How Efficiency Makes You a Better Designer


I’m a big fan of being efficient. While that doesn’t necessarily make me a hit at parties, it does help me get through a workday with a sense of accomplishment. And, when I’m efficient in the right areas, I think it even helps me improve as a designer.

The cool thing is that there are opportunities to create and improve efficiency in virtually every part of the design process. You might go years without even knowing they’re there, waiting for you to take advantage. But once you find them, you’ll get more done in less time. And you’ll find that those efficiencies can also reduce stress, thus freeing up your creative mind.

But where do you start? And, just what are the “right” areas to be efficient?

Little Things That Add Up

The next time you’re starting up a new design project, think of how you’ll get things done. Create a list of each step you take along the way, from concept to delivering a (hopefully) killer design. For me, it looks something like this:

  1. Gather project requirements (what it needs to do, how it needs to look, determine a budget).
  2. Assess the best path forward (software, third party services, etc).
  3. Design a prototype/mockup.
  4. Make revisions (sometimes this takes awhile) until the prototype/mockup is approved.
  5. Build the product.
  6. Testing and final revisions.
  7. Launch time!

Each one of the steps above can be made more efficient. For example, getting project requirements isn’t always a smooth process. Oftentimes there are gaps, contradictions and other vagaries that can slow things down. To speed things up and increase accuracy, you might create an online questionnaire that asks all the important questions. Once you have the answers, you can follow up and clarify client needs.

When we’re juggling multiple responsibilities, the small details tend to slip our minds. So, in this case, it’s all about finding ways to automate or otherwise foolproof how we do things. Do this for each step in the process and you’ve saved untold time and energy.

Little Things That Add Up

Build Templates and Libraries

In web design, we often find ourselves having to do the same things over and over for each new project. That could involve anything from building prototypes, writing code and everything in between. This is an area ripe for building in efficiency.

Templates, in particular, can be a huge help in enabling progress without necessarily hurting the originality of what you’re doing. Something like a basic set of Photoshop templates can provide a quick starting point for a design. A set of trusted actions will help automate the process of adding special effects.

A WordPress starter theme can be of great benefit when you’re ready to move from concept to production. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Rather, something that can serve as a “skeleton” that you can build on top of will do the trick.

When it comes to coding, keeping a snippet library saves you from having to hunt around for “that thing you did in that other project”. Personally, I keep a file of PHP, JavaScript and CSS that I commonly use. Having everything I need in one spot means that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Build Templates and Libraries

Simplify or Outsource Non-Design Tasks

One of the biggest drains on getting some quality time with your design work is all the unrelated things on your to-do list. This is especially frustrating for freelancers. When you have to play the part of both the creative talent and the business manager, it’s tough to find enough time to deal with it all.

Billing is one area that can always be made leaner. In my own business, I realized that my billing scheme was too complicated. I was spending way more time than I wanted on sending out monthly invoices (often for very small amounts of money). I decided to offer yearly packages in hopes it would increase convenience for everyone. As it turns out, enough clients have taken me up on it that I now spend a fraction of the time on invoicing each month.

However, there are times when we simply can’t bring these tasks to a more reasonable level. Or we may just get tired of having to do them at all. This is where you might consider enlisting the services of another professional to help. It really depends on your specific needs and budget. But having someone you can trust to carry out some responsibilities can help you focus on what you do best.

Simplify or Outsource Non-Design Tasks

Take a Serious Look at Your Services

While business-related tasks can be a burden, so can some of the very services you provide. It’s worth taking a look at the types of projects you do and determining what is and isn’t working for you.

As an example, if you are offering lower-tiered design services for small clients, you’ll want to do some number crunching (or better yet, hire someone else to do it) and see if the money you’re making matches the effort you’re putting forth. Sometimes smaller projects end up taking too much time and destroying profits. You may find that it’s costing you a chance at more lucrative opportunities.

Review what you offer to clients and think about the benefits they provide to everyone involved. If you find that something just isn’t worth the effort, you can either rework it or drop it altogether. If something you’re doing is getting in the way of greater success, then you have to make a decision on whether it makes sense to continue on that same path.

Take a Serious Look at Your Services

A Well-Oiled Design Machine

When first starting out in design, it’s easy to add a task or process here and there until (before you know it) things get out of hand. After all, without experience it’s unlikely you’re thinking about how crazy this will make you down the road. Incorporating efficiency often comes later on, after you realize the magnitude of the mess you’re in.

But thankfully it’s never too late to start. Take a hard look at what you’re doing and think of ways to make it work better for you. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel and the quality of work you are producing.