Learning to design

I thought a good first post would be something that was easy for me to talk about – learning the art of web design. I often have people asking me where and how I got started in designing websites and software. I’m pretty much self taught, so my stock answer is always “play”. But what does that mean exactly?

Play in Photoshop

There are a ton of good tutorials out there that will teach you how to move around Photoshop, which is the best tool out there for designing websites. Most of the tutorials, however, will walk you through specific actions required to create a specific design or element of a design. If you’re trying to learn new techniques, these tutorials can be really¬†advantageous. My recommendation for “learning the ropes”, however, is to copy. Pick 5 websites that you really like and try to recreate them pixel for pixel. Quite often you will find yourself stuck because there is a specific technique that is used in the design of the site that you don’t know how to replicate. That’s where good old Google and the aforementioned tutorials will help you along the way.

Amateur Web Designer Night

Play with code

HTML, CSS and JQuery are amazing tools for any web designer. Knowing what’s possible when a client asks you for specific features can make or break a project. Again, there are ton of tutorials out there that will help you learn. Try and find some functionality in a website that you like, such as CSS sprites, a javascript image slider, or¬†true table-less design, and practice until you get them just perfect. A great way to learn is to deconstruct other people’s code line by line to see what everything does. That’s how I built my first website when I was 14.

Play with personal projects

Building up a portfolio can sometimes be a daunting task. Try picking a topic and building a website around it. Maybe a fan site for your favourite band, or a database of recipes of your favourite foods. Learning to design and build within a theme is great practice for learning about target market, UI design and social media tools. At Oaktree, Aaron and I decided to build a website that would feature local live music events. It’s been a great learning experience!

Dive right in

When I used to start a new project, I procrastinate because I don’t know where to start. I’ve learned over years of practice that the best approach is to dive right in. If you’re starting with a website design, look for inspiration through gallery sites. Pick a style that you like and try to recreate some of the element (not pixel for pixel, mind you – just the general concept). As you move forward with the design, you’ll find that it changes and evolves as you pick up on specific elements of the design that you fall in love with – an oversized header, or an awesome font in the navigation.

After you’ve found that inspiration, the sky is the limit. Create two or three designs for every project you’re working on. Then take a break and revisit them the next day. You’ll see what sticks and what doesn’t, and ideally the end result is a beautiful, sleek site that you’re proud to include in your portfolio!


For more of my work, visit Oaktree Media. You can always get in touch with me if you have any questions!

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