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10 qualities that separate great web designers from the rest

06. Use white space as a sculpting tool

Source: Tomasz Wysocki, http://theafrix.com/work

Source: Tomasz Wysocki, http://theafrix.com/work

Often confused for an 'empty canvas' to be filled for a fuller picture, white space – or negative space – is actually just another tool used to fill the real empty canvas, and great designers know this

White space offers a lot of benefits: it can guide the user's visual flow by attracting or repelling attention, increases readability, gives elements some breathing room for better comprehension, and it makes the page overall just look better. Great designers have been taking advantage of white space since Ancient Greeks were 'designing' painted vases

Don't be afraid to leave parts of the screen empty – rather, consider removing some elements to create more emptiness. As recommended in Web Design for the Human Eye, think of white space as a special color, and learn when to paint it on.

07. Satisfy Maslow's hierarchy of (user) needs

Source: UXPin

Source: UXPin

Maslow's famous hierarchy of needs has been adapted to represent the needs of a user.

Just like a human being must satisfy the physiological needs like food and air before they tackle more complicated ones like social acceptance, users must also feel secure in areas like functionality before considering the fun factor of a design. Great designers satisfy these needs, from the bottom up

Firstly, a site must function, or else all other features are irrelevant. Next, the site must be reliable, meaning it functions with consistency so that the user takes the time to learn the system (and doesn't need to relearn it). Then, a site must be usable, meaning it functions well, and in an intuitive way that feels natural to the user. Last, but often neglected, the site must be pleasurable: aesthetic, stimulating, and capable of creating emotional connections

With these basic needs provided, what more could a user ask for?

08. Remember appearance affects functionality

Source: Bushrenz, http://bushrenz.com/, via awwwards

Source: Bushrenz, http://bushrenz.com/, via awwwards

Though it may sound superficial, in the realm of designing, it's what's on the outside that counts. Studies like this one on how users judge a site's credibility and this one on how users perceive usability differently based on looks prove it.

Appearance does more than make the user go 'that looks nice'. According to Don Norman, an aesthetically-pleasing site actually relaxes the user. This relaxation has a physiological effect on the brain that facilitates learning, decision-making, and the mechanical functions required to interact with the site. In short, appearance actually improves usability

Furthermore, a website's appearance directly affect the emotional connection it creates with the user. Your choice of colors, layout, style, and types of graphic will all either endear or repulse your user. Of course functionality and usability are necessary as well, but still a visual makeover can go a long way

09. Communicate with the user through interface conversations

Worrydream's 404 page - http://worrydream.com/404notfound

Worrydream's 404 page - http://worrydream.com/404notfound

User feedback is a conversation between the user and the interface itself. Great designers take this seriously, and build a UI as a suitable mouthpiece for the entire system

If user feedback is ignored, the conversation becomes too one-sided. If there's too much feedback, suddenly your system becomes the chatty-Cathy that corners people at parties. A great UI designer strikes a good balance between the two, drawing on their empathy with the user to understand what they'd prefer

In this way, user feedback makes the entire interaction seem more 'human'.

Interfaces with excellent feedback stand out in the users' mind and are remembered days later, while lacking interactions will soon be forgotten – much like conversations at a cocktail party. A great example of this are 404 pages; some are so good that they make us laugh out loud, and that's an emotional response you can't trigger from solid usability alone

To ensure your interface creates natural feedback, follow notable interaction designer Stephen P. Anderson's advice on creating a mock conversation between the user and the UI

10. Don't underestimate copywriting

Courtesy of Blake Burhart, www.flickr.com/photos/bburky_

Courtesy of Blake Burhart, www.flickr.com/photos/bburky_

Designers often trust the site's copy to professional copywriters, but that's doesn't give them license to neglect the importance of words in their work. Great designers work in conjunction with copywriters – if they don't handle the writing themselves – to allow both fields to complement each other

Just as feedback is your side of the interface's dialogue, your copywriting reflects your site's personality, for better or worse. It doesn't matter so much how you sound, as it does that how you tone matches how you want to convey yourself. A light-hearted, casual, and even humorous tone may work great for a social media tool, but for an investment firm it leaves something to be desired

If you are outsourcing your copywriting, try to avoid lorem ipsum when iterating designs. While this practice may speed along the design process in the beginning, it will ultimately harm it by treating content as an afterthought (when it should always be the top concern)

Incorporate the copy in as soon as possible so that you can avoid placeholders like lorem ipsum. This will enable you to design while taking the actual text into account, both the tone of the content, and the actual size and typography for how it will all come together visually

Conclusion

Great designers just don’t happen – they are forged through hard work, practice, and dedication to the craft.

The above techniques and tips can help you become better designers, but only if you embrace them and incorporate them into your existing routine. The question of how great you can be depends entirely up to you, and it's never a bad idea to learn from the success of others

To learn more about how to create visually digestible interfaces, download the free e-book Web UI Design for the Human Eye: Colors, Space, Contrast. Visual case studies are included from 33 companies including Tumblr, Etsy, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Medium, Intercom, and Bose

Words: Jerry Cao

Jerry Cao is a content strategist at UXPin — the wireframing and prototyping app. To learn more about how to create visually digestible interfaces, download the free e-book Web UI Design for the Human Eye: Colors, Space, Contrast.

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