The best design advice I was ever given.

Every decision in your design needs to have purpose. You should be able to go back and explain why every pixel is the way it is.

This was told to 17-year-old me by someone who supported a family as a freelance designer. I didn’t even know that was possible. Of course I listened to every word he said, and I’m glad I did.

To a more experienced designer, this idea may seem obvious. If that’s the case, then this post is likely not for you. To designers just starting out, this way of thinking will be a huge step forward. It’s maturing past the “this looks rad!” phase and getting into the nitty-gritty of what it means to design.

Practicing this approach

First off, open up the last design you worked on. Go through every element, color, font, size, shape, alignment, and placement of everything. Are you able to back up all of your choices? Try deleting everything that doesn’t directly contribute to the goal of your design. Better or worse?

Another great way to practice is by going on Behance or any other collection of design work and look through what the top dogs have produced. Try to reverse engineer their work and think about the goals they may have had while making their decisions.

I’ve mentioned goals a few times for a reason. When you have a list of goals, it acts as your guiding light towards making more consistent and concise decisions in your work. Literally write down the goals of your design and reflect back on them whenever you are stuck on a decision.

Making better decisions

Really it comes down to experience, and that may sound daunting. Experience doesn’t have to be measured by time, but instead how effectively you are using your time. The best thing you can do to start making better design decisions is to produce tons of work that challenges you.

Read up on color theory. Look up the history of some of the top fonts in the world and how much of an effect they can have. Read up on design history. Read some books. Familiarize yourself with current design problems and think about how the results will affect the decisions you make.

The bigger picture

The term “UX Design” is huge right now (it really should just be called “design,” but that’s a whole other topic). And rightly so. Changing the placement of a “Buy Now” button is easily a matter of thousands of dollars for some brands. Talking to users, looking at statistics, and watching people interact with your design will lead to making educated design decisions.

Designing blindly based off what you think looks cool or what the popular kids post on Dribbble is only going to lead you down the wrong path. The goal of this post is to promote thoughtful work, and not just eye candy.

I hope you’re excited. I am. You’re starting a new era of your design career.

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