Top 10 Ways for a Designer to Screw Up

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It’s easy to mess up as a designer, and it’s important to recognize and stay away from the mistakes that will make your life harder. Today we’re going to study 10  blunders that are common in and specific to designers so that you can keep an eye out for them in your life and avoid learning the lesson the hard way.

These aren’t design principles like “always make a clear call to action”, they are the business and life choices that can make or break your career. Here’s what you don’t do:

1. Ignoring Passive Income Opporunities

As long as you are working with an hours spent x $ per hour = income formula, you’ll be limited in what you can achieve and what you can earn. We all have only 24 hours per day, so locking yourself into a situation where the money you make depends on the hours you spend can open the door for stress and problems. What if you want to take a vacation? Or worse, what if you or a family member has to spend time in a hospital?

A better way is to look for opportunites where you can make an initial time investment and then have income that isn’t dependent on the amount of hours you spend. Business people call this ‘leverage’. Examples of gaining leverage could be selling stock themes & photos, producing an e-book, or selling t-shirts. If you’d like to read more about this, try reading Webitect’s earlier post on Passive Income for Freelancers. I also highly recommend The Unlimited Freelancer by Mason Hipp and James Chartrand, which has some excellent coverage of leverage and it’s importance.

2. Being Content with Your Current Skills/Knowledge

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You should never ever become complacent in your knowledge, because everyone has more to learn. Wise men like Socrates and Isaac Newton all seem to come to the same conclusion – that even they know very little.

So don’t be content with your knowledge – look for more. In the world of the internet, especially, the speed of change is so fast that it’s vital to keep learning and growing. It’s just part of the job. Try learning jQuery, or getting a book on advanced Photoshop painting. Learning is fun, so why stop? Later this week, we’ll be exploring this topic more with a post on how to expand your horizons as a designer, so stay tuned!

3. Consuming instead of Producing

We as designers have to be careful not to fall into a trap of admiring others’ work too much and not using enough of our own creativity. Design galleries and inspiration posts are great -don’t get me wrong- but it’s easy to let them become too much of a focus. We can say, “Oh, man, that is terrific!” and “Wow! Look at her creativity!” But what about you? Are you out there, contributing to the community, designing the stuff that everyone else can admire?

Again, there’s nothing wrong with getting inspiration, but make sure that you aren’t letting it replace your own creative production. It’s the producers, not the consumers, that make it to the top.

4. Lacking an Understanding of Code and SEO

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Designers often have an aversion to code. After all, why should we worry about the technical stuff when our talent is in art? Shouldn’t we stick to what we do best?

Well, yes and no.  It’s true that you shouldn’t feel pressured into doing something you don’t enjoy. On the other hand, having at least a fundamental knowledge of development will make you easier to work with, make your designs work better (remember, design is for solving problems, not looking pretty), and if you do hire a developer you’ll be better able to judge the quality of his/her work.

Of course, there’s even more reasons than that (which have been covered well on Six Revisions and Webdesigner Depot), but isn’t that enough?

6. Spending Too Much Time on Social Media

Again, I’m not telling you social media is bad, by any means – it’s a wonderful tool when used correctly. That’s the key, though – use it as a tool. I’m sure we are all familiar with how quickly twitter and facebook can eat up our time, so let’s just resolve to use it the right way. Get the right tools, be efficient, and use social media to realize your goals, not take over your life :)

By the way,  Freelance Folder published a hilarious comedy post called You May Be Addicted to Social Media If. Definitely a good laugh.

7. Doing Just What You Have To

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Productivity expert Brian Tracy recommends that when you’re finished working for the day, you should spend just 5 more minutes to complete one more task, resulting in hours of extra accomplishments. The same principle applies to web design. When you think you’re finished with a design, go back through and see if you can make any little changes that will give it some extra shine.

You’ll be amazed at the difference that “little bit more” makes. Of course, you shouldn’t be obsessive about it, but do look for opportunites to give you work some extra excellence. Sometimes that’s all the difference between the design that rests quietly in it’s place and the design that hits the galleries.

8. Disregarding Your Health

Most of us are still young, and our health is often the furthest thing from our minds. One of the marks of a wise person, though, is that they think about how their decisions will affect them in the future rather than just right now.

I think you’ll be surprised at the difference that you can make even with small things like sticking to a healthful sleep cycle, getting some fresh air each day, drinking water instead of soda, or making your office greener and more ergonomic. You are the biggest investment you have, so take care of yourself!

9. Not Connecting

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You can’t make money or achieve anything all by yourself, and why would you want to? True success can only come by connecting with others. Build a community, be friendly, get to know other designers. There is a lot of opportunity for connecting with others, and the most successful people are the ones who take advantage of it.

10. Underestimating Yourself

This one is probably the most important on your list – don’t do it. Right-brainers, especially, tend to be very hard on themselves. Please don’t. Take a good, honest look at your work. You’ll probably realize it’s much better than you’ve been giving yourself credit for.

The reason why this is so important is because your opinion of your own skills will affect your actual work and others’ perceptions of you. Be confident and act like you’re worth it and clients will treat you that way.

Wrapping Up

I’d encourage you to make a commitment to check yourself every know and then to see if you’ve been making mistakes in your design career. Did you know that airplanes in flight are off-course 90% of the time? It’s the constant correction by the pilot that brings them safely to their destination, and it’s the same way with our paths as designers.  Here’s some more ideas of what kind mistakes to avoid:

Do you have more ideas of mistakes for designers to avoid, or any stories about lessons you’ve learned?

Written By Nick Parsons

Nick is the editor of Webitect and a developer + designer from Houston TX.

5 Comments

  1. Brian Lovin

    January 26th, 2010 at 08:06 pm

    A great list – definitely something nice to review every once in a while!

  2. Ryvon Designs

    January 26th, 2010 at 09:09 pm

    I have to say, this is an excellent list. Especially since there is not one of these that should be ignored, or that is more important than all the others. To keep up on the game, we have to keep up on ALL of these.

    One I was SO glad to see included, was knowledge of code. Designers and Programmers, yes, are different members of a team….but they are a team. They both must understand some of what the other does and needs in order to produce the best product, with the least plotting of revenge ^_^

    Pam
    Ryvon Designs

  3. Nick Parsons

    January 27th, 2010 at 07:47 am

    @Brian and Ryvon Designs -
    Thanks for the compliments, I’m glad you enjoyed. And I love how you said, “…with the least plotting of revenge” – that’s funny!

  4. Jeff Woodruff

    January 28th, 2010 at 03:26 am

    I’m really glad I came across your site. This is the first site I’ve really come across that has more of a broad focus. Normally I find sites that are specific to design, development, freelance best practices, among a few, but that’s all the posts focus on. For me I want to see content that is not so focused on a specific topics over an over again but rather has more to offer and educate in other areas. You need to able to understand how design, development, SEO and all the elements of freelancing can be pieced together and that’s hard to come by.

  5. Jeff Woodruff

    January 28th, 2010 at 03:27 am

    I’m really glad I came across your site. This is the first site I’ve really come across that has more of a broad focus. Normally I find sites that are specific to design, development, freelance best practices, among a few, but that’s all the posts focus on. For me I want to see content that is not so focused on a specific topics over an over again but rather has more to offer and educate in other areas. You need to able to understand how design, development, SEO and all the elements of freelancing can be pieced together and that’s hard to come by.

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