5 Tips for the Design Squire

It seems like recently I’ve been getting a lot of requests to grab coffee to chat about my job as a designer. Design, whether it’s visual or UX (user experience), is definitely an up and coming field. Most higher-ups are starting to realize that design has the amazing power to make or break a company’s success.

This is great news for designers who often have to struggle to be heard (or respected). I always say design is so much harder than development. With development, it either works or it doesn’t. If it works, the client is happy. With design, you have to justify every font-size, color, position, heck, every pixel during every step of the entire design process. Design is an uphill battle.

So why do so many people want to be designers? If you’re like me, its because you know that design is not just about how something looks. Design is about creating the best possible combination of form and function; it’s a challenge that stares you in the face, taunting you relentlessly. Well you know what I say? Challenge Accepted!

Most designers think that if something looks good, it is designed well. A bunch of hooey if you ask me! Design is meant to serve a purpose whether that purpose is getting someone to buy something, read something, or like something. So I’ve put together a few tips to help the design squire prepare for the great battle that is design.

1. Gather Your Weapons: Research is the Basis for Any Good Design

Every great warrior needs the right weapons. After all, where would King Arthur be without Excalibur? For designers, the best weapon that you can use to equip yourself is information. Before you start a project, research is necessary to determine your enemy’s strengths and weaknesses.

The best question to start with is always, what is the goal of this design? If both you and your client have different interpretations of the goal, your design may end up lacking in function. Remember: miscommunication and confusion can lead to casualties.

After the goal has been established, go into more detail. What is the purpose of the organization? How is this design going to support your client’s mission?

And more detail. What are some examples of designs that you like? What are a few words to describe the final look and feel of the design?

And even more. What colors do you like? Are there any fonts that you can’t stand?

2. Quicken Your Movements: Minimalism and the importance of white space

Once you gather your weapons, it’s time to suit up. Copy is like armor, the more you have the slower you move, but if you don’t have enough, you aren’t protected from your opponents. In the world of copy, too many words can leave your viewers feeling like they are running with lead feet.

The idea is to weld armor that is strong, yet lightweight. You want your copy to grab the viewer’s attention, address the goal of the design, encourage action, but most importantly be succinct. The more your viewer has to read, the more likely they are to get lost and never reach the ultimate goal that you originally discussed with your client.

Unfortunately, clients have a hard time pairing down their copy to meet these demands. It’s your job to explain to them, that each item on the design takes a piece of the viewer’s attention. The more elements or copy there is, the less attention the viewer is giving to what is most important.

In a long battle, breaks can be necessary. No matter how minimal your design is, adding white space gives your viewers a chance to rest their eyes and contemplate what they have just seen.

3. Battle is an Orgy of Disorder: Be Consistent. Call on your allies.

One of the biggest problems I see in the work of early designers is a lack of hierarchy. Hierarchy and consistency are your allies. These concepts are the best way to lead your viewers through your design without getting lost or distracted.

When you start your design, you need to consider,”What is the most important item?” Contrary to what your clients may believe, the logo is never the answer. If you need to, making a list of most important to least important items for you design can be helpful.

Although layout (what is on the top vs. what is on the bottom) is one aspect of hierarchy. Hierarchy can come in many different forms (color, size, contrast, alignment, and repetition being a few of the many options).

In my opinion, consistency can also be a form of hierarchy. If you keep elements the same from page to page (the navigation of a website, or font color, for example) your viewer has less to process when they move on to a new page. Thus new elements will stand out to a greater degree.

4. Brandish Your Heraldry Boldly: Using Color to Emphasize Your Elements

In ancient days, heraldry, or “coat of arms,” was the crest wort to represent your lineage. Interestingly, there were only seven main colors used in a coat of arms so that lineage would be easily recognizable.

Similar to a coat of arms, designers need to use colors sparingly and tactfully. I generally stick to a 2–3 color palette with one color being a neutral (a shade of black, brown, or white). As is the case with many design elements, using too many colors can distract your viewer.

In terms of tact, I always choose one color to be my accent color. This color is what I use when I need to call out an element on a page (a call-to-action button, a link, or specific text for example). A general rule of thumb is that the accent color should be outside the color scheme so that it is more easily recognizable (a complimentary color for example).

If you struggle with colors, a good place to start for inspiration is Colour Lovers.

5. The Best Offense is a Strong Defense: Defending Your Design

Wilton Mizner once said, “In the battle of existence, Talent is the punch; Tact is the clever footwork.” Like I said in the beginning, design is an uphill battle. You need to be prepared to defend yourself along the way.

The best way to defend your design is to make tactful decisions. If you know why you designed something the way you did, you will have a much easier time defending your decisions to your client.

Sometimes, if they don’t listen the first time, go back, do some research on the matter, and present the idea again with hard evidence and numbers (clients love that kind of stuff).

And now go forth into the toils of design. Good luck to you, design squire, may the power of the pixel always be at your back.