5 Tips for the Aspiring Designer / Developer

Ernst Haeckel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was recently approached by a friend of a friend, a student working towards his B.S. in information technology with a concentration in website design who wondered if I had any tips for someone who’s “new to the scene”.  Little did he know that I had been working on a blog post featuring such a list of pointers.  I took this interaction as a sign I should finish it.

  1. Take Every Opportunity to Learn About Anything
    Web design and development is inherently multidisciplinary.  A good website: garners traffic; entices visually; brands effectively; communicates clearly; leverages technology; and (seriously, designers and developers both need to stop ignoring this one) serves business goals.  …and that’s just the product – there’s a whole other set of disciplines for the process.  Bottom line, getting all of it right is a real battle, so you’ll want a whole arsenal to fight with.
  2. Find Yourself a Role Model and Repeat Daily
    It is really so easy to keep your head in the sand, especially when you’re under a heavy workload.  Your work will be of so much higher quality if you can constantly identify solid role models in your disciplines and benefit from their examples.  Yes, you can and eventually will learn to do things correctly on your own, but you could also get there so much faster.  You might also identify the poor role models around you and take notes on what not to do.
  3. Adopt Conventions That Keep Code Readable
    I promise, readable and well-documented code is its own reward.  Always indent.  Always quote attributes.  Always explain anything that’s not completely obvious.  Ask yourself, “Will I (or someone else) be happy to pick this up again a year from now?”  You’ll thank me the first time you find yourself grunting and grumbling over inheriting some slob’s messy code.
  4. Consider Writing Your Own CSS Reset/Normalize
    I recently decided after years and years of either building each stylesheet up from scratch or starting with someone else’s not-quite-complete reset that I would establish my own and while it really is tedious and time-consuming, it has probably been the most effective exercise of my career.  You will learn so much so quickly and all the while you’ll be developing something that can be used and improved upon every day.  If you make it to a milestone without losing your mind in the battle for browser compatibility, you might stand a chance in this industry.
  5. Make a Habit of Being the Devil’s Advocate
    I’m not sure I’ve ever worked on a project where there wasn’t some barrier to best practices, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t always be thinking about them.  Are we concerned about accessibility?  What about progressive enhancement?  Have we considered performance?  Are we introducing any limitations to future possibilities?  It’s far better for the client to wonder how you can be such a geek now than wonder why you hadn’t brought it up later.

Now is a great time to be entering the web design and development field.  With the advent of social media and networking, inspiration is abundant and accessible.  New and emerging technologies are opening a world of possibilities, both creative and functional.  The business world couldn’t be more excited about the Internet.  I can’t wait to see what you produce.