is this possible?" question on a message board would net you not only an answer, but oftentimes someone might attach a link to a tutorial explaining exactly how to accomplish what you are after.

Pitfall 4. Build Your Design Arsenal

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Web design is a very repetitive process... Most of your sites will start out the same way - and a lot of the techniques that you use carry over from site to site. Understanding this early on in your career can be extremely helpful in learning the craft of web design.

Rather than starting every project from scratch, you can learn to start with your own library of "building blocks" and "common design solutions" that you can customize to a particular project. Your "design arsenal" will naturally build up over time, and you'll become a lot quicker (and better!) by applying what you've learned on past projects to your future ones.

Somewhere on your computer, you should keep track of everything that you do. If you did some special CSS effect on an image today, next month you should not be Googling the same effect. Have a folder where you keep your resources for future sites and you'll quickly find yourself speeding up because you're not constantly starting from scratch. Remember, it's easier to customize an existing solution rather than trying to start completely from scratch. Yes, there is a time and a place for 100% customized solutions, but a design library will help you in your day to day projects.

What this also does is build confidence in yourself as a capable designer without supervision. When you learn something today by asking good questions and listening carefully, you set yourself up for success by keeping that lesson on file for future reference. Your goal when learning the ins and outs of designing web sites should always be to be able to do things without asking or looking for help someday.

Tips to Help Maintain Learning Resources

  • Set up easy to remember folders on your computer or hard drive. In these folders keep complete sites, plug-ins, tutorials, browser fixes, etc.
  • When you ask a question, take in the answer. Never ask a question to just get over a hurdle. Such as "Why is everything messed up in Internet Explorer 6?" Once you find out, you should be set up for many more battles with the infamous browser, not back on the message board next week with the same question.
  • Make sure you are commenting on all of your code. This is extremely important at the beginning because weeks later you might be able to copy and paste code, but you might not remember why you did something. If a comment is there, you can re-use the code and still remember what exactly you are doing with it as well.

Pitfall 5. Avoiding Professional Networking

Most people understand what Social Networking is and how to use it... but too often people only use "fun" social networking and avoid building professional networks that will help them through the rest of their career.

As an up and coming web developer, you should make sure you are using social networking to help you gain access to the things that are going to be of the most use to you. Myspace and Facebook are great for keeping in contact with people and making new friends. Twitter on the other hand, can be used as an excellent source for web design knowledge. Every site that offers training and tutorials has a twitter account. Follow enough people affiliated with web design and you will have a constant stream of updates, round ups, and tutorials daily. Places like Freelance Switch Message Boards or sites such as Creattica offer great opportunities for feedback and website reviews

Tips for Not Missing Out On Networking

  • Even if you are not a "post my life for the world to see" type of person, it is imperative that you get out on the front lines and see what's out there. You don't have to be a social butterfly to get a huge stream of information via twitter. You can quietly and anonymously take part in this huge sensation.
  • Put your work out there. Whether you feel confident in your work, or you feel like you need some work, the only way to know for certain what people think of your work is to put it out there. Places like Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter are perfect to make a post and let the world look at what you have done.
  • Don't wait to have the perfect portfolio or resume to get started.
  • Become friends with your peers. Believe it or not, you might be able to help someone even if you think you don't know anything about web design. Yu would be surprised that in a classroom of 20 new designers, everyone is so conditioned that they have to "ask the teacher." The truth is, the guy sitting next to you either had the same question or will have the same question after you. You never know unless you ask. By doing this you will spend a lot more time working and less time waiting for answers.


The great thing about starting out with web design is that everyone pretty much begins their journey in the same place... so even the most experience web designers out there know exactly what it's like to get started. There's absolutely nothing wrong with not knowing all of the in's and out's of web design - and there's nothing to ever be ashamed of. Avoiding the common pitfalls that we discussed in this article can help you to succeed quicker, but the thing to really remember is to keep on practicing, learning, and trying out new things! A list like this can be helpful for stopping bad habits before they happen, but nothing will replace the experience you'll get from immersing yourself in the industry, making friends with other web designers, and finding out your own personal style and approach to design.

We hope you enjoyed the article! Post your own "Pitfalls" down below in the comments section.

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