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The Most Important Site For Any Web Designer?

posted by Matt Ward on Feb 23, 2010.

In this post, I want to take the time to look at what I think is the most important site that a designer can work on. It may sound a little odd, but from this single premise, I hope to spark a discussion that will help nurture the maturation and evolution of you, the designer. Have a read and join in on the conversation!

I position the title of this particular article as a question, in part, to diffuse any impression of this being a completely authoritative dissertation on your career as a designer. It’s nothing of the sort. Instead, I would like to suggest something about the course of that career, and your growth as a designer – regardless of whether you are a budding novice or a seasoned veteran.

The Most Important Site For Any Web Designer?

The Most Important Site For Any Web Designer?

Basically, I am going to answer the title question by suggesting that the most important site that you can ever design is the one you’re working on right now. Or, if you don’t have a project in the works (not even tweaks on your own site?), then it would have to be the very last site you worked on.

What? How can I possibly make such a broad, blanket statement? I can’t – at least not definitively. However, the statement lends itself well as the starting point for an interesting discussion, as long as we understand that such a discussion is based on a specific presupposition about the perceived value of a particular website. Let’s start there, and build up the rationale point-by-point.

It’s About Experience

The first thing that I want to establish here is context. We’re talking about importance entirely in the context of you, the designer. It has nothing to do with your clients or the importance of their websites in any social, economical, theological or political context.

The website that you design for the local non-profit organization committed to improving literacy in your community or to helping to eradicate poverty in Africa is clearly important in a social context. It may well be the most important site that you ever design from that social perspective. I’m certainly not going to dispute that.

On the other hand, the e-commerce site that you build for a major online retailer could be the most important site you ever design from an economical context. The same can also be said of other projects, in still other areas. All of this functions as a great reminder that perspective is rooted deeply in its particular context.

That being said, the context for what we will be discussing is experience. More specifically, we’re talking about your experience as a web designer.

The Sum of the Parts

Have you ever noticed how, as you progress through life, decisions seem to become increasingly important? As a baby your biggest decision might be chewing on the blue block or the red block. Later, choices grow into what cartoon to watch or whether to play baseball (or whatever sport you like) or maybe ride your bike. By the time you reach high school, you’re making choices about friends and clothes and classes. Later, in adulthood, you may decide who you marry, what kind of house to buy, whether to have children and so on.

I believe that a similar (though not perfectly so) path exists for a web designer (or any other designer for that matter). When I started building websites as a teenager, my choices amounted to setting the background and the colour of the text. Font choices came later, then structures. Eventually, I saw the light and abandoned tag heavy HTML-only layouts in favour of CSS.

At each stage of this evolution, the choices that I make become more significant. This is not to say that the choices are difficult, though. In many cases, these choices were actually very simple. For example, adopting CSS was the only logical step forward for me. Each choice was, however, more mature than the one that came before, and was part of an ongoing process of growing and learning and evolving as a designer.

I suppose that what I am really driving at here is that we are the sum of our parts. Every time we add a new experience, that sum expands. We grow and (hopefully) mature. It’s simple experiential mathematics.

Why Now?

Okay, so maybe you’re following me here. Maybe you’re even agreeing that growing as a designer is (at least partially) a matter of maturing and learning from experience. Maybe you found yourself nodding at the suggestion that we are all the sum of our parts. But how does that make the website that you are currently working on the most important site for you as a designer?

Part of the answer stems from the fact that you’ve never had more experience that you do right now. The current moment is the always the greatest sum of your parts, and that means that the site you are designing right now is also the only site to which you can apply all of that experience. As such, the current site has the most theoretical potential of anything you’ve ever designed before.

I’d say that makes it pretty important.

And so does the fact that the here and now is the only time that really matters to your growth.

All of the sites that you’ve designed in the past may be great (okay, maybe not all of them). They belong in your portfolio, as examples of what you can and have done for clients in the past. But you can’t learn from them anymore – not unless you go back and tweak or modify them again, in which case that site suddenly becomes the site that you are currently working on and is no longer just something out of the past.

The same is also true of the sites you are going to design, most of which you currently know nothing about. Of course, you may have a few opportunities on the horizon. They may be fresh and exciting, shining with the promise of greater things to come. But right now you can’t reach them, much less learn anything from them.

So, what’s done is done. What will be, will be. Neither are as important as what you’re doing right now.

Now is the moment in which we grow.

Now is the time in which we learn.

We need to embrace the now with everything we are, because now is really all that we have.

Melodramatic enough for you? It certainly is for me. Do you see what I’m getting at, though? The only chance we really have to learn anything is right here in the present. So, if you want to grow and mature as a designer, you’re going to have to do it now, whenever now happens to be. To my way of thinking, then, that also means that the site you are working now is the only site that matters (for your own growth), because it’s the only site that gives you that opportunity to learn and mature.

Practical Steps

So far, this has been pretty esoteric and philosophical. I’d like to say I’m sorry, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Sometimes I like the esoteric and philosophical. Still, if you’ve come this far, let me leave you with a few practical steps that you can take to help you make the most out of your current website design.

  1. Ground it in Reality – I know that all this talk about now can be a little confusing, so try not to let distract you when you design. Design philosophy or theory can be useful for shaping the way you approach a design, but it should never impede or distract you from that design.
  2. Keep Notes – Keep a notebook or binder to take notes as you design. These should not be project specific notes, but rather more general things that you learn as you go. Jot down interesting CSS solutions, obscure HTML entities or the name of that new jQuery plugin that you just came across. But don’t just write notes. Consult them too. Go back through them from time to time and refresh your memory.
  3. Be Exclusive – It’s not always be possible to have only one active design project at a given moment, but it can be hugely beneficial if you can manage it. This kind of exclusivity can help keep you focused, without having to try to juggle multiple sets of code, which can start to get muddled in your brain. It affords you the opportunity to really press in and learn from the current site.
  4. Block Your Time – If you can’t be exclusive, then at least block your time. Give yourself a few hours to work on the code for one site. Follow that up with a logical break (maybe answer emails, browsing through your RSS feed or hanging out on Twitter) before moving on to the code for another site. This way you can still concentrate on a single project for a given period of time, rather than having all kinds of different code swimming through your head simultaneously
  5. Give It Your All – This might be easier if you are working exclusively, but you are more likely to see solid results and learn more if you throw yourself into a design with all the enthusiasm that you can muster. Investing yourself in the design provides a better opportunity to learn and to grow in the work you are doing!

So there you have it. I want to reiterate that this article is more of a starting point for stimulating conversation rather than a definitive guide to live by. So, I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions to these ideas. Do you agree, disagree, or just think that I’m totally off my rocker?

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Also from Echo Enduring Media:

An Unfolding Tale

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing. He is also the Creative Director for Highland Marketing, a creative direct marketing company based out of Waterloo, Ontario. You can follow Matt on Twitter

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Comments

Feb 24, 2010

Jacques van Heerden says:

Really great article, you put the point out there.

Keep up the great work
Jacques

Feb 24, 2010

Benjamin Rama says:

awesome article Matt tweeted and bookmarked thanks

Feb 24, 2010

designi1 says:

Nice reading m8 :D its a pleasure reading your stuff… and i wouldn´t agree more with you about this subject :)

Feb 24, 2010

Rosastef says:

I agree wholeheartedly.

Feb 24, 2010

Guilherme Cardoso says:

Hi Matt,

I’m writing from Portugal, and i really liked your thoughts and ideas.

You’re right when you say that we can’t learn from past works. The only way we can learn from them, is learning from mistakes. I’ve developed an ecommerce plataform 5 months ago, and now i’m starting a new one complety different (different ORM, some design improvements with AjaxToolKit and jQuery, etc etc).

And that’s what you told. Now, i’m working in this project to give my best.

Again, nice article and congragulations!

Have a nice day, and sorry for my bad English ;)

Feb 24, 2010

Matt Ward says:

Thanks Guilherme! Glad you enjoyed the article, and that you are giving your new e-commerce site you best! Go for it! Hope it turns out totally awesome for you!

Feb 24, 2010

Kaliyugan P says:

3rd para: “as long was” = as long as…right?

Feb 24, 2010

Matt Ward says:

Absolutely! Thanks for catching that typo. Fixed it up.

Feb 24, 2010

Core Studios says:

Great article! Instant retweet.

Feb 24, 2010

Kaliyugan P says:

I completely agree with you pal.

“So, what’s done is done. What will be, will be. Neither are as important as what you’re doing right now.”

So true, now is the time, there is no tomorrow until it arrives ;-)

Feb 24, 2010

GimmeMyDomains says:

Great article – Definite retweet.

The one suggestion would be that the “keep notes” section be either a document, code library, Evernote or something similar – digital, so when you want to incorporate it on your next project, it is just a matter of copy/paste.

Thanks for the article.

Feb 24, 2010

Matt Ward says:

An excellent idea! I’ve just started working with Evernote recently, and I’ve found it pretty useful so far. But I hadn’t thought of using it as repository for code and such. That’s a really great idea!

Feb 24, 2010

ChristianK says:

Just came back from a few calm days in the alps. Not for skiing. Only to be a few days in Nature. Up there I was wondering about my freelancing during the last year. Too much projects running in a seemingly endless period simultaneously. Sometimes ’cause of me, sometimes ’cause they all delayed (“Sorry, we need two further weeks to finish the texts. After this we will know, how the structure will be …) in a way that seems ironically perfect – perfect synchronization.
Though the feeling was there, i didn’t get to the point. You got that point. I thank you very much for writing down your thoughts. Beautiful read. – I’d say if someone is struggling with the same problems like me, it is a must read.

Feb 24, 2010

Matt Ward says:

Thanks Christian. I’m glad you liked the article. There’s no doubt that freelancing can sometimes be an incredibly frustrating career. One moment, you’re wondering where all the work is, and the next you’re wondering how you’re possibly going to get all the work done! If my article helped you solve an issue that you were struggling with, well then I feel that I’ve done a good thing. :)

Feb 24, 2010

Jenna Molby says:

Awesome article Matt!

Feb 24, 2010

Chris Thurman says:

It can be easy sometimes to see other designers and long to create masterpieces as good as theirs. There will always be someone better but in order to move forward you have to work hard at growing in the now. I think you’re spot on with everything and I love the practical steps that you offer. Your post has encouraged me (a common occurrence when I read your blog) to really push hard on the work I have in front of me and stop dreaming about what I could do with that next clean slate. Otherwise, I’ll just be treading water and become frustrated within a stagnant state.

Great post Matt!

Feb 24, 2010

Sneh Roy says:

Great article and spot on Matt!

Feb 25, 2010

DinD says:

Good read.
Focus on the thing you’re doing now. When I’m working on a site, I try to block other disturbing factors as well (so NO twitter, NO facebook, etc).

ps. The white font on the black background is not quite easy on the eyes.. especially with such a long text.

Feb 25, 2010

v3nnyg says:

Yes I agree about the white text on black! Made me dizzy :)

Just also want to add, that your whole point about living in the now can be applied to pretty much anything and not just web design. But yeah sort of agree.

Feb 25, 2010

Matt Ward says:

The white text on black will be changing once I get the redesign finished.

And yes, living in the moment can be applied to various parts of life, though perhaps not all.

Feb 25, 2010

Anthony Raymond Web Design Maidstone says:

Yea, Live for the moment man! I agree totally, but you’ve literally blown my mind with your way of thinking. When I’m not working on a project, the most important website is my own. Keeping it up to date and so fourth.

Mar 1, 2010

lalugee says:

Its extremely encouraging to see someone do so well..!

Mar 4, 2010

Mickey Heinzman says:

following the blog, good stuff!

Mar 4, 2010

wparena says:

got inspiration after reading this well explained article

Sep 20, 2010

Choiceomg says:

Awesome article! Keep up the good work.

Aug 30, 2011

Web Design Kansas says:

very informative article but i am looking forward for more practical steps and more detailed explanation in each step if possible site an example.

keep up the good work mat.

Jan 3, 2013

WEB desigh says:

hey thats great. I am also looking for a web designer for promoting my site.

Feb 4, 2013

Miguel says:

Good article, thanks! :D

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