Getting Started on Designing Great Sites

If you don’t have a background as a graphic artist and decide to start designing websites, you might find yourself frustrated with your lack of skills. Your designs may look like they still belong in the 90’s and well… those years are well over now (thankfully). So what does it take to create beautiful sites like:




And I could go on an on but this isn’t another “20 of the best designs” post, no… this is about you and how you can get yourself to create more functional, while still looking awesome, sites.

Everyone starts somewhere, yes… even those guys

If you think Veerle Pieters started with a site like the one she recently designed, you are sadly mistaken. Everyone started with the abuse of flash or the really annoying animated gifs or the dreaded tag.

Back in November 2008, Jason Santa Maria wrote a post about putting his first design back online. Quite a few jumped on the wagon and so here are the results from our 3 designers I chose above:




So there you have it… hope that made you feel a bit better.

So how do we go from ugly to beautiful?

1 word: practice

And lots of it. Fiddling around with pen and paper, Photoshop or Illustrator (or your other favorite graphics program), going to tutorial sites and learning how to use your tools.

Yes… learn how to use those tools. Whether it’s Photoshop or Gimp, there’s tutorials out there to help you familiarize yourself with them. Learn how to apply filters in the right way (sometimes, less is more). Learn how to create glows that make text look more tasteful. Learn how to creativly apply watercolor or grunge brushes.

Copy them

Your read that right: copy them. Take sites that your really love and try to re-create them in Photoshop, in HTML and CSS. Can you? Yes? Good! Now don’t go stealing their designs and putting that online!

By simply trying to re-create sites, you learn techniques. Some you like, some you don’t but at least now you know how to apply them so you can create your own masterpiece.

Reviews and Critiques

Getting other people to review and critique your work is often the best way to grow and force yourself to do your best. Take everything with a grain of salt and don’t be offended if someone tells you they don’t like it. You can’t please everyone after all but if the general consensus is that it needs work… then it needs work.

I hope this will help some struggling designers on the road to improving their design skills.

And remember, practice makes perfect.

11 Comments on "Getting Started on Designing Great Sites"

  1. Dawson says:


    Loved this. Simple, easy to follow, high level guidelines. The outline for every person to follow in their course on “learning to make pretty and functional web pages”. I’m going to paste these up on my wall- to remind myself where all my tinkering should be taking me and not get bogged down in things that aren’t furthering my abilities.


  2. @Dawson – It’s easy to get side-tracked when trying to reach a goal. Sometimes you want to do too much or get there now. “You must crawl before you walk” and I hold to that dearly. Glad you liked the article.

  3. Rizwan says:

    Love the post……really encourages me to take on more projects……great website :D

  4. I hated Flash from the get go. Animated GIFs? err.. Ok, you got me, but they were pretty cool shorts of DBZ back when it was really really popular.. C’mon.. Everyone was doing it

  5. @Rizwan – Glad to hear that! When you work hard, it will pay off in the end ;)

    @Anthony – Oh yeah… everyone was doing it. It was cool back then… just like those MC Hammer pants ;)

  6. Giles Dawe says:

    I think it’s a great idea to put old designs back online…although I think the browser would crash under too many font references, tables and td’s ;)

  7. JohnONolan says:

    Great post, and one thing I’d add is try to do something completely new with every single site that you do. Don’t get stuck reproducing the same style of site in different colours, always push yourself to be better!

  8. @JohnONolan – That’s great advice John and I completely agree. Don’t get stuck doing the same thing, expand your horizons, like they say. Use totally different colors and styles. Yep… good one!

  9. Cool insight to how people started off their web design careers.

  10. Routinedaydream says:

    Nice article. But Jason Santa Maria, Cameron Moll and Veerle Pieters do all have a formal graphic design background.

  11. Husien Adel says:

    thanks a great post ..may I translate it to Arabic in My blog ? :)

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