I Don’t Give a Fish

I don’t know if I’ve said this lately, but I love designing for the web. It’s fun for me. Some people like playing video games or tending to their bonsai trees in their spare time, but I’m a design nerd. If I’m not spending time with Ames or working on projects or chores around the house, I can usually be found in our office twiddling with some inane, personal design project.

With that said, I’m not some design prodigy. I just learn as much as I can and apply it to what I already know. I like to think I’m becoming a better designer every day, but even though I wrote a book on the subject, I still don’t consider myself a guru.

Somehow though, I tend to get a lot of emails like this one:

Hey Jason,

I was wondering if you could help me in my quest to make my website look better. I’m designing a website for my scout troop, I’ve got the design done, I’ve just got to make it look good. This is where I get stuck. I’m not very creatively minded, so if you could give me some pointers I would be very grateful. If possible id like to get my groups colours into the design, which are yellow red and blue, but that’s going to be hard. Somewhere in it id like to have the scout logo, but I’m at a loss of how to implement these design ideas. Any tips would be very much appreciated!

John Doe (Name changed of course…)
(website url removed)

P.S. Don’t look at the css unless you would like a heart attack – its still coming from the design phase – its all there and working, I just want to make it look good before I start to clean it up.

P.P.S The Scout logo can be found at: (url removed)

P.P.P.S This email is just a last ditch effort to make my website look good, I don’t really mind if you delete it!

Although he said I could just delete his email, I never do. I always take the time to reply, but I tend to write something similar every time. Here’s what I wrote this time:

Hey John,

Being a scout leader, I’m sure you’ve heard the old proverb “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” For that reason, I try not to give advice on “how to fix your particular design problem”. Instead, I try to get people to understand the design process so they can do it themselves. My general advice is to ignore the working website, start on paper, and work up a layout concept. Don’t worry about the colors, just try to find a good location for the scout logo, the nav, the content, any subcontent, etc… Once you’ve done that, try to think about where you can work in some of those colors and some decorative textural elements. Open up whatever graphics program you have available (be it Photoshop, Fireworks, MS Paint, whatever…) and create an image of what you want to make the website look like. If you can’t create it visually, you’ll never be able to make it work in HTML and CSS.

If you haven’t already checked it out, the book I wrote for Sitepoint is basically a detailed explanation of the process I described above and I think it may be just what you need:

The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
http://www.principlesofbeautifulwebdesign.com

Best of luck with this and future projects,
Jason Beaird

I’m posting this here for two reasons:

  1. So I can point future design-help requesters here instead of writing the same thing over and over again.
  2. To emphasize the need for more introductory design resources and tutorials.

I know there are tons of good resources out here on the web, but novice and wannabe designers have to sift through a lot of crap to find good, solid advice; especially within the personal blogs of designers like myself. I treat this website more like a personal journal than a design resource. I guess that’s because putting my thoughts in a textbox is a whole lot easier than planning out design tutorials. There are a lot of designers out there (like Veerle) who are constantly writing fresh, new tutorials but posts like that are few and far between here. I hope to change that here in the future, but in the mean time, I’ll probably keep pointing people to my book.

6 Comments

  1. Hey,

    I just wanted to let you (and others) know that reading your book was REALLY inspiring and made me improve a LOT. I just received the printed version today, but I’ve already read it entirely in pdf.

    To all the not-born-design-geniuses out there. If you are in doubt wether to buy it or not, do yourself a favour and get it. It’s really worth the (low) price.

    And I reccomend also Veerle’s blog as it contains tons of interesting resources (tutorials and links).

    Thank you again Jason,
    Diego

  2. Wow, thanks for the props Diego!
    It always makes me happy to hear that my book helped somebody out.

  3. Jason: I feel the same way. I got an email awhile back from a guy wanting to do a memorial page for his daughter who recently passed away. It’s heartbreaking, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all the piecemeal tasks that people ask of us. That’s why I’m glad the Godbit forum is pretty active – people can help solve each others’ problems.

  4. “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

    Amen that.

  5. @Nathan
    I believe I know who you are speaking of but I could be wrong. Since designing and creating ali-forever.com, a memorial site for Ali Kemp – a fellow classmate who was murdered in Overland Park, KS, I have been inundated with requests for similar sites. Sadly, I usually must politely decline, citing timetable issues. I scarcely have the time to update the six year old code or design on Ali’s site (long before I knew of standards or CSS).

    I attempt to do one pro bono site a year but even that promise has fallen off due to workload. My own site has never fully been rebuilt though I am striving to change this by the next CSS reboot.

    For requests I simply can�t turn down, I try and convince the client her or she only needs a single page. This is the approach I would use in the email message Jason received. A lot can go into a site but it is not always required.

  6. Darragh G (Seachmall)

    Nate,

    Just thought I’d mention that thats a beautiful site and for a good cause.

    Also Jason,

    Haven’t read your book but definetly looking forward to buying it soon (hopefully, I need it!).

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