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4 Habits of Successful Web Designers

Posted on 9.02.2015

There was a time when Web designers were applauded for their ability to publish a page that worked; it was clickable, viewable and likely visible on the search engines.

Today, however, Web designers and developers have a much tougher time at getting the kudos they deserve, because not only are consumer expectations at an all-time high (which means clients' expectations are too), but website builders are becoming increasingly more sophisticated in their ability to make "designers" out of everyday users. In short, Web designs are rarely good enough for all parties involved (and that even includes Google). 

Even so, there are common habits that the most successful Web designers all have. 

1. They Look for Visual Solutions

Even with the best copywriters on their team, Web designers must take the content given to them and look for a way to visually communicate it. For example, a copywriter could give a designer an excel chart of the company's pricing models. It's then up to the Web designer to find a way to make this information look more visually appealing on the site. One way to do this is through colors and imagery.

99designs, for example, mimics the color of the pricing tier (bronze, silver, etc.) for its pricing chart. What is particularly interesting about 99designs' pricing chart is that it offers a drop-down menu for all of its different offerings, which then changes the pricing chart based on the user's selection (see image). This is the handy work of an impeccable visual solution to what was likely a tough dilemma: How do we list all of our pricing structures on the same page and in a visually appealing way?

Another observation worth noting, however, is that a Web designer could easily (although there might be some resistance) ask the copywriter to even out the copy in the example above, so that the number of lines are consistent across the page (rather than one category with two lines of text, the other with five, etc.), which just makes for a cleaner design. Deciding not to fight certain battles, however, is another habit worth taking on. 

2. They Do Competitive Research

A well-executed visual like the example from 99designs is not easy to come by. It takes a lot of thought to solve a problem where there is various information that needs to be presented in a quick manner. While designers don't want to rely on what has been done already too much, it's important they do competitive research to solve their own prototyping problems. Competitive research goes beyond "mimicing" another's design. Rather, it's a way to also see what doesn't work.

Designers should have a list (even if it's just a mental one) of some of the websites they particularly like and those that push the boundaries of what can be done on the Web so that they can refer to them for inspiration. Squarespace, for instance, is often mentioned in Website Magazine for its Web design, because the company isn't afraid to make major changes to its online experience. In 2013, Website Magazine considered Squarespace one of the top service provider websites on the Web (see the site then), but the site has continued to evolve. 

Similar to 99designs, Squarespace needed to find a solution to presenting all the different kinds of websites its users can create in an engaging way. It did this by presenting a very traditional homepage (at least at first sight) and then including website examples below the fold using parallax scrolling. What's particularly noteworthy about Squarespace's above-the-fold content is that its two calls to action (CTAs) focus on two groups: (1) those who are ready to get started and (2) those who need to learn more. Conversion optimizer expert Tim Ash recently wrote that only focusing on the bottom-of-the-funnel users (those ready to act now) is a selfish marketing act so it's worth noting that Squarespace wisely caters to two types of users. 

Even users who choose to "learn more" are still presented with a static "Get started" CTA as they navigate through the company's different design options.

This is notable because many websites offering parallax scrolling do not include a static CTA as a person scrolls down. This is also one reason why competitive research is so important. How many conversions are those sites missing out on? Well, this question leads us to the next habit of successful Web designers. 

3. They Test

There will, undoubtedly, come a time when those involved in a Web design project have differing opinions about what will work. The good news is, testing can solve many of these disagreements. Even without internal disagreements, however, designers should put it in their minds that users are going to disagree with them and their disagreements will come in the form of leaving the site, not converting or having an overall poor experience.

Web designers know there are many things to test, including the the colors of CTAs, the content itself, etc. Those designers whose organizations don't back up their desire to test different elements, should do their research to present compelling evidence about the benefits of testing.

For example, this report indicates that while A/B testing CTAs is a widely used practice, only one in seven A/B test campaigns produce a significant improvement, but when it does, the average increase is 49 percent. 

4. They Continue Their Education

In an ideal design world, every company sends its employees to conferences and workshops that will teach and educate its staff on emerging best practices and case studies. The reality is, however, that many of these industry events are not only expensive to get into, but also present travel costs. In most cases, it's the designer's job to continue their education, which can seem costly and time consuming, but at the end of the day, it's their career they need to propel forward and becoming more educated will help them in their current and future positions. A subscription to Lynda, for example, might be a worthy investment. 

Designers can also stay up to date with industry trends and best practices by reading publications like Website Magazine (of course), as well as following some of their favorite Web design gurus on social media, participating in Twitter chats and the list of free options goes on.

Your turn...What habits do you think make for a successful designer?

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