You can be a web designer, too

It takes work & practice to get good at something, and web design is no different. It took me a long time to realize that.

I just finished some work for a new Toronto firm and wrote up a short piece explaining some of the design elements. When I was finished, I reread what I’d wrote, like I usually do, to make sure there weren’t any typos and that I hadn’t said anything dumb. It struck me that I would have never been able to talk about my work like this a year ago; partially because I didn’t have the experience or language to express myself like that, and partially because I didn’t have the confidence to do so, either.

As I become more comfortable with building webpages on different platforms, I notice myself taking more risk with design. I ask for the validation of others less and ship a web design mockup I am proud of more often and more quickly. This is a relatively new way for me to think about my work.

I used to think that I just wasn’t cut out to be a designer - my attention to detail was poor and thought I just wasn’t born with the right eye to build visually beautiful products. I would beat myself up for not being perfect/amazing every time I had to submit a mockup to a client, even though I’d only been working at this stuff for a couple months. I would compare my work to the work of people who had been designing websites for years and throw mini-tantrums at myself for not being as good. Freelancing became a horrible way to make a living for me because I was so unkind to myself I would get anxiety every time I started a new project. I began to question whether or not I was cut out for this and considered looking for a desk job.

I now really believe the saying “practice makes perfect” when it comes to design - anyone can do this if they take the time and do the work. It’s not something you’re born with and I’ve learned its insulting to people who have worked hard to become really good at what they do to suggest that they were.

I don’t believe for a second that I am a great designer and I still have a lot to learn, but I can see a path forward to doing work people respect and admire. This path involves continuing what I’ve been doing for the last year:

  • freelance work
  • hours & hours of using tools like Photoshop and Sketch and continuing to learn how they can help me save time
  • getting feedback on work from designers I respect and trust

When I look back on graphic and web design I did a year ago, I am almost shocked that I could have dreamed up something so ugly and lopsided. I can’t stress enough how important it has been for me to have clients who needed design work to both a) force me out of my comfort zone in terms of design and b) practice these skills while getting paid. These people were mostly friends and family who needed work done and who trusted me to do a good job. It took me a lot longer to come up with something I was happy with then - and even longer to come up with something that incorporated the client’s feedback properly - but I did enough of those projects that I can now confidently sell and talk about my work, and you can, too.