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5 Steps to Become a Better Designer (Without Designing Anything)

by Dan Jacobs
woman and dog at the beach

Photo by Oleksandra via Adobe Stock

Sometimes, the best way to become a better designer is to do something totally unrelated to design.

That might sound counterintuitive at first, but design isn’t just about art theory and principles; it’s about the designer’s approach, state of mind, and methods that contribute directly to the end result.

1) Walk Away

Roadblocks happen. (Not to me, of course, but to other designers.) Jokes aside, roadblocks are part of the creative process. Even the best designers hit a proverbial wall at times that either requires patience or tenacity and it can be difficult to decide which response is warranted.

Designers typically lean towards tenacity, literally pushing pixels two to the left, then two to the right, resizing a font, shifting an image, etc, until something “clicks” and they get it “right.” But that rarely happens.

When you find yourself doing this, it’s a good time to simply stop. Save the file and close the app. Then physically get up and walk away.

Stepping away can help clear your mind, provide a fresh perspective, and alleviate the counter-productivity inherent in pixel-pushing. The work isn’t going anywhere, but you can.

2) Focus On You

Believe it or not, self-care has a significant impact on creativity. When you’re physically, emotionally, and mentally in a good spot, your energy and inspiration correlates. Taking care of yourself is paramount.

Think of it this way: input matches output. If you’re sleep deprived, hungry, and stressed, it’s going to show in your design. But if you’re well rested, satisfied, and excited, you’ll often (not always) produce better work.

Take care of yourself. Grab a snack. Take a nap. Make some tea. Or whatever; you do you.

You can’t pour from an empty cup, so take time to fill yours up.

3) Go Back

We’ve all heard the metaphorical term “back to the drawing board” but in this case it’s literal. There are times when you’ve committed to a design to the point that you’ve convinced yourself this is the right direction, even when you know it isn’t.

When you find that the design just isn’t working no matter how hard you’ve tried, grab a pen and start sketching. Approach the project with a fresh take. And don’t worry about the time you’ve “wasted” because if the wrong decision got you to the right one, you didn’t waste anything.

4) Get Feedback

If you’re stuck on something, ask someone besides yourself for feedback. They don’t have to be a designer. Ask your partner. Ask a friend. Ask whomever.

Just don’t ask you.

You can’t be trusted with unbiased feedback because you’re the closest one to the project and the freshest perspective you’re going to get is an audience member, even if they’re not the “target” audience.

Getting either validation that your concept is working or hesitation that it’s not coming across as intended will help determine your next revision – just remember to be open to criticism.

5) Get Inspired

When you’re heads down on a project, it’s easy to slip into full production mode, and pull from a limited arsenal of inspirational resources. By that, I mean your go-to’s in your comfort zone.

Sometimes all it takes is a glimpse of something new or interesting to kickstart your brain back into creative mode. Check out thefwa.com and awwwards.com for great sources of website design inspiration.


Being a better designer is not just about keeping up with trends, building cool stuff, and evolving your skills. It’s about recognizing your own behaviors and embracing methods to produce the best work; even if it’s contrary to your normal routine.

By taking time to care for your own well-being, stepping away from a design, and seeking outside perspectives, you’ll substantially improve your products and design experience.

Stuck on a project and in need of inspiration or guidance? Reach out to us – we’re here to help.

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About Dan Jacobs

Digital Ink tells stories for forward-thinking businesses, mission-driven organizations, and marketing and technology agencies in need of a creative and digital partner.

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