Cynical advice for designers

I do not follow all of this advice. But it’s clear that some designers take advantage of it.

Visual design

  1. “It looks good/interesting” is a valid reason to make a visual design decision if you want to impress people.
  2. The more structure and imagery (including icons) you add to a design, the more “designed” it looks.
  3. The more expressive your design, the more impressive.
  4. The more effort your design apparently took, the more impressed people will be.
  5. It’s often enough to make a simple design and put in an impressive visual centrepiece.
  6. It’s easier and usually nearly as effective to copy someone else who’s better than you. Don’t copy one person directly. Mix inspiration together.
  7. Lean on the good work of others, e.g. use high quality imagery and typefaces.
  8. You can impress people with simple design if you do a series of small designs, which belong together as a set, with small variations between each one, e.g. a series of home screen widgets.
  9. Some interfaces (e.g. a calendar full of colourful blocks) are more visually interesting. You can impress people more with the same amount of effort if you focus on those.

Presentation of work

  1. Put more than one related mock-up in the same image. More visual design is more impressive.
  2. If you have many mock-ups, put them in an orderly grid of some kind. It gives people’s eyes something to explore, and they’ll be impressed more.
  3. Annotate your mock-up with call-out lines, etc. This allows you to add technical/fiddly elements (the annotations) even if your mock-up doesn’t have any.


  1. Good visual design impresses customers, colleagues, and hiring managers.
  2. It can be helpful if people believe design is magic. When you are vague about your process it promotes that idea.
  3. Post impressive work consistently on social media to get a following.
  4. People who screen job applications often don’t work in design and look for key words. Your application should use the words they know, not the “correct” words.
  5. Many hiring managers look at your application for a minute. First impressions count.
  6. If you are impressive in one area you can be less impressive in another. e.g. if you’ve got a prestigious company on your CV you don’t need an impressive portfolio.
  7. 95% of software is boring, and 95% of us will work on boring software. You don’t need to learn impressive new technologies or skills to work on boring software.