How To Create Designs You Know To Be Good

When you finish a new design what do you usually think of it. Do you like it? Hate it? Do you find your work sometimes disappoints you and makes you question your decision to become a web designer?

If you’re in this last group, fear not. There may be a very good and normal reason why you feel this way and even better a path to be more satisfied with future designs.

Via Daring Fireball I was pointed to this post, which pulls a brief quote from the video below on storytelling by Ira Glass.

While Ira is mainly talking about stories, there’s some great advice for all creatives.

Many people who go into some form of creative work do so in part because they have good taste. You’re able to judge quality in the creative discipline(s) you choose to pursue.

Unfortunately early on there’s a gap between what you know to be good and what your skills allow you to create. When you look at your finished work you know it isn’t good. It tries to be good and has potential to be good, but it’s lacking something that truly makes it good.

What’s happening is your taste and ability to judge quality is ahead of your skills to create quality, which opens a gap leading to disappointment in your own work.

Most all creative people go through years of this gap where taste is more developed than skill. Unfortunately many quit before they reach the point where skills catch up to taste.

The best thing you can do to close the gap is a lot of work. Keep doing more projects. Create as much as you can to gain the experience you need. As you create more work you’ll inevitably close the gap. Your skill will catch up with your taste if you keep at it.

Mind the gap

Using the Gap to Improve

The video resonates with me for a couple of reasons. First I know I’m still in the phase where I need to close the gap. It hasn’t been all that long that I’ve been designing websites. I’ve been developing them for awhile, but only designing sites for a few years.

I don’t think I’ve yet to create a design that had the something special I was looking for. I’ve gotten close a few times, but never quite there.

Second I think there’s more to the story. The gap is more than one between taste and skill. It exists between theory and practice.

Both theory and practice are important parts of learning. At any point in our careers we can open the gap by taking in more theory. We learn design principles. We study how to communicate visually to greater effect.

More practice then closes the gap again. Theory expands what you’re capable of achieving and practice actually achieves it.

Practice alone won’t take you past theory. No matter how much you practice you aren’t going to create a gap where skill outstrips knowledge.

To continue improving we need to consistently open and close the gap.

  • Open gap — Initial development of taste and sense of quality
  • Close gap — Practice until you can create quality that matches taste
  • Open gap — Learn more theory
  • Close gap — Apply theory you learned in practice
  • Open gap — Learn more theory
  • Close gap — Apply theory you learned in practice

and on and on.

Ideally you’ll always be both learning new theory and practicing the theory you’ve learned so the gaps you ultimately open and close don’t need to be very large. In fact you may never notice them once you’ve reached a certain point.

Opening the gap sets the new baseline you can reach. Closing the gap reaches the baseline.

I haven’t closed the initial gap where my design skills have caught up to the taste I’ve developed throughout life, though I think I’m getting close. I have closed that gap in other creative areas, but not yet where design is concerned.

I’ll continue to close and open the gap between theory and skills as a web designer and hope you will too.

Illustration of an empty classroom

Additional Resources

The video at the top of this post is actually part 3 of a 4 part series. All 4 videos are worth watching and each is under 10 minutes. Here are links to all 4 in case you’d like to watch.

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Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.


    • I think both theory and practice are necessary. Each offers something the other doesn’t. If you could only pick one I’d go with practice, but I think the best in any discipline always do both.

  1. I love that series by Ira Glass. One of the biggest things for me was learning to overcome perfectionism and just get started. It’s easy to think about some ideal, realize you don’t have the skills to reach it, and just give up. The irony is that if you don’t create something imperfect first (probably over and over and over), you’ll have no shot at perfection.

    An unimplemented ideal is just a pipe dream.

    • It’s a good series isn’t it? I know he’s not specifically speaking about design, but everything he says applies to so many fields.

      I hear you about the perfectionism. It’s something I have to work hard to overcome. Now when I write blog posts I start with some notes. It’s easy not to worry about them being perfect since they aren’t close to the final product.

      From there I write a draft I know will be rough. Little by little it all gets shaped into whatever you end up seeing here.

      Now if I could only do the same in other areas of my life. šŸ™‚

  2. Wow after watching that video it really makes me think about how much more effort and practice I should put into my craft now on a positive note. I’m feeling alot happier about it now! Thanks! šŸ™‚

    • It’s a good video, isn’t it?

      I think anyone who does creative work goes through times when they hate what they create and feel like they don’t have the talent. Hearing others say it happens to them helps and even better when they can explain why we feel like we do and how to get past it.

      Yep, practice, practice, practice. Though don’t forget to keep learning theory to understand why things work like they do.

  3. I think both concept and exercise are necessary. Each provides something the other does not. If you could only choose one Iā€™d go with exercise, but I think the best in any self-discipline always do both.

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