You need a mental design library

There’s a library of knowledge that designers keep in their heads. The more knowledge you have, the more you’ll know how to tackle any given situation. Luckily some designers have taken the time to record this knowledge, so you can learn it a bit more easily than they did.

Pattern knowledge

Design patterns are common and accepted solutions to a given problem. Often these are interaction design and layout patterns. Visual design patterns are also very useful. The more you know about how designers commonly approach a given situation, the less you have to start from scratch.

This is not to say that it’s a problem to start from scratch. New and exciting ways to approach visual design probably wouldn’t have been discovered if designers always stuck to the standards.

The majority of the time, though, you’ll design things in much the same way that others design them. There’s no sense in reinventing how the button looks if users don’t know it’s a button, for example.

The more you surround yourself with and study other designers’ work, the more of these patterns you’ll learn. There are also pattern libraries on the internet if you want to learn some of the more standard layout and interaction design patterns.

Technique knowledge

Techniques are essentially patterns, but they’re very specific. Usually a particular visual treatment of an element. One simple example is if you have a particularly good-looking way to approach drop-shadows. That’s a visual design technique.

This happens to be a particular area of interest for me, so I’ve done the hard work for you. Go to my website, Better UI Design, and you’ll see every visual design technique I’ve come across. The more of these you know, the bigger your toolkit when it comes time to make your design look better.

Rules you can safely follow every time

There are visual design rules that you can safely follow every time you run into that situation. You’ll develop your own rules as you learn more about visual design, but I’ve put together a list on my blog of the rules I’ve come across.

No rule is supposed to be followed in every situation, but these rules are “safe” because it’s never going to be a bad idea. When you understand why these rules exist, you’ll know when to break them.

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