It’s all too easy to become familiar, and even confident, in the current design trend environment, only to find that a few years down the road, you’re somehow “behind” everyone else. It happens all of the time, and it’s usually due to just not getting enough feedback from users, friends, and competitors.
To stay ahead, you need to pay attention at all times. It’s not something you need to be hyper vigilant about by any means, but you also can’t close your eyes and declare your mission accomplished forever. Here are a few good habits to pick up.
- Always pay attention to the big names. When you see the sort of design choices, and changes, that larger companies are making, you need to pay attention to when, and why. Some sites make seemingly random changes to their user interfaces, much to the chagrin of their loyal user bases, but they may not be as haphazard as you think. One example is how sites will move away from using outdated standards, like Flash, in advertising and user interfaces. Another may be a scroll style, or how video elements auto play or don’t. Facebook’s recent dabbling in that particular areas are telling on the issue of what’s effective, and what users ultimately prefer.
- Know your users. Getting demographic information is key in keeping up with the trends that really catch their attention. If most of your users are in the 40+ age category, and are there for B2B products or services, you don’t need to go overboard with bells and whistles that could detract from your functionality. While you should always keep ahead of the curve in security and safety features for your users, you also need to consider the exact right pace to introduce advances. Older users are less likely to take kindly to radical changes in functionality, for example, while younger users may appreciate those changes.
- Step outside of the bubble. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the conversations that happen in the design world, from all of the blogs that you follow, to your social media contacts and networking. Sometimes you need a fresh perspective, and that can only come from someone who is barely “savvy” in your particular field of choice. In image design, that pedestrian opinion could point out some interesting qualities or flaws in your work, including color association and execution. In web design, if you get a lot of questions about why “this” does “that,” instead of what it’s expected to do, you may realize you’ve stepped across a line and need to make a correction.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You never want to seem like you’re too reliant on others, but asking other professionals for feedback and criticism of a design is a good way to see what others are doing, and how they view your work. That perspective also holds a great deal of value for designers at every level of expertise.