Ideas to learn Design

I just graduated High School and am planning on building web sites for a career.  I have learned a server-side programming language, and am competent in HTML.  I have even learned CSS.  I think I have the technology I need.

My problem is, I am not very creative with designs.  I don't seem to have a natural sense of what colors and/or shapes go well together.

The question: Do you have any suggestions how I could improve in this area?  For example, are there courses on the web I could take?  Or would books be better?  Somebody to give me tips on my work?
Note that I am not so much interested in learning the technology as learning how to design layouts.

I know this is a hard question, so the points offered reflect this.  I would appreciate well thought out answers.

Thank you,

Who is Participating?
There is much more to web design than pretty graphics and templates. A pretty site, with nicely coordinated colors and lovely graphics is worthless if you can't find what you need.

You need design -- but you also need skill in figuring out what your target audience is going to be looking for, and making that so obvious that they don't have to think about where to find it.

That takes some knowledge of classic print design (for reference, more than anything -- most people look for things in the same way they read print), some knowledge of human psychology, and a big dose of knowing your audience.

Example -- if you're designing a site to complement an existing computer game, you can use the look and feel of that game. You can use the terminology. You can even use cryptic icons and puzzles in your navigation, because your audience will be looking for that.

If, however, you're designing a site for a pharmaceutical company, you do NOT want to do any of those things. You want a site that is totally obvious to navigate, possibly with multiple links to things (because people look for the same thing under a different name). Sick people, or those caring for sick people, have no tolerance for playing games with their medications.

If you're designing an educational site, you have to design it for the target age group. If it's for younger kids, you have to be VERY careful because there are specific regulations to follow. If you're designing a government or public access site, you have to follow accessiblity guidelines.

You just graduated high school. Congratulations! But there is a LOT more you need to learn. Don't assume you know much -- because you don't know as much as you think you do, no matter how much you know. ;-)
Go to a design school or at least take a "color & design" course at your local community college. Not the cheap 3 day crash courses. Take a real, full semester course. Learn more there than from any book.
Matthew -

Anybody with average intelligence and very little knowledge can design a website. And they do! In their millions, which is why 99.9% of sites are absolute rubbish.

Web design is not about "what colors and/or shapes go well together". Web design is about creating a successful website and you can measure success as follows:

Success  = Number of visitors  x  Conversion Rate

Where Success is some arbitrary measure, Number of visitors is just that and Conversion Rate is a measure of a site's ability to persuade visitors to take a desired action.

It's a little more complicated than that because we really need to take into account Return on Investment (ROI) but let's keep it simple.

So a good web designer has to create a successful site by maximizing the number of visitors and ensuring that some desired action is accomplished by as many of them as possible.

Maximising the number of visitors means obtaining a high ranking in the search engines. Here's a question: What is the difference between this site and this site They look pretty similar but the answer is: Several million dollars a month in income!

Why? Because the first one is in Google at the top of the very first page for the search term |domain registration| and the second one only makes it to third page. All other things being equal the number of visitors to the first site will be thousands of times greater than to the second one.

So a good web designer must be good at search engine optimization (SEO).  Try this tutorial for a sound introduction

Maximising the Conversion Rate means converting visitors into customers. Not surprisingly sites that are nice and easy to use have the best conversion rates.  Usability has been well researched and documented and you can see here for example that everything from Page Layout through Navigation to Content Organization all have 'best practice' implementation based on previous research.

So a good web designer must know everything there is to know about Usability.

If you are very good at SEO and an expert in Usability then you will be a better web designer than the other 99.9% and you will have more clients than you can handle :)  

Ah! You say.  What about the "colors and/or shapes"? My advice would be to forget about them for now. Concentrate on the above because while you are becoming proficient in SEO and Usability you will get a feel for what works and what doesn't in that area.  As a general rule keeping it simple (KISS) works and when you have clients that have their own strong ideas about how their website should look you can always employ a graphics designer to help you out. However armed with your newly acquired knowledge you will not be bullied into providing something that looks good but is not successful.

Obviously this is a grossly simplified answer but if it puts you on the right track it will have achieved its purpose.

Good luck in your career!

- duz

Free Tool: Subnet Calculator

The subnet calculator helps you design networks by taking an IP address and network mask and returning information such as network, broadcast address, and host range.

One of a set of tools we're offering as a way of saying thank you for being a part of the community.

You'll probably find that most pro designers create their designs in a graphics program such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator.  Doing things this way gives a far greater amount of flexibility in the design compared with using some WYSIWYG HTML editor.  For example, you are able to make use of the shape tools, and then do pixel level editing to them to perfect them.  You can change the colors as often as you want without having to recreate image files etc.  I would also suggest that you create each individual page element on a separate layer, or if it is a complex design element then you should do this on multiple layers - again this makes making future modifications easier.

The other key to getting great designs is to experiment and practice, since you will find that over time you will refine your own designs and they will start to look better and better.

Other points in your design are consistency of colors and design elements, so stick to the same basic colors or layout elements if you can.  Keep in mind that its ok to break these rules if it achieves a good effect and still keeps the site looking clean.

Below are some links to Photoshop layout tutorials you might find useful:

Another thing to do would be to get ideas from other websites, such as

Hopefully with a bit of time you'll see some improvements - but it does take time so be patient.
I suggest you find sombedy for the design because it's not easy to be good both at design and at coding...

The first thing to do is to go 'round the internet and to try to reproduce what you see (at the begining).
Else you can learn CSS and DHTML.
For the softs, I suggest you try Fireworks (, the best for Webdev.
There is also loads of Menu Editor (DHTML Menu Editor).
Another interresting thing is learning Flash (not easy to use, but good results)

There are books talking about all those things. And books are the best way to learn in dev.

Try to make some website template (front page, by ex.) as an exercice. You'll see, after 2-3 test, you'll be proud of your design!!!!

I also found that browsing template sites to get ideas and see what's being done out there can be sometimes very useful.

I like very have a lot of very nice looking templates that you can get ideas from.

Hope this helps
They have some tutorials for webdesigning and color choosing in photoshop!
One tip, dont use too much gray or black in a site, works depressing! Keep your colors vivid!

Happy Surfing!
As far as colours go you should get yourself a copy of 'Color Wheel Pro'. It's an novices tool to make sure your colours go together, I use it all the time!
Get a job somewhere as a web developer and use your talent.

If you're thinking of being self-employed and working as a web designer, go on a business course first.  There's more to running a successful business than just making websites!

Mathew I agree with comments by shamster,

To become more creative you have to exercise that part of your brain instead of the logical, mathematical and gramatical side of it.

You can create you webpages inside of Photoshop and once you learn how to use it you will be amazed at the effects you can create.   Also see Macromedia fireworks as it is very useful for creating menu systems for your pages.

Once you have a design and look and feel that you like in either Photoshop or Fireworks you can simply just export them to html templates.  Then use dreamweaver to finish off your site, you could also look at Flash pages and the use of Actionscripting.  Although I think Java pages look tacky.  Dynamically driven website using php, asp, cgi scripts may offer you more funtionality too.  

But for artistic impression exercise that side of the brain and it will all come together.

Best of luck


Wow -- just want to leave a comment that these are all great answers. Impressive ...

Heh HG ;)
M256Author Commented:
Thanks to all for the great comments.

I have a feeling this is the kind of question that there is no right answer to.  I appreciate all the ideas, and hopefully will find a good direction to proceed in.

Thanks again for your advice!

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