In web design, the learning never stops. Some of us designers see this as an opportunity, others as a hindrance. We have to keep up with the pace of ever-changing technology, techniques and trends in order to be competitive. In this fast-paced environment, we are bound to make mistakes—and mistakes can harm our reputation.
Heavy competition and ceaseless client demands make you susceptible to mistakes that you probably wouldn’t make otherwise. Here’s one possible remedy: put a list of common mistakes on your desk, and watch yourself carefully. Plenty are listed on the Internet, but they’re not organized well, which is the reason I wrote this post.
In posts that list common design mistakes, the points are often jumbled together. Many of the articles jump from topic to topic: not meeting deadlines, not scheduling tasks, careless coding, changing URLs for archived pages and so on. I was keen for my list to attack the problem directly, so I boiled the mistakes down to two categories: general mistakes and trade-specific mistakes.
Categorizing made all of the information scannable for me as a reader, and I’m sure you’ll agree when you’ve finished reading.
What to expect in this category? – Getting exposed to the set of mistakes that are generic in nature. Or let’s just say these points can easily extend to the fields other than web designing and still holds good.
As a freelancer, you’ll deal with all kinds of clients: sweet, professional, difficult. And you’ll likely deal with clients who you’ll never personally met, what with global communication. Get everything in writing before embarking on a project, however small the project; you don’t want to give your services for free, nor do you want to go on a bargaining spree after completing a task. Be clear about the terms and conditions; lay everything out in black and white. If you don’t already know how important this is, you’ll learn.
Never forget the goals of the project. As a design geek, you stretch your creativity a bit too far when you try to create a masterpiece that wins accolades and appreciation from one and all. Remember that the ultimate purpose of a design is to attract large numbers of users and win an audience. Bear these points in mind:
Don’t get lost in the middle of a project. You might get tired of working on a project or become unsatisfied with the results. Don’t waver; remind yourself that it’s time to act. It happens to the best of designers, and with experience you’ll learn that you won’t always get things right the first time. The key is to constantly strive to learn, improve with practice and move on when you don’t have a choice.
The last thing you want is web content that is monotonous or too complex to catch anyone’s eye. The online market is getting increasingly competitive; a user does not have all the time in the world to read every page. A website needs to be unique and catch the user’s imagination with its layout. Typography plays a huge role in the presentation of information; it should be clear and absorbing. Bullet points, grid interfaces, headings and sub-headings are some of the key aspects that will help you achieve this.
Imagine this: your wife wants you to cook a popular Japanese dish for her. Would you jump up and go to the kitchen right away? Shouldn’t you find the recipe first? Shouldn’t you check that you have the ingredients and the right utensils?
The answers are obvious—and analogous: ask the client about their precise objectives, get to know the target audience, and learn as much as you can about the project. Don’t even think about the tools and techniques you might have to apply until you understand the project’s objectives.
Freelancers need to keep busy and, more often than not, work on multiple projects at the same time. If you neglect to plan your schedule and allot enough time for each project, you’re likely to either miss deadlines or compromise on the quality of your work. What’s more, you could lose clients, and your reputation could suffer. Break your work down into small tasks, and set a deadline for each one.
The most dreaded thing about freelancing is the possibility of dry spells: that, at times, you might not have any clients or work. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but if you do find yourself sitting idly, you probably haven’t created a buzz about yourself. That is, you have not marketed yourself properly. Many freelancers are so overloaded with work that they neglect the need to market themselves. And then what? They are left gasping for work when their contracts end. You don’t want to be one of them.
Ask yourself, how many times have you missed a deadline for reasons beyond your control? Your answer is probably, quite a few.
Clear and a regular communication with clients is not just about staying on top of deadlines: it’s about organization, efficiency and professionalism. Communicating about design with someone who is unfamiliar with the field can be tricky, but it is sure to save you a lot of time. Stay on the same page as your client at every stage of the project; it will cast you in a good light. Communicate about every important issue, whether because you need clarification or just to send progress reports. It will be appreciated.
Some would say that demanding partial payment early on is harsh on the client, especially in a competitive environment. Freelancing can be immensely lucrative, and you’re competing with designers from all over the world; others are willing to work for half the fee you charge. If all this is weighing on your mind, then you probably won’t ask for a down-payment. But here’s the scary risk: working on a project for a month and never seeing a penny.
You are an entrepreneur, and you are responsible for your livelihood, so create a brand that enhances your reputation, communicates professionalism and conveys clear policies.
Stay in touch with culture. You don’t want to sound out of touch in front of clients; they might leave you behind. Every year—no, every quarter—find something new out there to learn in order to up your market appeal. Keep abreast of changes in your field.
In this section we try getting exposed to the set of mistakes that are web-design specific.
The worst thing that can happen to your client is realizing that the website you designed is not compatible with common browsers. Put browser compatibility on your checklist, and make sure to validate the website for compatibility before submitting it. Clients want to offer mobile-friendly websites to users as well, so include mobility in your checklist.
The goal of every website is to attract users and get them to stay on for as long as possible. It is generally agreed that content is king, but an overdose of content is also terrible. Users will jump to another website if they can’t find the info they want. Here are some tips:
Remember that visitors are on your website to locate specific information. Your goal is to make this easy for them. If you don’t do it, you’ll lose them in a flash.
There are a few things to understand about images. For starters, don’t overload your website; choose images carefully, and use them only when necessary. I have seen designers go overboard with images to make a website seem attractive and appealing, but the results can be fatal; pages will load slowly. Use images if they are relevant to the content or make content stand out. Also, use the correct image formats, or else you could compromise on quality, colors and resolution. Finally, add alt and title tags to images to boost the website in search rankings. The client will love you for it, and it will benefit visually impaired users.
Creative use of typographic tools is becoming mainstream—even trendy—and is in increasing demand. Designers overlook the creative potential of typography at their own peril. However masterful a design is, the client won’t be happy if the content looks weak. Make sure that typographic elements stand out. Many designers don’t give due credit to typography, which, if creatively used, can capture the user’s attention and imagination. Be it the typeface or font size, all aspects play an important part in design.
A business is not a business without employees; a firm doesn’t recruit just for the sake of it, and not paying enough attention to people’s skill sets will likely lead to problems. It’s the same with a website on which important information is jumbled together without any breathing room for the user’s eyes. Breathing room here means white space or negative space, which gives life to content on the page. Provide enough of it for the user to easily absorb the information.
Make sure that every page on your website is titled; a different title for each page would be best. A page with a title that’s too long is like a page with no title at all. A title should identify not only the website but the page itself. A well-named page can help with search engine ranking.
The right choice and combination of colors are as important for a website as the content and typography. Colors can contribute to a variety of experiences, and they influence the user’s interpretation of the content. Colors set the mood and thus must suit the core intent of the design. A subtle and carefully thought-out color combination goes a long way.
Green would be the best choice for an environmentally friendly website. Bright and vibrant colors like yellow and orange would suit a website targeting kids and teens. And a corporate website demands a classy palette.
Do not use Flash unless it is absolutely necessary. It has too many drawbacks, and the client might not be happy with the result; basically, it’s a risk. Remember, the client wants users to come to their website frequently and stay for a while. With Flash, all elements have to download before the web page is viewable, which can take a while, and search engines are not too friendly with Flash websites. Moreover, all pages on a Flash website have the same URLs, which further complicates the user experience.
Today’s user is smart enough not to accept anything being forced upon them; and they will find a way to turn it off. Moreover, these elements will not only overload your website, but threaten its search engine ranking. Empower the user to choose whether to listen to music or watch a video. By giving the user options, you elicit their curiosity. Any professional will tell you that blinking text and animation look amateurish and will distract the user from their objective.
I’ve tried to classify and list all of the major mistakes that designers commit. There might be a few others you can add, so be a sport and throw in some comments.