I can’t play any instruments. My parents signed me up for piano lessons when I was like 6 or something before finally calling it in after being told by my piano teacher that I don’t have the hands for piano or something. I’m also a very, very terrible singer, as my shower head and my friends who’ve been unlucky enough to be trapped in a karaoke booth with me could testify. Despite all of the above however, I’m proud to say that I actually have a pretty good taste in music, so much so that my friends tend to rely on me to provide music for whatever occasion they deem necessary.
This is basically a long-winded way of me saying that you don’t have to be a musician to actually have an ear for music. It didn’t came out of nowhere, I listened to more music than the average person to get to where I am now and I know that doesn’t seem like hard work but I’m nonetheless proud. This philosophy also applies to visual design, specifically web design. You might not be able to actually do the entire design process yourself as a non-designer but there’s a lot you can do in design even if you don’t actually have the background for it.
Outsider art and self-taught artists
During my later years at university, around the time I was supposed to be working on my thesis but was instead spending my time on the university library reading up on anything that looks interesting, I came across John Maizels’ book on outsider art and one artist in particular, the late Henry Darger, fascinates me. Darger was a recluse American with a seemingly unassuming life but with one notable exception, he created a detailed fantasy world in a 15,145-page manuscript along with several hundred equally detailed paintings that illustrates the story.
The manuscript, titled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What Is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, was written in the timespan of over six decades by someone without any literary or artistic background with no help or supervision from anyone else. His works are now universally celebrated and is part of the permanent collection at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Art isn’t a field strictly limited to artists the way design isn’t just for designers.
As a business owner, it’s quite likely that you’d be in charge of deciding how your company is portrayed in public and in the 21st century, that would mean deciding how your website is going to look like. You don’t necessarily have to oversee every minute detail that goes into the design of your website but it’s fair to say that the overall design language and styling is going to be your decision. To make the best decision, you’re going to need at least a basic eye for design and the following tips could certainly help you with that.
See what good design looks like and understand what they have in common
To begin with, try checking out Awwwards, the professional body that, in their own words, aims to “discover, recognize, and promote the talent of web designers, developers, and agencies who create unique digital experiences”. In their website, you could discover hundreds of websites that excels in specific categories in web design, such as navigation, typography or in e-commerce web development that could be used as a starting point. You don’t have to always agree with what their idea of excellence, I don’t, but there’s going to be several examples that you both agree with and try to work your way up from there.
It is in my opinion that each and every one of us essentially has a handle on which design is good and which is bad but what separates the common folk with the established designers is that the designers have a much better way of articulating those points. By finding what good design have in common, you can start to isolate these common grounds and understand better what makes a design good, which would work in your favor when you meet with your designers and point them in the right direction.
Understand the idea of composition
This was one of the first things I learned when I borrowed my brother’s camera for a trip. Ever since the age of smartphones, we’ve all been taking quite a number of pictures but the difference between taking pictures and actual photography comes down to how you compose a shot. With a smartphone, I just wait until the camera focuses on an object and snaps away. When you’re holding a camera with an actual viewfinder though, you start to notice things you’ve never noticed before, like how the way the streets are laid out make up an imaginary line that helps draw the eye of the viewers or how if I zoomed in just a little bit more, I could get rid of that one leaf at the edge of the frame.
Composition in web design is a little bit different but the basic principles remain the same. How the elements are arranged and sized on a web page represents a subtle but crucial part of design. A page that’s badly composed could lead users uneasily feeling a little bit off without being able to explain exactly why while someone who understands composition could subtly manipulate the layout to draw users’ attention to a specific element in the page.
Try using stock photography
This is probably less of a tip and more of a cheat but it’s still one trick I like to use every now and then. When you’re running out of ideas on what to put on your webpage, consider using stock photography. There are several free stock photo websites out there such as Pexels that could be used for your website, as long as you perfectly understand the license being used. Some could only be used for non-commercial purpose like a personal blog while others might not carry such restriction.
Ask for input from your designers
Even if you’ve prepared yourself by reading up and familiarizing yourself with some of the things I’ve mentioned above, there will definitely come a time when your designers came up with something that you don’t fully understand or when they had an idea in mind that you’re not sure is going to work. In cases like these, try to get them to properly explain where they’re coming from and always keep an open mind. Remember, they’re the designers so it’s fair to say that they should know what they’re talking about and you might learn something or two along the way.