The Difference Between Good Designers and Great Ones

Last week I read a great little blog post by Denmark-based UX designer, Lars Damgaard, entitled “How to avoid UX design trends and why you should“. In it he says (emphasis his):

“… we need to wisely reflect on how we use [design] or how we are inspired by [design] instead of just blindly reproducing [others’ designs], because this is what looks cool just now.”


He goes on to list a few design trends that he has seen which he cautions us, other designers, to be wary of when implementing.

This piece was an important one. Too often we are attracted by shiny design elements and patterns out there and we wish to replicate them in our own designs. Or whenever we have a design decision that needs to be made, we fall back on the “well, if it works for them, then it should work for me!” heuristic. And why not? It’s the easier/faster thing to do. And after all, didn’t Steve Jobs famously say: “Good artists copy; great artists steal”?

But there is more to this story. If all great artists are stealing from each other, how do we distinguish the genuinely great and innovative designs, and by proxy, the great and innovative designers behind them?

What’s the difference between good designers and great designers?

I contend that while good designers have attained comfort in the mechanics of their trade, great designers understand and actively mind the tradeoffs associated with the design decisions they are making.

Design trends come and go, but if you understand the tradeoffs associated with them you’ll be taking a step in the right direction of deliberately designing your web and mobile solutions.

Good designers design well. Great designers design deliberately.

Good designers know how to use their tools. Great designers know the limitations of their tools and work in relation to them.

Good designers steal. Great designers steal and are aware of the tradeoffs of their actions.

In fact, replace the word “designer” for “developer” or “chef” or “management consultant” or many other disciplines and it still hold true.

Lars Damgaard’s post inspired me to put together a single-page cheatsheet that details, in my mind, some of the most important tradeoffs associated with some of the design trends he listed, and then some.

I hope that it at least helps you think a little deeper about your design decisions going forward.

You can grab the cheatsheet from here.

Let me know if you think I’ve left anything out!

A Year in Review/Preview

In many ways 2014, like 2013, was a year of transition for me. I shut down my startup, moved to a new city, started a new job, and most of all, got married.

But I think I mostly saw 2014 as a year of learning. I learned how to manage my finances more; I learned about iOS prototyping; I took a Thinkful class on Node.js; I immersed (and continue to immerse) myself in UX design tutorials; I learned how to be a responsible husband (and am still working on it, honey!).

And as such, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Almost too much. But what do I mean by too much?

In general, I feel like learning should go hand-in-hand with creating.

The optimal level of both, in my mind, should have one’s magnitude of creating greater than one’s magnitude of learning.

To be clear, when I use the term “learning” here I mean the type of learning where it is strictly in the form of consuming lessons and content. There is no end-product.

By contrast, creation, by definition, does have an end-product. Every form of creation teaches the creator something new, conscious or subconscious. So in that respect, creating is a form of learning too. But the primary purpose of creation is not to learn – it is to bring something new into the world that did not previously exist. That the act can bring with it a lesson or few is a welcome bonus.

And so, my 2014 felt like a year of learning in the sense of consuming. To be sure, I did create some things. But I felt I did more consuming, passive and active, than the sured and determined act of creating.

And that’s why I’m announcing here that this year, in 2015, I will aim to adjust that.

I hereby announce my 12×1 Project!

Every month I will create something brand new and put it in front of the world. I’ll try to post them here too, though it may not be the primary showcase for the creation, depending on the nature of it.

I don’t exactly know yet what I’ll be creating, though I do have some ideas. They may include new online publications, an e-book, an online course, or an iOS app. Either way, it will a consumable end-product of substance. With each creation, I aim to stretch my abilities and skills further, and get more comfortable with sharing my work with others.

The aim is not to produce anything perfect, but to produce and ship.

I think that’s a worthy resolution to try to live up to.

Looking forward to sharing my experiences with you! And I’d love to hear what your resolutions are as well.

Happy New Year!

The Benefits of Prototyping: Lessons from the Wright Brothers

There are not many examples which show the power of prototyping that are as dramatic as that of the Wright brothers’. On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made history when they flew the first ever powered and controllable airplane. Their journey to this pioneering moment was a long, arduous, and testing one. And it is littered with the sketches and remains of countless prototypes, many of which do not even resemble what we view today as a typical airplane.

An early sketch of a prototype by Orville Wright

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