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Tiny Tactic

How to Get Better at Visual Design

Get over your fear of pixels, UX designers

Christian Beck
Aug 8, 2018 · 5 min read

Challenges

“It’s not my job to worry about visuals”

Cool. Then I suppose you won’t mind a developer saying, “it’s not my job to worry how well this is designed.” Not being your job doesn’t mean it isn’t something to be accountable for. If you are lucky enough to have a visual designer on your team, or even luckier — an entire visual design team that serves your company — you can still greatly elevate your product by raising the quality of work you produce. Just imagine how much easier your job is when a PM breaks down a user story for you. Or how happy a developer is when you have designed something that considers implementation feasibility. Visual design works the same way when you have a distinct role that owns this area.

“I’m not good at visual design”

You and me both! This was one of my biggest anxieties coming out of grad school. My design education focused almost exclusively on problem framing, research and developing solutions to complex problems. Visual design was a small piece of that. I believe many UX designers have experienced the same. There is only so much ground you can cover in a design program and compromises have to be made. But if you’re feeling this way, it may simply mean that you aren’t inherently skilled enough to create strong visual design languages, but you can easily get good enough to utilize them. We may not all have what it takes to become a master chef, but we can learn to execute a competent dish.

“Visual design isn’t that important to the value I provide with UX”

Yeah, yeah, yeah. This could be a product of visual design not making its way into the curriculum of design programs as much as it should. Or it could be a clever lie we tell ourselves to mask our underlying insecurity. I’m not going to spend this article proving the value of visual design but suffice it to say, visual design is absolutely critical to great UX (and if you counter with Craigslist as your own lone exception to decades of digital design then I can’t help you).

Tactics

Copy great products

I remember starting my career in design and having absolutely no sense of size, space and color when laying out a UI. I had a generally good sense of style but I couldn’t tell you what a standard button font size was, or how far buttons were spaced apart, or how large icons even were. I sense that many UX designers feel this way (at least early on).

Curate designers you follow

In grad school, I had a professor who pushed us to constantly curate examples of great design in a sort of scrapbook. I took this technique digital and employ it on Twitter, Behance, and Dribbble. I use the word “curate” carefully here because you should be revisiting who you follow both in terms of adding or removing as your tastes change. I’ve been consuming Dribbble for so long that I can see a visual history of how my tastes have changed through my Likes. But who I follow has changed so that I’m ensuring my visual eye is keeping up with large-scale trends.

Edit your design work

Earlier, I used the analogy of a writer having to edit their own work. I think many UX designers could do more to edit their own work. This applies to copy and visual design. Interestingly, in all the dozens of design portfolios that show off designers’ processes, I have never seen “editing” as a stage. This should change. Designers need to set aside time in their process to edit their final production — whether it’s for a small Jira ticket, or a monumental concept.

UX Power Tools

A publication for designers, written by designers.

Christian Beck

Written by

By day, executive designer at Innovatemap where I help tech companies design marketable products. By night, co-founder of UX Power Tools.

UX Power Tools

A publication for designers, written by designers.

Christian Beck

Written by

By day, executive designer at Innovatemap where I help tech companies design marketable products. By night, co-founder of UX Power Tools.

UX Power Tools

A publication for designers, written by designers.

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