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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Essential Skills To Become A Great UI/UX Designer

It’s frustrating to find job offers looking for a UI/UX designer. While these two skillsets are closely related, their skills don’t always overlap. A quality UI designer may not understand user experience psychology. Just like a top-tier UX designer might not be a master of Photoshop or Sketch.

But there is a good amount of overlap, and to be a great UI/UX designer you’ll need to dip a toe into both worlds.

In this guide I want to comb over the fundamental skills that you should learn to promote yourself as a quality UI and/or UX designer. Job security is much easier when you can alternate between both roles. And it’ll be easier for you to see the big picture in any creative project.

If you want a quick overview of specific features I highly recommend browsing this UX checklist.

User Advocation

Remember that a UI/UX designer speaks for the user. But you are not the user. This is an important distinction because most people using your product will not have the same expertise.

This is why usability testing can be so important. Ask users directly what they like and don’t like. Gather feedback. Try to find the root cause of their issues and make only the necessary changes.

Every great UX designer will be a true advocate for the user. The user experience goes beyond a glossy interface to encompass how the UI feels, behaves, and responds to user interaction. Pay careful attention to the details and be willing to scrap ideas even if you think they’re great.

In a situation where you like something that most users don’t it’s generally wise to drop the idea and rework it a little.

Listen to the user’s complaints and try to understand what they’re really saying. This is true of both UX and UI designers, although most user testing involves the UX side of things.

A pretty interface means jack if it can’t operate properly.

Advocate for the user through your words and actions. This is ultimately the #1 requirement of a UX designer. It’s a tough skill to nail down because it’s not exactly a specific skill. But I’d say having an open mind and being willing to rethink ideas will help you understand the user’s perspective much easier.

Visual Communication

Perhaps the most valuable skill of any designer is visual communication. Most designers get ideas in their head and need to explain these ideas to project managers, developers, or other designers.

Being able to sketch is a great skill to have for this very reason. But you can also communicate ideas digitally by creating digital wireframes, mockups, or interactive prototypes.

The tool or medium you use to create visual assets really doesn’t matter. Naturally it’s great to have many tools in your toolbox. But if you don’t know Photoshop and only use wireframing tools this can work fine.

It’s very important to communicate your ideas visually to the design team & the development team. It’s possible to do this with words but you’ll have a much easier time showing rather than telling.

Be able to communicate with business and marketing guys too. This means using layman’s terms to explain more complicated features.

Explain what the UX plan is to everyone using whatever visuals or words necessary. One part of this is to master a visual medium(whether sketching or software). The other part of this is communication.

Just because an idea makes sense to you doesn’t mean it’s being explained properly to make sense to others.

Ask your team and clients if they need clarification on anything. Don’t let anyone sit there nodding too afraid to speak up and ask questions. Soft skills are vital to UX work.

Learn to love communication and your job will be that much easier!

Digital Design Software

Not all UX designers know how to use Photoshop, Sketch, or Illustrator. But every UI designer should know at least one of these programs.

The differences between these two jobs are small but noticeable. UI designers must create visuals whether icons, logos, or interface mockups. UX designers are more concerned with how these interfaces behave and how users complete their objectives.

But if you’re going the UX design route it’s still wise to study Photoshop or Sketch(or both).

Just mastering one of these programs will help you express your visual ideas much clearer. You’ll also be much more lucrative to employers.

And with so many online tools it’s important to branch out when needed.

Desktop software like the Adobe suite is crucial to the design process. But UI/UX platforms like InVision and UXPin can both prove vital to your portfolio of skills. These are tools for rapid prototyping and creating interactive demos from scratch.

You can accomplish this same task with a frontend library like Bootstrap, but not all UX designers want to learn coding.

Truthfully it doesn’t matter how you create prototypes. But if you have a broad range of skills using various design programs your resume will be much more lucrative.

One last tool I’d recommend learning is a digital UX animation program. The two most popular choices are Principle and Adobe After Effects. These programs let you import digital mockups and manipulate the layers to create custom animations.

Check out this TutsPlus tutorial if you want to learn more. It’s not easy picking up all these programs but you’ll be thanking yourself later.

A great UI/UX designer should be thinking about every step of the design process. It starts with wireframing and prototyping, then moves through digital graphic/UI design into full interactivity.

These animation programs allow you to simulate interactivity without actually building a demo interface with code. Project leaders like to see these kinds of assets and your skills will prove invaluable to the process.

Empathy & Critical Thinking

Being empathetic seems very abstract but it’s quite powerful. If you can empathize with users you’ll be able to understand their concerns, their struggles, and their complaints with an interface.

The best UX designers consider the target audience for any given project. The user experience design for a dating website will be very different than the UX for an RPG video game. Think critically about your target audience to contemplate and understand what they need.

Interpret the individual problems of each project and consider the target audience by understanding how they think & act.

This is a difficult skill to teach because it requires awareness and understanding. When you watch a user interact with a website you should catch all the little details and nuances about their behavior.

If something was difficult for the user they’ll definitely complain during user testing. But a complaint is a problem, not a solution. As a UX designer your job is to gather user feedback and interpret what it means to come up with real solutions.

Practice by surfing the web and browsing other websites. Write down your complaints. Don’t be afraid to ask “why” every step of the way.

Think about why something behaves the way it does and how it could be improved.

With all the advancements in web technology UI designers can do anything. So technically there’s no limit to the question “what can we do?”.

But not every choice will be a good one. Ask yourself “why are we doing this?”. If you can’t come up with a valuable reason then it might not be a great choice. Critical thinking is vital and should be applied to the entire creative process.

Current Portfolio Trends of Creative Designers

Working as a creative artist in any field is tough. To succeed it’s imperative that you have a unique voice coupled with a portfolio demonstrating your skills.

These skills could range from websites, print design, icons, mobile apps, vectors, animation… the list is as bottomless as an all-you-can-eat buffet. And much like visiting a buffet, your clients want to work with someone who’s going to deliver above and beyond their expectations.

The best way to prove yourself to a suspecting client is through your portfolio. Back before the Internet was super radical and cool, most portfolios were shown as physical pieces of work.

Nowadays you can show off your work using a great website which can also include some personal information and contact details. Your online portfolio can be seen as an extension of your work that helps sell your talents to prospective buyers.

In this article I cover an assortment of modern trends in creative portfolio website layouts, specifically focussing on graphic designers and web designers. The beauty of an online portfolio is that you get a chance to showcase your creativity and your work, allowing people to view from any device with an Internet connection. But instead of just throwing various platters into your buffet table why not take a more constructive approach?

These trends should offer a durable framework of ideas that you can blend to see how they’d fit into your own website.

Accessible Work Samples

It is crucial that I overstate the importance of your work samples. Make sure you have some good samples and you better make sure they’re easy to browse. If not then the UX monster will come and eat you… or worse, clients will just leave your site without a second thought. Presentation can be just as important as the work itself. When in doubt, simplify.

A great example of simplicity can be found in the portfolio of Jake Parker. His portfolio includes a wide variety of content like book covers, graphic novels, and visual development artwork. The homepage doesn’t include much content and the only 3 links available make navigation pretty simple. Clicking through his work leads to single-page items along with multi-paged content rotators.

How you choose to display content depends on how much work you’ve created so far. Every designer will display their work differently but visitors only want one unified experience – to see what you can do in the most efficient manner possible.

Single-Page Designs

Don’t think of a single-page portfolio as an implication that a web or graphic designer hasn’t done much work and therefore only needs one page. I’ve seen plenty of single-page sites with dozens of work samples and multi-page sites with only a few samples. The primary benefit of using one page is to remove HTTP requests and make the browsing experience smoother and faster.

This works best if you don’t need to include lots of extra details on each project. Many designers like to include which skills were used on a project, how long it took, or even additional screenshots. This is perfectly fine and certainly looks good to clients but may require more than just a lone page.

One of the coolest single-page designs I’ve ever seen has come from Drew Wilson’s portfolio. He’s a talented dude who’s created a lot of different startups and applications. His website is split into horizontal sections with different backgrounds for each project. Towards the bottom of his portfolio he lists a timeline of projects with links out to the live websites.

Although this is a more pristine example you might be surprised at how many designers prefer to use single-page portfolios. These layouts are a common starting point for new designers who just want to get something online. But single-page portfolios can also be great for experienced designers who want to condense their work into a quick presentation.

Full-width Hero Images

If you want to capture attention quickly try building a 100% width hero section. This would span the entirety of the browser window even if your content is centered to a limited width on the page. Some designers choose to add portfolio project screens while others might include a background video or photograph.

Gil Huybrecht uses a fullwidth header, or hero image on his homepage to showcase a photo of himself. This is very common for freelancers because it gives a personal touch to the website. Potential clients often enjoy seeing what you look like or seeing your office workspace. It depends if you can get a good photo of something that would match your website design.

Another option would be to create a custom header background. This could be hand-drawn or digitally created. This is another great method of demonstrating your skills beyond what can be found in your project work.

Content Sliders

In the same vein as a fullwidth hero image you might up the ante to include adynamic content slider. Whether fullwidth or just typical content width, these sliders can provide a quick look at your work samples. Dynamic sliders are the most common and many will rotate through all items in a circular carousel.

Plus if you’re familiar with setting up jQuery plugins you’ll have no problem finding a free open source script for your portfolio.

Joachim Löfstedt has a great example on his homepage. Each item in the carousel links to an internal project page with more information and photos. This would be the best way to draw attention to your work. Content is easy to navigate and this slider offers first-time visitors a quick look at Joachim’s greatest projects.

Big Readable Typography

Not every portfolio is content-heavy but most are going to need some form of text-based content. Picking the right fonts can be a tough call because you need to gauge how they look in comparison to other page content. I’ve found the easiest solution is to make your fonts bigger rather than smaller – weed out fonts that don’t fit and replace with better options.

Small fonts have their place in layouts where content has been designed to fit into tight spaces. But not everyone enjoys this style because it’s often harder to read. Plus someone who’s quickly browsing your site may completely miss the content if it’s too small to notice.

Yet huge oversized fonts aren’t always the best choice either – try to strike a general balance with more weight leaning towards larger font sizes. You have an extra scales of justice lying around right?

The portfolio of Adam Mottau demonstrates this balance eloquently. His name/logo and the page headers are typically much bolder and larger while content and navigation links are a bit smaller. But none of the text on his site is “too small” in my opinion. Actually the font sizes could even be increased without any negative effects on the composition.

Notice how elements on his portfolio utilize a lot of negative space. Since he’s using a single-page layout the extra space helps to distinguish between content areas. But it also leaves room for typography to breathe without cramming it all together.

Attaining Focus

Possibly one of the more important trends to consider is a careful attention to detail. This idea spans all layout styles because focus is needed to keep attention where you want it. Everyone has some level of focus and it’s up to you to channel that focus appropriately. Think about your design not just from a designer’s perspective, but from a user’s perspective. How usable is your portfolio to a non-technical small business owner?

Ollin is an exceptionally talented icon designer with a lot of great work online. His portfolio is minimalist, clean, simple, and definitely performs well on any device. The focus on this portfolio always sticks to his work, or in the case of his blog it sticks to his writing. There’s nothing else distracting you and there’s no way to veer off the intended path.

By using Ollin’s website as an example I don’t mean that every portfolio should be this simple. However his site is perfect for demonstrating how to keep focus on what you want. Depending on the page you might not always want focus to be directed onto your portfolio work.

Top 5 Free Portfolio Sites

We asked our staff one short and sweet question this past week: What are the best free portfolio sites on the web?

Keep in mind that many of our staff see 100 or so portfolios each and every week. So we’re here to share the fruits of their hours spent gazing into monitors at portfolio sites of all shapes and sizes. Of course, if you’re an Interactive Designer nothing beats having your OWN portfolio site with a brand and user experience created by you. But for many folks out there who don’t have the time or skills to start from scratch, there are several great options (and did we mention they’re free?).

But back to our question. We tallied up the responses provided by our excellent agents and present you with the best sites to showcase all your hard work without spending your hard earned money. You can thank us later.

1. Coroflot (36% of the votes)

No surprises here. Billed as “the largest, most established, most diverse pool of professional creative portfolios in the world,” no one doubts that this is one massive site. Launched in 1998,Coroflot hosts over 1.4 million creative images for over 150,000 creatives. There are no membership requirements, invites, or application processes. They also have a very nice and well-integrated job board. Bonus!

2. Behance Network (20%)

Many of our agents will been attending a sampling of Behance’s 468 Online Portfolio reviewstaking place around the world from May 14th through 21st, but the site’s been on the radar for lots of creatives since they launched in 2006. Garnishing millions of pageviews a month, Behance lets you create a truly stunning portfolio connected that’s connected to the design community via activity feeds, groups, collections, etc. Not only is this site beautiful, it’s a truly effective tool to build your portfolio.

3. Carbonmade (16%)

What started out as one designer’s frustration at the pain and expense of putting his illustration work online, Carbonmade has turned into home for nearly 400,000 portfolios. Though it doesn’t have the social media bells and whistles that Behance and Coroflot have, the fact that it’s a straightforward portfolio site that’s incredibly easy to use makes it appealing. Plus, it’s got a unicorn on the landing page, come on, that’s worth bonus points. Carbonmade offers a “Meh plan” that includes 5 projects and 35 images for free.

4. Cargo (12%)

Cargo offers their members a stunning way to create freestanding personal websites with their own URL, but it comes with a catch: you must be invited to join. Don’t be too disheartened, Cargo awards memberships to a number of people who contact them and share their work with the staff. The site is divided into both a front side, which is the public website, and the back side, which connects them to fellow Cargo members.

5. Dribbble (4%)

Much like Carbonmade, Dribbble began as a side project, this time for Rich Thornett and Dan Cederholm, one of whom felt he was a pro basketball player trapped in the body of a software developer (which explains the running basketball theme throughout). Designers share small screenshots of designs and apps they’re working on which can either be arranged in a portfolio or explored by screenshots that can be grouped by popularity, “debuts” (new submissions), orkeywords. Users can comment and critique individual pieces. A really great, very easy to use site.

If you’re looking for a more in depth review of the technical side of some of these sites, Erik Hans Rasmussen has a great post over at Vandelay Design on what makes them tick.

And remember, you can have several portfolio sites. For instance you can keep your Behance one even after Cargo offers you another. And with so many options and so many people looking for work, we’d recommend getting yourself out there. Recruiters actively troll these sites looking for new talent, and it’s a great way to get exposure to more opportunities.

7 Ways to Promote Your Design Project

The life of a designer is not always an easy one. There are projects that you do for clients and sometimes projects that you do just because you want to create something new. Getting those projects out there can be the toughest part of all.

But it is not impossible. It just takes a little planning and work. Here are 10 easy (and mostly free) ways you can promote a design project. (And all of the examples are from designer portfolios.)

Take Advantage of Social Media

Social media sharing is one of the easiest ways to showcase your work. The catch is that you might not know how many people have seen it.

Log on to multiple social media networks and share. (There is no shame in asking for retweets or shares either.)

But how do you know which networks to use? Start with the biggest networks – Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Then consider pinning to Pinterest or sharing on LinkedIn. Use networks that are visual so that you can show your work and not have to describe it in words.

Remember to share in different places at different times of day. Share more than once and respond graciously to comments.

Share on Portfolio Sites

While most of us already have portfolios, it is important to share and have an up-to-date presence on sites such as Dribbble and Behance. Designers frequent these sites. So do clients looking for new talent.

Post active projects – as long as they are not confidential in nature – and ask for feedback. Use built-in sharing tools on these sites to get your work out there even more.

Ask Influencers to Share

Sometimes you have to ask for a little help when it comes to promoting new work. Start with other friends in the design community. Ask them to share your work or project as well.

Then branch out. Ask some of the people who influence you online to share your projects. (What’s the worst that can happen … they say no?)

A little boost from third-parties can really help get your work out to an expanded audience that you may be unable to reach on your own.

Email Design Blogs

Step 1: Write a press release.

Step 2: Send it to every design blog or magazine you can think of.

If you want your work to be noticed, you have to tell the industry about it. A press release is a simple way to do that. (Here are a few tips on how to write a great release.)

Make sure to include a way to be contacted and an image of your work. (And yes, you should have a studio-quality photo or high-resolution digital image.)

Then be ready to talk about the design project if you are called. Why did you create it? Where did the idea come from? How did you do it? What do you how to achieve with this work?


While a lot of the promotion tips thus far have been online-based solutions, it is important to actually get up, get out of the house and meet people. Networking is one of the single most effective tools you have when it comes to self-promotion.

Go to networking events near where you live and work. Bring plenty of business cards and be ready to show off and talk about your work with strangers. Attend design meetups in your area. (A lot of the big design groups sponsor them. Adobe, Behanceand Dribbble meetups, for example, are held regularly in cities all over the world.)

Interacting with others in the design community is a great promotion tool. Even if you are shy, get out go to a meeting and make a point to talk to just one person.

Create a Blog

Make yourself useful and helpful. Create a blog that relates to your work. Write about what you do or the process of creating or even tutorials on how to do certain things. This will help you become and authority in your field while showing off your work.

Not quite ready to start on your own? If you have a knack for writing or video, do some work on the side for a reputable design blog. (Designmodo, for example, hires designers who can write for this blog.)

Buy an Ad

It’s not a free method of promotion, but advertising works. Buy an ad – online, in a newspaper or magazine, on television or radio – to help you reach more people.

Base your ad on the type of design work you have created. Remember to show the work in the ad if possible and explain why your work is important. Place the ad in a medium that will help you reach your audience directly.

If you are a designer looking for local clients, place the ad in local media. If you are looking for clients online, run an ad with Google or Facebook.

Create a simple targeting plan and budget and stick to it to get the most out of your advertising dollars.

Offer a Simple Freebie

Bring people to your website with a simple freebie. Create a badge, color palette, texture or vector pack that you can give away to drive traffic to your site and your work. (It’s hard to pass up a good free item.)

Share your free download across your social media sites and make sure it links back to the item you really want people to see.