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Creative roadblocks are simply part of being a web designer—maybe you and your client can’t agree on a direction, your design isn’t matching your vision, or maybe you’re just feeling stuck in a rut. But the good news is there’s a thriving design community, a whole world of design inspiration, and plenty of advice for web designers to help get people over their creativity humps. We put together this list of one-liners and gems from seasoned designers to help you through your next moment of artistic frustration. So the next time you come up against a creative slump, breathe deep and remember that we’ve all been there, and—more importantly—we’ve all gotten past it. Happy designing!
1. “If there’s one thing you learn by working on a lot of different websites, it’s that almost any design idea—no matter how appallingly bad—can be made usable in the right circumstances, with enough effort.” ―Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
Steve Krug is a usability expert with experience at companies like Apple, Lexus, and NPR. Don’t Make Me Think is the first of two books he has written about how to think and design like a usability expert. A short read (it comes in at just under 200 pages), it’s the perfect resource for busy creatives looking to easily upskill. Remember this quotation the next time you think a site design is completely hopeless and you have no idea what to tell your client. Eventually, you’ll crack it and find a way to make it work.
2. “Intuitive design is how we give the user new superpowers.” —Jared Spool, Web Site Usability: A Designer’s Guide
Jared Spool currently runs UIE’s user design weekly article newsletter—something you should definitely subscribe to if you’re looking to sharpen your UX skills and knowledge. Web Site Usability: A Designer’s Guide, was published in 1999, but is still a timely, comprehensive, and data-based look at what websites do and why users need from them. Channel this quote the next time you’re diving into the UX of your site. Ask yourself what superpower you want to give your users and get to it!
3. “The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.” —Paul Rand, Design, Form, and Chaos
Paul Rand was an American graphic designer who was most active from the late 30s till the 60s. You probably know his work: He did the visual branding of companies like UPS, IBM, and ABC—and his design philosophy is just as relevant to today’s web design as it was to Rand’s print world. Keep this quotation in mind as you think about where your design work fits into the world around you—and remind yourself that in a world of drab design, you’re elevating the standard.
4. “A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: Solve the correct problem.” —Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things
Donald A. Norman has a background in electrical engineering and psychology and is one of the foremost usability/user experience experts in the world. He’s worked everywhere from academia to startups to companies like HP and Apple, and in his books and essays he brings together this range and depth of experience to present you nuggets of widely applicable design wisdom. If you’re ever worried about your design skills having limited application, you need to read some of his work. You can actually read this book for free online—so get going!
5. “Strap a piece of toast—buttered side up—to the back of a cat. Throw the cat out of the window. Will the cat land on its feet or will Murphy’s law apply?” —Alan Fletcher, The Art of Looking Sideways
If you’re someone who finds it more helpful to take a philosophical yet humorous approach to design, consider looking up Alan Fletcher and arguably his most famous work, The Art of Looking Sideways. Through witty writing and elegant design, Fletcher presents his thoughts on visual thinking that are sure to leave you with something to inspire you when you go to tackle your next big project. This quote is a great reminder of the illogical, chaotic nature of a good idea. Something that will bring you comfort when you’re staring down the barrel of your next multi-page layout design.
6. “Design is as much an act of spacing as an act of marking.” —Ellen Lupton, Thinking with Type
Ellen Lupton is a writer, designer, speaker, teacher, curator, and critic who has published such books as the Design It Yourself Handbook, Thinking With Type, and Design Your Life: The Pleasures and Perils of Everyday Things. The theme of practicality meeting design runs through her work, and Lupton seems especially concerned with helping the everyday person have access to design tips and tricks. Remember her practical advice next time you find yourself diving deep into the details of your next big design project—it’s all about elements that balance one another.
7. “Graphic design and user experience design (UX) are just two kinds of design, not its synonyms. Using the word ‘design’ alone for these things limits a broader understanding of who a designer is (everyone) and the scope of what designing can do (anything that can be done).” —Joe Sparano, Notes on Design
Joe Sparano’s website is worth a scroll-through for any web design lovers out there. His notes on design are especially worth a read for other budding designers out there, as he has a personal, holistic approach to making things. This quote is a great reminder of the distinct divide between graphic design and user experience. It’s important to see your design as a whole, but also to acknowledge the specific parts of that whole as individual practices. Channel Sparano’s wisdom the next time you find yourself struggling to give a client a website with all the various bells and whistles and plugins they demand.
8. “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” —Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Wind, Sand and Stars
Antoine Saint-Exupéry is already known around the world for his work as the writer of renowned book, The Little Prince, but was also a prolific writer and artist in his own right. Lovers of The Little Prince are familiar with Saint-Exupéry’s minimal, inviting style of illustration that accompany the sweet, philosophical tale of the prince, and went on to endear him to millions of readers from the late 1930’s, onwards. Use this quote to remind yourself that a designer’s job is actually about restraint. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.
9. “You have to have the idea before you can go to the computer or your work will lack authority. The way I do that is with a pencil, paper and stupid little drawings.” —Jonathan Barnbrook, Typography
Jonathan Barnbrook is an authority on the intersections of typography and graphic design. His work in the music industry, as a social justice activist, and as a teacher to up-and-coming graphic designers, means that his work isn’t just innovative, its multi-faceted. You can check out more of his studio’s designs on their site, and get inspired by the breadth and scope of the projects they’ve undertaken. Bonus points if you go to their teaching page and complete some of the mind-bending exercises they offer. Let this quote remind you that a tactile approach is sometimes the best way to figure out an amazing digital design. Sometimes, going analog is exactly the reset you need.
10. “Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.” —Charles Eames, 100 Quotes by Charles Eames
Along with his partner, Ray, Charles Eames was one of the most influential furniture designers of the 20th century. The Eames’s are most well known for the Eames chair, a molded plywood design that they figured out how to mass produce. Also architects, homes designed by the Eames’s are considered important examples of innovative design. For those inspired by the vast body of work created by this pair, there are a variety of writings and books worth checking out. Look back on this quote to remind yourself that good responsive design is all about the user experience. Eames knew what kind of physical and aesthetic experience he wanted his users to have, and then created it. In the digital design world of today, the same tenets still hold true. Channel Eames when you’re working towards a particular goal, like trying to figure out the needs of the user using your site on mobile devices. You’ll want to create a mobile-friendly website with an excellent user experience. Arrange your parts as follows.