Tips and tricks to be a Faster, Smarter Web Designer

Ever had a day when you don’t seem to have achieved anything? Ever worried you’re not going to make your deadlines? Does that project you’re working on seem like it will never end?

We all want to become faster and more efficient – but it often seems like there’s no time to make improvements to the way we work. We can laugh at the self-defeating nature of this circular logic, but that doesn’t get us any closer to a practical solution.

Five easy ways to boost your productivity

1. Zero your inbox
If you can, answer emails right away. If not, file them into folders for bulk-reply sessions. Don’t just let your inbox mushroom, or important emails may get lost in the flood.

2. Don’t reinvent the wheel
If some high-quality, proven and suitable mechanism already exists for something you’re trying to do, and you’re legally entitled to use it, do so, be it a coding library or CMS. If you can create components usable over multiple projects, do so to save working on the same thing over and over.

3. Hone things down
If a client wants a 50-page site and you can see a way of doing it in 10, tell them and convince them to do so. Smaller sites are typically more creative, and offer more clarity and focus.

4. Avoid interruptions
Quit your email client and browsers when you want to fully focus on some design work. At all other times, work with passive communication, so you communicate when you want to. Avoid interrupting others, unless the matter is extremely urgent and simply can’t wait for an extra hour.

5. Get away from your computer

Inspiration rarely comes from staring at a monitor for hours. So walk, visit exhibitions and read, rather getting all your ‘inspiration’ from other websites. Also avoid the temptation to start with the computer. Instead, design and plan freely with paper and a pencil. Work fast and don’t linger – you may find ideas come surprisingly easily.

Five tools to help you design better sites

1. Basecamp

Of 37signals’ portfolio, it’s web- based project management tool Basecamp that comes in for the most praise. “We couldn’t work without it,” says Happy Cog’s Jeff Zeldman. “We use it to collaborate with local and remote partners, keep track of deadlines, and even handle the bulk of our client communications.”

2. Firefox Web Developer toolbar

If you work on standard web pages, you’ve probably already got this installed. If not, you’re missing the means to efficiently and effectively test page components from within a standards- compliant browser.

3. Subversion
This popular open source version- control system enables designers and developers to maintain versions of code. As Andy Budd notes, “This enables you to keep up to date with the latest version of project files, which is especially useful if you’re working with external developers, or if you’ve got a distributed team.”

4. Silverback
This new kid on the block is a ‘guerrilla usability testing app’, enabling you to run low-cost usability tests with hardware you already have in your Mac. It records screen activity, video, audio and mouse clicks, and you can use the Apple remote to define chapter markers when usability problems are encountered. Once tests are finished, video and data is exported to QuickTime for analysis.

5. Pen and paper
Seriously. Turn off your computer, go for a walk, and sketch some ideas, rather than staring blindly at Photoshop or Fireworks, gradually turning your mouse hand into a gnarled claw.