July 10, 2021No Comments

Stop hating on Dribbble [Design Writing Challenge #6]

Many designers dislike Dribbble because they don't think the shots are "real-world designs." I find Dribbble a very valuable resource and here's why.

Dribbble is a perfect place to:

Observe design trends

Companies and clients don't want their products to look like they were made in the early 90's no matter how great the usability is, unless their brand aesthetic is all about the early 90's!

People see modern designs and like their products to look modern, even though they don't know how to articulate them. Designers need to be sensitive to design trends.

Find visual treatment examples

Sometimes I run into problems styling certain elements on a page. Maybe a form has too many fields, or a table cell has too much text.

I often find it useful to hop on Dribbble and look at how other designers treat certain elements. Perhaps they lighten certain labels or add icons at certain places. It helps me consider options that I haven't thought of.

Be inspired by layout possibilities

Dribbble is a great place to look at a lot of examples all at once. For example, I can search for "Dashboard" and instantly see a ton of different ways to design dashboards -- with different layouts, color schemes or typographical treatments.

I can then take these inspirations and experiment with my own designs and see what works.

Dribbble is not a place to:

Find examples of good usability

Dribbble shots provide very little info on who the customers are, the problems to be solved, or any data on how well the design performs if it's shipped at all. For inspirations on usability, case studies or UX research articles would be more helpful.

Learn about problem-solving process

Again, Dribbble shots do not provide information on how the shots were designed. To learn about the problem-solving process, reading design case studies would be more useful.

Find designs that you can copy and paste into your work

You may look at a Dribbble shot and think, "well, that'd never work with my current project."

And you're right. Nothing will work for your current project unless YOU put in thoughts and efforts to solve the particular problem for the customers.

So there's no point thinking that Dribbble shots are useless because it's not something you can just copy into your work and be great.

So that's my view on Dribbble. I love it, case closed!

July 10, 2021No Comments

To all my former design managers [Design Writing Challenge #5]

I've been really lucky to have worked with many incredibly talented designers. At each place I worked, the design manager there taught me something important and unique. Here's what I'd say to them if I were to meet them again. And I do hope I get to meet all of them again in the future!

To Angelique: Thank you for teaching me how to make wireframes and visual designs when I was just a "creative assistant" ordering pizzas.

To Richard: Thank you for letting me work with you as a sub-freelancer taking on different projects.

To Yutai: Thank you for giving me opportunities to explore my skills at work. And also the logo principal "tight not touch."

To Keara: Thank you for showing me top-notch mobile designs and pushing me to pay attention to details. Typos are unprofessional!

To Doug: Thank you for giving me the most fun projects in the startup and encouraging me to think about product directions.

To Rich: Thank you for pushing my visual design skills and encouraging me to learn from other people's work.

To Jeff: Thank you for introducing me to the latest design tools (at the time Sketch) that changed the whole design process.

To Dave: Thank you for being the caring leader of a design team facing clients from hell.

To Karin: Thank you for being a design director who I could always chat with about my career.

To Mike: Thank you for being a calm force during a chaotic project and someone whose work output can always be relied on.

To George: Thank you for showing me how to genuinely care for fellow designers and bring a team together.

Without these design leaders, I wouldn't be where I am today. And I hope to take all of what I've learned and share it with other designers now and in the future!

If you have a chance to say a thing or two to your former managers, what would they be?

July 4, 2021No Comments

Thinking With Type – an Essential Book on Typography [Design Writing Challenge #3]

One of my favorite books on design is Thinking with type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. This book helped me a lot when I was a junior designer and I'm still using many of the principles I've learned to this day.

It's an easy way to start learning about typography

Typography can be a daunting subject! I remember as a junior designer I was deathly afraid of being found out that I didn't know as much about typography as I should have. This book taught me the basics of typography in a friendly and visual way that helped me learn without fear.

It tells a visual story of typography

Many nuances of typography come from how certain type was created and used before the age of computers. This book outlines the history in a visual way that makes it really easy to understand why certain types are used in certain ways and why they evoke certain emotions.

It outlines principles that are practical

Aside from all the histories and fun facts, this book outlines key principles of typography that can be immediately put to use whether you're designing for print or digital products. From the grid, usage of drop cap to avoiding the lone word, I was able to put these principles to use the next day I went to work. And I sounded a lot smarter (I think)!

Among all the design books that I've owned, this book is the first one I'd recommend to a fellow designer. Is there a design book that's your all-time favorite?

July 4, 2021No Comments

Self Review – The Key to Improve as a Designer [Design Writing Challenge #2]

Doing a self-review is an important part of my design process. A day after doing a design I like to give it a second look before it goes out the door. 

Here’s what I do:

1. Review designs on appropriate devices

Your user won’t be using your design in Figma so review your designs on actual devices. For mobile designs, I use Figma Mirror to make sure that my design looks good. For desktop, I use Figma’s presentation mode to simulate clicking through a web page. For print, I use my crappy printer to print a version that I can feel in my hands.

2. "The Next Morning" self reivew

In my process, I put down a design at the end of the day and review it again the next morning. Usually, after a night's sleep my brain is smarter? 😂😂😂 In my review, I see how I respond to my own design. As I look am I saying to myself "Oh wow, that's pretty good" or "Man, who the hell did this shit!?" I often spot mistakes that I overlooked the day before.

3. Design presentation dry run

If I’m preparing for a design presentation I like to do a dry run in my head — as if I’m clicking through the prototype in front of an audience. I start by saying,

"Today we're looking at the xyz feature for our customers..." Oops, I put the wrong slide here, gotta edit this!

"After the user clicks here, they'll be able to see this popup..." Oops, popup not showing, gotta go back and see if the prototype link is connected correctly!

Self-reviewing helps me improve my designs and spot mistakes before they go out to coworkers or clients. Do you do self-reviews for your work? What is your process like?

July 2, 2021No Comments

Five Ways to Win My Heart in Design [Design Writing Challenge #1]

When a design wins my heart, it's usually because it has done well in the following principles:

1. Consistent spacing

The spacing in a design is like backup orchestra for a concert. No matter how beautifully the main element is designed, if there's no adequate breathing space and consistent spacing surrounding the whole piece, the design would seem haphazard and unprofessional. It's as if the backup orchestra is going off on its own tune during a performance. Imagine how confusing (and perhaps amusing) that would be!

2. Legible typography

The study of typography and its history, pairing, and emotional impact is deep. But one of the most important aspects of typography, in my opinion, is that it needs to be legible on the communication device that it is used on. A headline or a paragraph can look romantic, modern, or futuristic. But if it's not legible, it loses most of its power because the meaning is not communicated across.

3. Visual Focus

In a design, there should be one element that grabs my attention within the first glance. It can be typography, illustration, a photo or a button. Without a clear visual focus, the design is confusing and quickly loses my interest. The human brain tends to seek out patterns and meaning. When they are not readily obvious (like life!) it can be very frustrating!

4. Emotional Impact

I love it when I can feel a clear sense of emotion from a design. Perhaps it's a sense of luxury, light-heartedness, sadness, or even terror. Emotion influences brand perception, and plays a huge role in information processing and decision-making. I feel that the emotional impact should be considered an important heuristic of whether a design is successful.

5. Clear call to action

As a form of communication, there are usually actions associated with the information that is conveyed via a design. Knowing the available actions is the first step for interaction. It also helps direct users and provides a sense of certainty.

There are many other ways to win my heart in design, but the above five are the ones that I find the most important. Do they overlap with yours? What are some ways that a design can grab your heart?

About the Design Writing Challenge

Let's face it, I suck at writing!

It takes me a long time to write anything, and it's hard for me to get my meaning across a lot of times! It's especially hard for me to write design case studies, it simply kills me!

I feel like I either sound like a teenager rambling, or some boring industry professional - still rambling. I'd really like to write with ease, clarity and personality.

The only way to get better at writing is to write

I believe the only way to get better at design is to design, therefore it must be true for writing as well. I downloaded an image of 30 writing prompts from the internet and adapted all of the prompts for design.

I look forward to sharing all these design writings with you in the next 30 days!