Improving Your Process: 9 Ways to Improve Yourself

Posted: July 30, 2007 Comments

From time to time I’ll inadvertently remind myself how much I love what I do. I’m thankful each and every day that I can go to work and spend my day doing exactly what I love. Not too many people can honestly say that. While, of course, there are days here and there that go less than smooth for one reason or another, I can say that I feel ecstatic to be in my current position. With that, I’d like to offer a short list of ways I feel can help you become a better designer/developer. In the spirit of the Improving Your Process theme as well as 9rules, I present: 9 Ways to Improve Yourself as a Web Designer/Developer. This list strays from the technical side of things and sticks to a more generalized overview of your process as a whole.

Truly understand what you’re doing

Web design and development is a skill. There are amateurs and there are professionals. Unfortunately, as far as the general public is concerned, making a website can be done in Word with just a few clicks. As a professional you should take pride in what you do and convey that pride in the work you produce. Take the time to research the medium in which you work. There is a vast amount of information, both technical and otherwise, surrounding the Web as a whole. As with any profession, your work deserves the research to back it up. Know your industry.

Read as much as you can

The most talented designers and developers are readily accessible at any hour of the day, directly or indirectly. These industry leaders are constantly providing massive amounts of their knowledge publicly. The majority publish to personal (as well as professional) websites, blogs, or otherwise. Many have published complete books as well, some of which is the best documentation you can get your hands on. We’re in a unique position in that we’re able to read the latest and greatest information the instant it’s published. Take advantage, subscribe to feeds, take some book recommendations seriously, and read as much as you can.

Write as much as you can

After reading articles, books, posts, or otherwise, take some time to provide your thoughts. They don’t need to be ground-breaking or Earth-shattering. If you’ve got a question; ask it. If you’ve got an (appropriate) opinion; express it. Involving yourself will do nothing but propel the speed at which you can come to a conclusion regarding any questions you may have. If you’ve got a lot to say about something, start a blog, write a post or article, write it down and get it out there. Your contribution will help future designers/developers who have the same questions or concerns.

Talk as much as you can

Engaging in dialog is another great way to gain some knowledge you may not otherwise come across. Whether it be in person, over an instant messaging platform, or a thread in a forum, I’ve found direct conversation to be a great way to broaden my view on various subjects. I’ve discovered completely different viewpoints through conversations that changed the way I do things significantly for the better. Many times, an outsider’s view will be the eye opening information you were looking for in the first place.

Try something new

Many times, people become comfortable in their own process, in Web work or otherwise. It hasn’t let you down yet, so if it isn’t broken, why fix it? While I tend to take that very stance when it comes to many things, with Web development I do not. When it comes to the Web, things are changing and evolving at far too quick of a pace to feel completely comfortable with how you do everything. New technologies and techniques are proving to be more effective all the time. Some really intelligent people are producing tools and processes for us to use in an effort to help produce higher quality work in the most efficient way possible. It’s great to keep up on these developments, but take the extra step and try implementation. If you think a different piece of software may be better suited for an upcoming project, give it a try if the a budget or time frame allows. There are many articles on such things as how to Write Better CSS or articles which provide someone’s Bare Bones Style Sheet. I’ll always keep watch for an eye opening way of doing things that just makes more sense than what I’m doing now.

Keep yourself organized

Organization is very important not only when it comes to your work, but when it comes to life as well. Knowing how to keep yourself organized will help you to retain focus on the tasks at hand and help you to keep Getting Things Done. As a Web designer or developer, you spend nearly your entire day at your computer. Take the time to keep it organized. Have a naming convention and file structure in place that you use for everything. Keep your emails in order and sign off AIM if it’s getting in the way. Your buddy from college can send those pictures later on. Organization should be applied to your code as well. Coming up with a company or personal theming convention can help things tremendously, for example.

Make more websites

Taking a page from the book of Kyle Neath, by far one of the best ways to improve yourself as a designer or developer is to do more work. Whether it be client based or simply a personal project you’ve had rattling around your head for the past few months. Set aside sufficient time to produce the best work you can, as it is a representation of yourself and you should take pride in it.

Remain enthusiastic

One of the best ways to improve yourself as a designer or developer is to be excited about what you’re doing. Take comfort in knowing you’re doing quality work that displays your talents. Becoming involved in the industry will help boost your excitement about what you’re doing like no other. Enjoying what you do will retain your hobby being your career. Web design and development has a tendency of becoming slightly frustrating when you’re taking on a new language or technique. Take frustration as a sign of determination. Give yourself a minute to gather your thoughts and resume where you left off. Having enthusiasm in your work will help you be more productive than anything else, and distaste will bring you to a grinding halt.

Always keep learning

Finally, by far, the best way to improve yourself as a Web designer or developer is to keep learning. Don’t ever think you know as much as you need to know, or that you know more than the majority so you’re better off and that’s good enough. There will always be something to learn, something to discover. The knowledge involved in working with the Web is extremely vast, and it inherits many principles and theories completely unrelated to computers or the Internet. Be humble in your knowledge and continually try to learn as much as you can.

In summation

I know this list is far from complete and it doesn’t aim to be. It is a small overview of a few pointers that have truly helped me try to improve my process and hopefully at least one can help you as well. I don’t mean to come off sounding as though I feel I’m an expert on the subject; on the contrary, however (see Way 9). Again, I hope this list can at least act as a refreshment, and hopefully spark a bit of conversation as well.

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Comments

  1. This is an excellent list. When it comes to web development it is extremely important to understand your trade and industry. This doesn’t always mean implementing technology for technologies sake – but at least having an understanding of the technology in case you may need it in a future project.

    The web is constantly changing, it is extremely beneficial to read and keep up to date with the many aspects of web development.

    Your last way, ‘always keep learning’ is the key to everything else above it.

  2. Great advice – I particularly like the idea of continuing to make new sites. I always learn new things with every start-from-scratch project I take on.

  3. I’m glad you guys enjoyed the article! Thank you for taking the time to leave your thoughts, I appreciate it.

  4. excellent list and useful advice, thank you!! in fact, we all know these things but it’s good to see them written down from time to time as to keep them in mind. particularly the keep-learning-thing, i always try to improve my knowledge and use new things with every project i take on – and i do so with great enthusiasm!

  5. Jon: Just thought I’d let you know that I didn’t receive the e-mail from your mailing list until today.

    On another note, I absolutely agree with the “make more websites” step to improving your game. Generally you have to learn something new or upgrade your quality for every site you make so theres only one way to go and thats up.

  6. Great article, Jon. I fully agree with every point you’ve made. So many of them go hand-in-hand as well. Like continuing to learn and expand your skillset and remaining enthusastic. I find that I am most excited about work when I have something new to try out. Which brings us to another point you made – trying something new.

    Speaking of which, I finally got tired of Coda eating files and have moved to TextMate. After years of hearing how great it is, I’ve finally discovered that greatness that lies within. It’s all about the tab-triggers. Best shit ever! I can code a WordPress theme in no time now. And as such – having a new app for coding and a new and improved method of doing what I do on a daily basis has me all fired up to work.

  7. @Matt Brett: Thanks a lot. I’ve had my share of back and forth between editors, and as of this writing I’ve settled on TextMate as well. In my opinion some of the best inspiration to do great work is simply being triggered by a new way of doing things.

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