You’ve messed around in Photoshop, maybe done a couple of side projects. Heck they might have even done quite well. I was very lucky and fell into the best design school you can get, completely by accident. This is the post I’d write to myself if I knew a few years ago what I know now.
I’ve accidentally learned very quickly what makes ‘good design’ and realised that all the stuff I used to be conceded about really doesn’t matter. Typefaces, colour theory all have their place, but in the grand scheme of things, they’re small fry.
If I hadn’t had this lesson, today I would be an even worse designer. But I wouldn’t know.
They key to being a truly great designer is having the ability to understand human behavior. Real people will be using your designs in their real lives. Your ability to understand how people ‘work’ can make the difference between your design making their day or them getting confused, worried and upset because they feel they are doing something wrong. When in fact it is you or I who has designed an interface that people can’t use. It’s our fault, not theres. Do you want to be the designer that makes users cry?
Unfortunately the magic ingredient isn’t very sexy, it won’t help build your Dribbble profile. Nor will it help you look like some San Francisco startup hipster.
The key is to understand the principles of usability.
The best way to do this is to go and work at an agency that specialises in usability. One where day in day out you will be working on usability projects.
But what’s a usability project? Well you don’t get to design anything. You can close down Photoshop and forget about the latest design trends. It’s time to start user testing. You take other peoples designs, create some tasks that real people would do on the site. Then get real people to do the tasks, watch how they get on and report all the problems and potential solutions back to the designers.
Very quickly in this job you’ll start learning how “normal people” use computers, think about online things and how they combine doing stuff online with their real lives.
You’ll also see all the things that people struggle with. The new and trendy design concept that “real people” don’t understand. You’ll sit there and watch them struggle to use the interface, watch them think it’s their fault. This will build up the empathy for users you one-day will design for.
Never again will you put the label for a form field inside the input box, or use a fancy icon where a simple word will suffice. You’ll learn how people interpret what they can click on and what they can’t, when they can scroll and when they can’t.
You’ll learn a million things, and every time you look at a design or website you’ll instantly be able to pick out the main usability problems people will have.
Once you get to a point when you can write out all the usability problems with a website before even going to user testing. Then you’re ready. Then you’re ready to open up Photoshop.
I spent six months doing solid user test after user test and it’s the single thing I’ve done in my very short career that makes a difference to everything I work on every day.
All design projects I work on now include user testing, and because we always get the basics right, we can focus our research on more interesting stuff
So go and find a job doing user testing, understand the basic human behaviour that drives them and you’ll instantly become a better designer.