The Secret Behind Great Designs: A Young Web Designer’s View

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As web designers, we all want to create beautiful websites that get noticed. We want our designs to look great and stand out from among the rest. So how do we get the experience and the skills needed to create amazing designs? In this article, we will let you in on a little secret that can greatly impact your path to becoming a great designer.

To find a career to which you are adapted by nature, and then to work hard at it, is about as near to a formula for success and happiness as the world provides.

One of the fortunate aspects of this formula is that, granted the right career has been found, the hard work takes care of itself. Then hard work is not hard work at all.
– Mark Sullivan

I read these lines some time ago while surfing on the web, but since then they have been a great source of inspiration for me.

Hi! My name is Davy Kestens, a college student and freelance creative director by profession. At the moment, my focus is set at creating online businesses. I often hear people calling me crazy (I can live with that), original (Aah, I love it), and an absolute Mac-loving maniac with a smile… I just like to call myself an open-minded guy who loves to travel.

Starting Out as a Web Designer

When we start our career as web designers, we are taught certain principles such as:

Basics of Design

  • Design shall provide ease of navigation.
  • The design should have optimum balance between whitespace and content.
  • Text should have good readability.
  • The colors and graphics used on websites shall be an optimum blend and should highlight the most important elements.
  • Design shall be fresh and pleasing to the eyes.
  • The design shall not be too containerized and the page must flow from top to bottom in a smooth fashion.
  • Images shall be smooth and soft rather than being in deep contrast.
  • Align your design with client needs, because he is your livelihood.
  • Know your tools – Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, etc.
  • The list goes on…

These are basics and there are ample literature out there that can teach and train us on these aspects (Smashing Magazine1, Tuts+2, A List Apart3). Now, I’d like to ask you the following two questions.

How do you keep up? How can you stay creative and on top of your field?

Over the previous years, I have learned the number one way to improve myself and produce some amazing designs. That unique way is to design, develop, market and maintain your very own project. This project can be anything from creating your own blog, building a community about your hobby, or even coming up with the next Facebook.

Personal Project

Designing and maintaining your own project is a time-consuming and very tiring exercise, especially when you already work lots of hours. But success doesn’t come easy. If you create your own online project about a subject that you are deeply interested in, it brings along a degree of accuracy and passion in the design, which is hard to get while working on most client projects.

Importance of a Personal Project

I am going to share some of my thoughts on why I believe it’s important for each web designer to design and maintain their own blog, community or next million dollar idea!

  1. Responsibility vs. Ownership
    It is my belief that web designers are the key to the success of a website. Each website only has a few seconds to attract its visitors; and that is only feasible with a great design. When working on a client’s project, you do not have complete control of the project. But when you are your own client, the whole responsibility of design solely falls on you. This sense of ownership gives you freedom, which propels you to explore the newest trends4 and heights on the web.
  2. Testing Ground

  3. Freshness and Craziness
    Web designers simply love to create fresh designs. But how many crazy ideas can you implement in a client’s design? May be 20% or 30% at most? And how many crazy ideas can you implement on your own website? 100%! You can go crazy and shape your online baby in however way you desire. You can also include all the ideas that you have always wanted to experiment with in your designs. Your own website is a platform for you to test your ideas and eventually, you can show your clients that your ideas actually work!

  4. Unleash Your Creativity
    Each website design requires creativity5. When working on a client’s project, creativity often gets hampered by ideas coming from the unaware client. When you are working for yourself, you can completely choose what colors and graphics will work best and what type of content your site will need. You will surely be able to create the most creative design in such a situation.
  5. Time Limitations vs. Experimentation
    While working on a client’s project, there is usually a deadline which needs to be met. However, when working for yourself, you have flexibility to stretch your time because you want the best for your baby. This gives you all the time to experiment6, browse through the web searching for ideas, and learn the current trends on the web.
    Time Limits
  6. Going Beyond Limits
    Usually a human is limited by his or her personal knowledge. While employed, you are usually bound by your company’s training process and resources. On the contrary, when you work for yourself, you can gather all required resources and work through the latest tools. With that, you can push your limits to levels way beyond where you are right now.
  7. Open Feedback and Criticism
    While working on a client’s project, there is typically a limited peer-group from where you can get direct open feedback on the design. That peer group includes the client, your team members, and – if you’re not a freelancer – your managers. However, when you design your project, you are not bound by the same constraints and you are able to show anyone. You can even go on Dribbble7 and get feedback from the world’s best designers.
  8. Logo Bigger8

  9. Design Principles
    Above all, you will be able to apply all of the design principles9 that you have learned to your project. When designing for clients, there are times when they have no regard for design principles and would rather make the whole website fit above the fold10. When designing your project, you have the freedom to create a website that will be aesthetically pleasing to everyone because you have no constraints when designing the websites.

My Personal Project

At this stage, few of my dear readers might be thinking that it is easier said than done. Well, let me just say that I practice what I preach. Yes! My latest website, my child, my heart, my beauty is www.runaddicts.net11. For me, this is my proud trophy.

Running is something I love to do. Through RunAddicts, I have tried to implement all the points that I shared above. I have learned a ton, experienced freedom, as well as the thrill of going completely crazy when my project launched.


Run Addicts12

All the web designers who have implemented my suggestion and have worked frequently on their own projects observed that their design quality at work improved considerably; and so did their responsibility. Many of them have reported growth and increased their satisfaction in their career.

Thus, I recommend to all you web designers – you must start by creating your own project as soon as possible. Whether it’s a blog, a million dollar idea, or even a community about stargazing. It doesn’t even matter if you finish it, as long as you keep working on it, and trying out these new techniques, you’ll do great!

I sincerely hope that you too will gain from my experience and grow leaps and bounds in your designs. If you enjoyed this article, please help us share it with others. Also, you should follow us on Twitter here13.

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Davy Kestens is a motivated young lunatic from Belgium with a highly entrepreneurial vision on his life. Currently working as a freelance creative director and continuously starting up online projects when he's not out trying to take over the world. His latest published tool for world domination is RunAddicts.net - A professional blog about running. Want to keep up with him? Go ahead and visit his website.

  1. 1

    Great read! Your personal project looks fascinating to say the least. Can totally relate. :)

    -1
    • 2

      Hey Matthew, thanks for stopping by. Also, I’m really looking forward to the launch of Add to Design. Make sure to let me know once it goes live. :)

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  2. 3

    Its a very inspiring Article. I m also a 17 year old geek and a Designer :) Thnks Design Informer

    Sid
    .-= Sid´s latest Blog Entry – Cyber Warfare is Reality =-.

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  3. 5

    Wow Davy! Lunatic or not, you write good stuff and that website of yours is fantastic :)
    .-= Sneh Roy´s latest Blog Entry – Project 365 Vector Characters – Kwerp For Day 65 =-.

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  4. 7

    Great post! Loved the quote by Mark Sullivan and your side project sounds awesome! Keep up the great work :)
    .-= Jon Bergan´s latest Blog Entry – Beginners guide to a beautiful jQuery Form Pt. 1/2 =-.

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    • 8

      Hello Jon, thanks for the comment. I’m sure Davey really appreciates it. Oh, and congratulations on the launch of Design Luv. Great job all around mate!

      -1
  5. 9

    Sounds like Agile Web Design :)

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  6. 10

    “Importance of a Personal Project” – this is the thing I wanted to read for so many days. Freedom and experimentation are most important aspects of designing, the way I believe. Thanks for sharing, Davy. :)
    .-= Arjun Phlox´s latest Blog Entry – » Martin Aircraft’s First Commercial Jetpack =-.

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  7. 12

    Thanks to all of you for your great comments! If it’s ok for Jad, you may expect more of my articles in the near future!

    Warm regards and have a blast with your own personal projects!
    .-= Davy Kestens´s latest Blog Entry – Why I fired my boss and went to college =-.

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    • 13

      Thanks for the offer Davey. I would definitely love to see more of your articles here on Design Informer. Thanks again for writing such an inspiring article. I’ve actually had this same topic in my mind for many months already. :D

      -1
  8. 14

    For personal projects I actually like to give myself time limits, I find I personally work the best under some sort of pressure and that if I don’t set a time for a personal design to be done, than it might be just another lonely concept in my sketchbook..
    Congrats on your latest project…
    .-= Melody´s latest Blog Entry – 10 Easy Steps To Create A Romantic Coloring Book =-.

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    • 15

      Hey Melody, that does make sense, and I do think that you should have a goal. However, it definitely seems to be a little less stressful knowing that you don’t have to absolutely have to get the project done if you hit a few snags. With a client project, you might have to spend extra hours on the computer to meet a deadline. I’ve went through many days without sleep before just to meet a deadline from a client.

      -1
  9. 16

    Your latest project looks great! Love the design and it’s very refreshing to see, but still easy to navigate. Keep up the good work and don’t let anyone discourage you! I am a young designer as well and what I have learned is to design what you see in your mind and what you feel in your heart. It always comes out so much better that way and more original. Good luck!

    -1
    • 17

      Hi Hillary, thanks for the encouraging words about Davey’s site. I checked out your site as well. I like those mushrooms. :D

      By the way, where did you get the name “Snarphblat?”

      -1
  10. 18

    Having just launched a much need revamp of my own site I can say how thrilling it was to have total control over every aspect. All too often the client will kill your original design and you’re left with something so bad it would never make it onto your portfolio.

    I love total freedom but it is seldom found anywhere other than pet projects.

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    • 19

      You are so right Simon. It definitely is thrilling to design something where there are no constraints and where you have the final say.

      That’s why I really enjoyed designing this blog. Sure, I asked for the opinion of others but in the end, I have the final say! :D

      -1
  11. 20

    I love this article! Very inspiring!
    .-= Ignacio´s latest Blog Entry – Tel Aviv Couture =-.

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  12. 22

    Great article. Loving your website design too, well done.
    .-= nick Burd´s latest Blog Entry – Winter Olympic Poster Showcase =-.

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  13. 24

    Nice article and run addicts looks great!

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  14. 25

    You’re totally right about the whole ‘start your own project’ thing. It’s great being your own boss and you don’t have the constraints of client-work.
    .-= devolute´s latest Blog Entry – Palin does stand-up =-.

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  15. 26

    Nice read Davy. Good luck with your project
    .-= Lee Munroe´s latest Blog Entry – SXSW Here We Go =-.

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  16. 27

    Davy, its really very nice read. Its great to know you and see your work through this article.
    .-= Waheed Akhtar´s latest Blog Entry – 8 Design Elements Your Blog Should Have =-.

    -1
  17. 28

    Well written! Maintaining a personal project is a really important for designers.
    If it is a blog, much better!
    .-= aravind ajith´s latest Blog Entry – Zexee: A Free Sexy WordPress Theme! =-.

    -1
  18. 29

    Nice read and also your website is great!
    .-= Lam Nguyen´s latest Blog Entry – Most Wanted Business/Magazine WordPress Premium Themes =-.

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  19. 30

    Great article!
    .-= Mihai O.´s latest Blog Entry – Over 100 Blogs Which You Should Follow =-.

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  20. 31

    I am finding it really hard to express my gratitude for these amazing comments and mails I am receiving.. Thanks! It’s extremely motivating!
    .-= Davy Kestens´s latest Blog Entry – Why I fired my boss and went to college =-.

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    • 32

      What a great article from a fresh young designer. I like your project too. Thanks for sharing.

      -1
  21. 33

    Nice article Davey, all the best in your endeavors.

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  22. 34

    Great article. I wish i would have done more personal projects when I was in college. All I ever did was class projects, nothing ever just for myself.
    .-= Lee Gustin´s latest Blog Entry – Amazing Illustrations of Justin White =-.

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  23. 35

    When I was in college, I barely found the time to keep up with group projects and intense long nights in the library gearing up for the next exam. I have a lot of respect for you taking the initiative to tackle a personal project on top of your workload. Great article!
    .-= Bluefaqs´s latest Blog Entry – 10 Fresh Redesigns from the Design World =-.

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  24. 37

    nice article. I too design like you while designing new websites :)

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  25. 38

    Great post, Davy! I completely agree with what you said. For me, designing is something I do all the time. It could be in photoshop/illustrator or on my notebook. What I really wanted to do aside from just designing was to kick off an online venture of my own and unfortunately, what I wanted was a bit more advanced than what I could pull off on my own. I know he basics of HTML and CSS and have not managed to learn the basics of WordPress and of course pushing to learn even more. Anyway, building anything remotely resembling a gallery or video site is just beyond me so I took a pre-maid theme that I am slowly working to modify and break apart to learn more and try to build a successful site.

    That is where http://flickthis.tv comes in. It’s a movie trailer site and blog. I work on this site on my spare time and I have noticed every single one of your points while doing it.
    .-= David Silva´s latest Blog Entry – A Nightmare On Elm Street – New Nightmare 1 =-.

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  26. 39

    I absolutely agree with Davy. Personal projects allow you to discover a strong will you didn’t imagine to have. days and nights spent writing articles and searching for inspiration!
    .-= Sebastiano Guerriero´s latest Blog Entry – 30 Examples of How to Bring Typography to the Next Level =-.

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  27. 40

    enjoyed what the article said, and decided to do some following up on the writer.

    And what do you know? Lo’ and behold, the author happened to be like-minded 21 year old web entrepreneur, just like me (of course I’m talking about you).

    Unlike you, I went to college right out of high school. Three years into my education, I was offered a job at web development firm, and decided to take the plunge.

    Well, here I am. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be gainfully employed, and granted, I have learned some valuable lessons. But unsurprisingly, I grow bored, and unable to escape the feeling that I am relentlessly caged and limited.

    It’s not even that the boss is unreasonable or that the work is boring, it’s just that, like you, I have always been a free spirit, and I am growing weary of doing things in a manner that suits my superiors, instead of pursuing my passions in a way that suits me.

    You’re story and insight has provided me with a a much needed shot of encouragement, inspiration, and hope, and I hope you continue along your path with success, enthusiasm, and happiness.

    I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay in my current position, but thanks to your article, I look eagerly forward to the day where I can finish my college education, and start waking up everyday, doing things when, where, and how I want to.

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    • 41

      Thank you for your comment! I hope I inspired you to achieve great things and that you may be proud of what you decide to become. Like Richard Branson says: “Screw it, Let’s do it!”

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  28. 42

    GREAT site, congrats (I also love to run) all the best.

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  29. 43

    Two things Davy.

    First, this was an extremely well written article that carried some great truths for anyone inside the web design sector. Personal projects solve a lot of problems with credibility for new clients. I find that a well designed and maintained community (e.g. a blog) speaks volumes in place of the usual references. We like to say that we have hundreds of thousands of references a month by running a network of blogs.

    Second, I absolutely adore your design style. It fits the running genre perfectly. Nice work.

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  30. 44

    Nice piece of content to read and learn!

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  31. 45

    Agree with the personal project stuff!

    @Jad: I recently launched my personal project: http://relpost.com offering related posts on some valuable topics in web design. I hope it proves useful esp. for beginners.
    .-= Amrinder´s latest Blog Entry – Relpost Launched =-.

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  32. 46

    Hi Davy,

    Thanks for this great article ! I just show it to my girlfriend to make her understand why i work all the time, that i need to improve my skills and keep on my passion.

    Gilles

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  33. 48

    Runaddicts.net is stunning!

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  34. 49

    Another great article here on DesignInformer.

    I completely agree with you on the importance of personal projects Davy and really truly enjoy your RunAddicts site – you really see that you put a lot of work, thought and heart into it.

    I think the biggest challenge a designer faces when working on a personal project is to actually make himself the time to work on it. I have so many ideas for cool web sites and blogs I would like to put online, but not nearly enough time to actually realize all of them because I’m crammed with client work.

    Would be great to read more from you Davy, keep up the good work.
    .-= ximi´s latest Blog Entry – What Designers Can Learn from Other Professions =-.

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  35. 51

    Love the post, very inspirng! Shared the quote with all my friends, it really can be related to all type of work:-)

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  36. 52

    Truly, working on one’s project is thrilling! I totally agree with your point : when I graduated from my engineering school, I thought I would apply the latest techs that I had learnt in school and which I loved in my workplace. I also had the crazy idea that my point of view would matter. But there are so many restrictions when you work in a company that I had to work on old techs and nobody listened to my advice.

    Now that I am working on my own I keep learning new techniques and applying them to my project, and I totally love it! I work way more hours than when I was employed, but it is a real pleasure.

    Thanks for the article!

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  37. 53

    I love this article…
    .-= technotiger´s latest Blog Entry – Pagination like facebook message inbox =-.

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  38. 54

    The design of the fonts and little images up there are really bad

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  39. 55

    Nice article! Very inspiring indeed

    Your personal project looks good. It is simple yet creatively done!

    I was once a struggling web designer and just like you I have to come to master my skills as years go by.

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  40. 56

    Inspiring. Thank You

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