How to survive as a web designer beyond 2020

Graphic design on the web is becoming standardised. Visual trends are being adhered to like rules, and organisations are losing their identity online. A website builder such as Squarespace and Wix might offer seemingly high quality website templates for a fraction of the price of a bespoke site design, and there are a lot of options out there as our guide to the best website builders proves. 

Platforms such as Dribbble and Behance make it a lot easier to find designers. Supply is high and so is the competition. This can force prices down. So, why should anyone hire us? What makes us unique?

Sites like Behance have made the market truly international

Sites like Behance have made the market truly international

With stiff competition, how can we maintain a premium price point for the work we do and continue to forge a successful career in web design? The answer lies with our clients and our approach to design. We need to remove ourselves from this race by competing on a completely different level. 

Our goal must be to create distinctive and unique design work for our clients that elevates us above the competition and in turn helps build us a diverse, unique and strong body of work. 

Find an identity

Over nearly two decades in design, I've formed an approach that helps me create unique work; work that you can't get from a template. It all starts with the client: it's their unique identity and personality that's the foundation for distinctive, engaging design. 

You're probably familiar with clients sharing ideas with you at the beginning of the design process. These ideas are often based on another company's identity; often they're a direct competitor. Your client has aspirations, but it's our job to help them to recognise that their identity is unique, and that the key to a successful design comes from within their own organisation.

Uncovering the client's unique identity is key – as I did with the site design for Mixd

Uncovering the client's unique identity is key – as I did with the site design for Mixd

We convince them to build upon their own values and mission and not replicate something they've found elsewhere. If you follow, you're always one step behind.

Once they're on board, we extract their identity. We want to get to the bottom of who they really are. What drives them? Why do they exist? What is their mission? What are their values? We can do this through a series of discussions with the client. It's important to be empathetic.  

This discovery process is often very rewarding. It's at this point your client realises who they are and that they have an identity they can own. We now have a strong basis from which to build a distinctive and unique design.

Tell a story

To use the information we've extracted, we need to make sense of it. We look for common threads and use these to start building our client's story. We're condensing the bigger picture of who they are into a simple, digestible form. I often distil the patterns I find into phrases or straplines that convey the company's values and mission in a few simple words. 

This forms the basis of your client's story – it's like a movie strapline. This narrative will give you direction and meaning when creating the visual design and branding elements. It will give you solid reasoning and direction for your design decisions.

Key phrases – such as Shopify's 'With you all the way' – can help distil a company's values

Key phrases – such as Shopify's 'With you all the way' – can help distil a company's values

As well as creating the basis for your story, the client's identity, values and mission will guide you in to how to apply style to your site design. Typography, colour, layout and texture all convey meaning to the user. Choose styles that help convey and communicate the core message of the website. Using this logic can make the creative process run more smoothly. You're no longer trying to grab ideas out of thin air; you have solid reasoning in place to help you make your design decisions.

By following this process you'll not only create distinctive work for your clients; you'll also build yourself a strong body of design work. You'll demonstrate that good design can't be bought off the shelf and that if a potential client wants a distinctive and unique web presence, it's something worth investing in. 

This article originally appeared in net magazine. Subscribe here.

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Mike is a UK based designer with a worldwide client roster, specialising in web and UI design, graphic design, branding, communication design, illustration and photography.