— it involves mastering the small details that are usually overlooked.
Here are some of the areas I concentrated on that significantly elevated the quality of my work and allowed me to win freelance deals.
Behind an effective design is a well-informed designer. When starting a design project, you have to spend time learning about your users, their current experience, what are the top frustrations they have, and how are they solving for it now. At the core of this discovery, you have to identify what role the user has, and what job the user is trying to accomplish with the product or service. To map this for your product, it is helpful to use the Jobs-to-be-Done (JTBD) framework.
These jobs allow you to identify the most important things to build, understand which users you’re serving, and align with stakeholders on what problems you’re trying to solve for your users. Without these insights from users, your designs will be heavily based on assumptions, and it might even be harder to create an effective design solution.
If you have limited access to users, showing your designs to people in the same industry or those who have some knowledge about what problem your product is trying to solve is a good alternative. Your primary goal is to validate your assumptions and get feedback as fast as possible so you can go back and iterate on your work.
The Crazy 8s activity is a popular design workshop for ideation. This method fosters divergent thinking and explores innovative possibilities.
Once a design solution is determined (from ideation), it is also prudent to create different variants and studies during execution. Challenge yourself to try different layouts, visual styles and IA (Information Architecture). Having varied studies not only helps widen your perspective as a designer, but it also makes your stakeholders more likely to trust your design recommendation because they have seen how you’ve explored multiple executions.
Consistency in design elements, such as typography, color schemes, or design components, provides a sense of unity and clarity. It establishes predictability for users, enabling them to anticipate how the product behaves. For example, placing buttons on the same location across different pages empowers users to navigate and learn how to use your product.
Another thing that makes a design polished is the effective use of spacing. Space can direct the user's attention, create hierarchy, and prevent overwhelming visuals. I use an 8-pt grid framework to instill balance into my designs.
Here is an example of how spacing makes a difference in creating well-structured designs. Guess which one looks easier to digest?
I won’t delve into UI tips but here are some good reads:
Acknowledging the unknown is a critical aspect of growth. Testing designs, be it through usability testing or concept testing, is crucial in uncovering the unforeseen flaws in your designs. These insights will give you the opportunity to improve the quality of your design work.
The key to getting to these insights is to:
Bad practices of testing:
Freelance projects are hard because they’re usually a one-off type of engagement. As a designer, you want to act not as a contractor but also aspire to be a strategic partner for the companies you work with. Therefore, to elevate your status and value as a designer, it's crucial to envision the complete journey your customers will take with your product.
The product is the entire experience that the user goes through, so spend time thinking about:
Some of these questions are usually answered at the tail end of the design process. I recommend proactively addressing them early on. By preparing for these considerations, you refine your design vision for the client's product and position yourself as a thoughtful and forward-thinking designer.
Becoming a top-notch product designer isn't just about talent; it's about being curious, testing ideas, thinking through every detail, and learning from the process. It's an ongoing journey of improvement and adaptation, where every little tweak and every user insight counts. Master tiny, overlooked aspects and refine your design process. These improvements can make the biggest impact.
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