What’s the WORST professional advice you ever got?
Mike Monteiro

The worst design advice that I’ve been given is to focus on mastering the tools before the principles.

That’s one that’s been going around in the web design communities for ages:

Q: I know HTML&CSS but my designs don’t look professional. How do I learn to design websites on my own?

A: Start playing around with Photoshop.

Substitute “Photoshop” with any imaginable piece of software a professional designer would use in their workflow, or with the hottest framework out there and there you go — a recipe for disaster.

The problem here is that Photoshop or any of the like tools and frameworks give you thousands of possibilities.

lots of possibilities = lots of decisions to make = feel overwhelmed

As a beginner, you’d think you need to choose the colours and the fonts, and the font size and decide whether there will be drop shadows or not, all in one go.

And that’s where everyone starts feeling stuck:

Okay, how do I choose these colours? Is this something that I can learn? How do all these other people do it? Is it some creative spark?

At that point, you’ll have to go back and learn that your design decisions aren’t supposed to be arbitrary and based on your tastes.

You’re not supposed to “play around with Photoshop until you come up with some design that you like”.

In the case of a website, you’re supposed to come up with a design for that particular website that helps the business achieve its goal and a design that also makes it easy for the user to achieve their goal. You’re supposed to choose the fonts and colours that correspond to the mood of the website and the brand.

You’re supposed to make informed design decisions.

And for that you don’t necessarily need some complicated piece of software.

For example, in the case of web design, you need:

  1. to be aware of the basic design principles. Here is a series on that by Steven Bradley published on Smashing Magazine. Highly recommended: http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2015/02/design-principles-dominance-focal-points-hierarchy/
  2. a process that guides your decision making and prevents you from feeling overwhelmed. Here’s my website design process, if anyone reading this is interested.
  3. to work on a very small project at first. Try designing a single page website that is just text. There is so much you have to learn to be able to complete just that simple task properly.

In summary: Principles come first. You should develop your design thinking before trying to master the tools. Doing it the other way around, you’ll feel overwhelmed and frustrated.

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