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How to set yourself apart as a designer and make sites that shine

August 3rd, 2016 · 5 min read

Let’s face it. There’s a question that almost every designer in the world has heard (if you haven’t come across it, at some point you will). The question has been always present, but now with so many tools to make simple and beautiful, it’s pulsating more than ever: Why do I have to hire a designer if I can the website myself?

It’s an annoying question, I get it. It is the despicable set of words properly put together that unleashed every designer’s deepest rage. But with Wix, Squarespace and Weebly powering almost 120 millions between the three of them, this is becoming more and more a question that we have to address. It’s an occupational hazard so to say.

But worry not! As every odd week, in this section we’re gonna tell you some nice tips you can use that will help you improve your client’s relationship, explaining him why does he need you and how your knowledge will bring value to the project (if the case is right).

Addressing the elephant in the room

First of all, you need to answer the main question to your client. Or maybe even to yourself. And let’s be honest. There are some cases in which getting a template or a site builder might be a better choice.

But pretty buttons and nice layouts isn’t the only thing in web design. There’s awful designs in Squarespace too, although they’ve tried and worked too hard on making it really difficult for you to spit out an ugly design with their platform, if you don’t really respect the good layouts, if you select bad images and overall have bad taste, you’re gonna produce something that looks like a bad power-point template, or even worse.

However, you should take Squarespace as the IKEA of web design: You can produce nice things that kinda work, but if you want something sturdy and durable, you should always go with a tailored design.

WordPress themes and website builders come with standard solutions that sometimes might not be the perfect fit for you, and trying to adapt them to what you want sometimes end up creating.

Squarespace as the IKEA of web design: You can produce things that kinda work, but if you want something sturdy and durable, you should always go with a tailored design.

The value lays in creating something new and innovative that sets itself apart from everything else. A selection of images, a layout, a creation of buttons and elements that work together seamlessly to convey a beautiful design experience, that at the same time communicates the ideas and style of a brand. And please let’s not forget about achieving the project goals. Beautiful stuff that doesn’t work it’s just beautiful stuff. And I’m gonna teach you to do just that:

Craft the experience

Your job as a web designer is to streamline the process, and carefully supervise and execute all the steps that will end up with a finished product being a complete experience that’s beautiful and compelling in its entirety.

Your added value lies in more than creating a layout. Layouts are pretty standardised today, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes our jobs a little bit harder to set themselves apart.

Before you do anything, try to craft the complete style of the website you’re designing, by making yourself questions similar to this:

  • What’s the brand like?
  • What are the emotions that I want to transmit with this website?
  • Who will be taking me through this site? Will we talk to the user as “you”? Or as “I Am”?
  • What colour pallette will I have to work on?
  • What’s the kind of images I want to put up on this website? Is there a lighting style or a type of image I should do?
  • What type of icons will I add?
  • What’s the “feel” that I want to convey?

All this -and any more that you can suggest- are questions that will make a difference in the final result. Try to reply them as carefully as possible and with proper thought, and you might

Think Mobile First

![Mobile First Photo]({{ site.urls.assets }}/images/blog/2016-08-03-how-to-set-yourself-apart-as-a-designer/mobile-first.jpg){: .mx-auto.block }

Another way to distance yourself from classic website builders is to do a Mobile First Strategy that starts with designing for the smaller screens first. This is a good way to organise information and set up a layout, create a design system for the smaller screens -which are usually the hardest.

Site builders have the option for Responsive Design, but they start from a desktop side of things and are really limited to the amount of information they display, they just typically display everything and stack it vertically, which isn’t always the best case.

For more information on Mobile First, check this inVision post, also responsible for the image above: Re-imagining the Web Design Process

Work as an art curator

Another aspect in which no website builder will help you, is making the selection of images, icons, and general art of the website. This is particularly important in order to determine a visual language and set a style that sticks in everyone’s minds and follows a determined aesthetic.

Work as if you were an art curator, and the website was your exhibition.

Art curators work trying to keep consistency between the different art, and lay out the message that they want to send to the right audience. You can do this:

  1. Once you’ve set the style, aesthetic and experience you want to take on, select a typography that shows all this.

  2. Carefully select images to use that have same lighting techniques, color filters and in general the look that they could’ve been taken in the same studio or in the same set. Be very wary with this, having image consistency and a great eye for selecting the right ones will make your website go from standard to amazing. Here’s a great blog post with some sites that can help you get amazing free stock photography: 21 Amazing Sites With Breathtaking Free Stock Photos

  3. Is your website going to include icons? Are you capable of doing them yourself? If that is included in the estimate and you can do decent icons, go ahead and look for the different icon designs that will go best with the design you’re crafting, and get to work. Otherwise, The Noun Project has always been a great source of beautiful icons, that maybe with a little color tweaking, can be the perfect addition for your next design.

Choose a web design process as your preferences dictate afterwards, but make sure to put some effort into these three points, and your clients will have no doubts about the value of your work.

Specialize, specialize, specialize!

This could also be taken as career advice, but it isn’t less true because of this. With this tools already existing and thriving in standard web design, you have to add value to your own work more and more. But don’t worry, that’s the natural state of things.

There are many career choices you could take, depending on what you like, but here are some options for you to grow your expertise even further and make your clients fall in love with you:

  • UX/UI Design
  • Icon Design
  • Animation / Interaction Design
  • E-Commerce Design

There’s plenty of niches that are out there, and with the right amount of time and effort, you can find the right one for you that you will love.

Is there any other niche that you can think of? Is there another way to set yourself apart from clients that you think would be worth mentioning? Let us know in the comments!

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