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Sifting Through Design Information Overload

on Freelance Design

Our line of work is one that boasts guides to absolutely everything. Gurus are there to tell us why Material Design is amazing, why it’s terrible and why we should or shouldn’t do any number of things. It’s part of what happens when anyone can publish anything.

And, since designers know the web better than anyone, they tend to build their own blogs and write about their experiences, hopes, fears and even biases more than other professions. Because, the last time I checked, there weren’t a whole series of plumbing blogs weighing in on how Gutenberg could negatively impact toilets.

But as a designer, how does one even begin to digest all of tools, libraries and opinions out there? Sometimes it feels like there are so many things we need to learn in order to keep moving forward that you don’t even know where to begin. Frankly, it’s overwhelming.

To that end, here are some tips for filtering out the noise and getting to the good stuff.

Don’t Feel Guilty

When you see the headlines about some great new tool or JavaScript library, you might start to feel like you’re falling behind your peers. After all, you just found out that there’s this amazing thing being used to reinvent the web and here you are still poking around with CSS.

The irony of it all is that CSS has been around for quite some time and it’s not going away anytime soon. That new flavor-of-the-month might just disappear before you’ve even had a chance to learn it. Of course, there’s always that chance it becomes a huge success as well. But the point is that it’s okay to wait things out and see how it all develops over time.

For instance, have you ever worked with some must-have script and implemented into a real project, only to find some fatal flaw that makes it unusable? I’ve had it happen more than a few times. I can even recall an instance where I pointed out such an issue to a script’s developer who said, “Wow, thanks!” – Only to leave the problem unfixed.

As always, you have to be careful when choosing what to use and what to leave behind. Just because someone’s making a big deal about a tool doesn’t mean you’re obligated to try it.

Don’t Feel Guilty

Realize That Opinions Aren’t Always Based on Fact

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I love to share my opinions. If you’ve ever seen my Twitter feed, you probably get that message loud and clear. A well-written opinion can serve as a valuable resource when making decisions on anything from which car you should buy to which WordPress plugin is worth installing.

But they should also be taken with that proverbial grain of salt. While I’d like to think that most people are pretty honest when sharing their thoughts, there are a variety of reasons why someone may love or hate a particular thing. The hard part for those of us who read those opinions is that the author’s reasoning may not always be so clear.

Did they love a product because it really works or because they’re friends with the developer? Did they hate something because they had a bad experience or just didn’t know what they were doing? So often it’s tough to tell.

Opinions can be both insightful and fun to read – but we probably shouldn’t take them as the final word. If we’re really interested in finding out more, we should do more research or even try the item in question ourselves.

Take Opinions with a Grain of Salt

Look for What’s Useful

As a designer, your social media feeds and inbox can be inundated with tools, tutorials and product announcements. Keeping track of it all certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. And even if something looks cool, you may not have the time to sit there and read through each item.

This is where being a bit picky can really help. The truth is that you probably aren’t going to use most of whatever fills up your feeds. So instead, look for items that you think are useful in your specific workflow.

That means if you’re a WordPress developer, you can probably filter out most of the Drupal or Joomla! stuff (unless you really want to learn about them). If you’re exclusively a front-end designer, then code snippets may not be very relevant.

You only have so much time in a day, so dedicate it to the things that will help you improve your skills and efficiency.

Look for What's Useful

Tune Out When You Can

Like so many people in our world, designers tend to keep their phones with them at all times. But what’s unique compared to most is that our jobs often require a fairly constant vigilance. Sites go down, clients have questions and so on. Just having that smartphone in hand is a great temptation to start scrolling through feeds and checking email. It’s one more opportunity for some information overload.

It’s healthy to take breaks from it all whenever possible. Even if you can detach yourself from the online world for an hour or two before bed – it’s worth doing. Otherwise, you risk becoming burned out on technology. That would be a shame, because there’s always something new to learn – if you know how to filter through the junk.