1. Get to know your clients
I can’t stress enough how important it is to meet face to face with your client. Yes, I’ve worked from a brief and had great results, but generally with more revisions. There is so much to be said for really knowing your client. Body language can tell you more than even the most detailed client brief; such as how comfortable the client is with a concept or how receptive he or she is to change and new ideas.
Meeting with clients also allows you to talk through their likes and dislikes, why they decided to make a change or start a new business. Most of all, you have an opportunity to create trust and let your client know that not only do you have their best interests in mind but also that you have the skill and motivation to work with them for an even better design.
2. Understand your capabilities
Designers are expected, for the most part, to have all the skills of a front-end developer. Unfortunately for most designers coming out of school, the things they were taught about development were elementary at best. For instance, I was taught to use HTML tables with inline CSS to create websites. Fortunately, I had the advantage of a few years of experience with front-end development, or I would be as lost as the rest of the class. I’m lucky enough to be in a place where I get to focus on design and as a result, I’ve been able to grow significantly as a designer.
3. Always start with a pen and paper
I don’t have too much else to say about this, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Starting with a sketch will save you a lot of time in your design process and keep you from missing those small things that drive a better user experience. I’ve found that I’m much more successful starting with a pen and piece of paper than I am when I start digital. It allows you to easily put ideas to paper and pick the best of them for digital.
4. Love your harshest critics
Criticism is never easy to take, but even bad criticism has a little truth in it. When I’m stuck on a design, I’ll take it to someone who hasn’t been staring at it for the last 10 days and ask for their opinion. Knowing other designers that will tell you the truth about your work is very important to your own growth as a designer. It’s never fun for someone to tell you that something you created looks bad or doesn’t work, but you’ll get much better results if you can take their criticism for what it is and build a better product.
5. Everyone has a valid point
It’s never easy to take criticism (see #4 above), but it is one thing to get it from a colleague with a decade of experience and a valid point of view. It’s a completely different story when someone with zero experience, absolutely no knowledge of the elements and principles of design, or even what drives the design has something nasty to say about your work. Yes, it’s frustrating to have your neighbors, friends, buddy, roommate, etc. tell you he/she thinks your design doesn’t make sense. It might make your skin crawl, but that person has a valid point. Somewhere, somehow your design was lost on him.
Design is a fundamental utility for communication and if your design doesn’t communicate to him, you can be sure it will be lost on a few more people as well. Hold in all those things you want to say about how he doesn’t know anything about design: take a step back, look at it from his perspective and find out where you’ve failed to communicate in your design. It’s going to burn a little every time, but I’ve found that some of the most effective information I can get about a design comes from someone with absolutely no background in what I do.