How to keep focused and finish strong
More often than not, when beginning a project we start out with the best intentions and get swept away with the notion of creating something awesome and beautiful. Quite often, what happens is after a few days of fumbling around in sketch and endless searching on inspiration websites we become overwhelmed, lose focus and end up settling for “done” rather than pushing the extra bit further to achieve something great.
Many times I find myself in this situation more than I’d like to admit, so over the years, I learned to take the following steps to ensure that the projects I work on end up as awesome and beautiful as I imagined they would.
The majority of the projects I work on are website or apps, so for this scenario let’s pretend we’ve been tasked with re-designing an existing website for a client.
Rule one – get organised. Before you get any big ideas of how you’d like the site to look and feel first gather all available assets. In this example, we’ll assume the client has quite thoughtfully organised all the content in a folder, all in the correct format and highest resolution known to man.
If for some bizarre reason they haven’t, we need to hunt them out. These assets will dictate what you can and cannot do when designing, so it’s important to know what is possible right out of the gate. At this point, it’s good to have a discussion surrounding content. Is there a budget for better imagery? Do we need to hire a copywriter? etc..
Keep it simple and don’t stray
So, your organised and have all the assets you need to get started, what next? First off, don’t race over to bechance, siteinspire or httspter to get “inspired” – although very tempting, I find doing this often leads to a messy design in the long run.
Instead, study what you have collected in the getting organised phase, this is where the bespoke and organic ideas originate and ultimately end up contributing to the richness of the end product. These ideas don’t have to be grand or complex, it’s usually the simple stuff executed well that make the most impact.
I find having restrictions helps me to stay focused, it stops me wasting time trying to figure out how I can shoe horn some cool thing I’ve seen elsewhere into a project which probably doesn’t even need it. Have faith in your original ideas, choose your colour palette, limit your font selection and get started.
Restrictions help me make better design choices and you will be surprised just how far you can get with a single font. If you need to create greater contrast in typography to establish a better visual hierarchy, try playing with the letter spacing and the size and weight of the type, rather than introducing a new font. If you feel can’t achieve what you want by doing that, then maybe look at introducing another font.
The same goes for colour, limit your selection and try to use complementary colours to create harmony on screen. A trick I learned is to explore the opacity of the primary colour. Play with the opacity of the colour over black to generate rich dark colours which work with your design, (especially good for body copy) or over white to create subtle light areas for when there’s just too much white and gentle separation is needed to break up areas of the page.
Try limiting yourself and explore the restrictions rather than introducing more ingredients you probably don’t need.
To recap, setting restrictions helps to;
- Stay focused
- Make better design decisions
- Be creative in the right areas
- Create harmony and consistency
How to handover
So, you’re a few days in, the visuals are looking good and you’re quickly approaching the project deadline. It’s time to take a step back and evaluate your work. I like to do this in a couple of ways. First, I go through my document (sketch) and make sure I’m using consistent colours, font sizes and think of it as consistency housekeeping. I find this helpful because it gives my brain a break from thinking creatively while still contributing to the project.
Next, I like to bring another set of eyes to critically evaluate when I’ve done so far. Changes can occur at this point and sometimes it can expose “weak” areas of your design, but this is part of the job, it’s important to learn from feedback and not get deflated. Remember, everyone has the same goal, to create and deliver good work. The more you hone your craft the less this tends to happen, but no project is “perfect”.
Now everything should be ready to build. At present we have a team of developers, so I don’t touch any code. But, it’s important to have a chat with the developer and discuss any features you’d like to implement in your design which may not be obvious in your visuals. Things like hover states and subtle animations. These can often be overlooked, so take the time and collaborate with your developers and gather examples of what you would like. It will make all the difference when the website goes live, and often I find the best ideas emerge through collaboration – two heads and all that.
Done, you’ve made it. The website is on the staging server and ready to deploy. Not quite, it’s time to go over the site with a fine-tooth comb and create a snag list. Yes, there will be snags, its unavoidable no matter how much you plan so just accept it and grab your developer and make that list.
Once the snags have been completed you’re ready to go live. You’ve made it, sit back and relax. Time to plan the next project. I find approaching a project this way helps me stay focused and finish strong, wins all around.