Here are the 5 Things Great Designers Do Differently

Tobi Abdulgafar
Tobi Abdulgafar

5 Rules - Alex Walker

Demand for UX designers is rising every year. General Assembly estimates that UX design will be one of the most-promising careers in 2020, but with more demand…comes more supply. Here are the 5 things great designers do differently to beat their competition.


Pretty much every sector from health, to finance, to tech, and even retail, needs user experience designers. These master problem-solvers are geniuses at creating both online and offline experiences that prioritize the needs of the users.

Looking to hire a great UX designer? Here’s what one looks like:

1. Great Designers Write Damn Good Microcopy

Have you ever felt lost at sea when using a website or app because the UI text was too vague? What about when you’re filling out a form and it’s not quite clear what it is that you need to do? Well, this confusion is a direct result of bad microcopy.

As Joshua Porter says, “Microcopy is small yet powerful copy. It’s fast, light, and deadly. It’s a short sentence, a phrase, a few words. A single word. It’s the small copy that has the biggest impact. Don’t judge it on its size…judge it on its effectiveness.”

When microcopy is too vague or robotic-sounding, the user doesn’t resonate with the communication as well as they would do with a more conversational, humanlike tone of voice. Great designers understand that writing interface microcopy is a core aspect of the design process, and it’s just as important as prototyping, visual design or user research.

Let’s take this form design by Tumblr, for instance. Do you see where it says, “(you can change this at any time)”? Just this short snippet of microcopy tells the user: “Hey, don’t work yourself up about it, you can come back to this step later”. It’s informative, it’s empathetic, and it gives the user options. Without this microcopy, the user might force themselves to think of a suitable URL.

Form design for Tumblr with microcopy

2. Great Designers Learn the Rules…and Break Them

Great designers do more than think outside the box. As technology evolves and the needs of users change, they learn how to redefine the entire space when necessary. Great designers learn as much as humanly possible about the box before deciding to break the rules, as they know that reinventing the wheel is costly and sometimes risky.

Having a fair amount of knowledge about the users before designing the experiences, allows designers to deviate from these so-called design rules when necessary. Knowing these rules, and why they were established to begin with, means being able to understand the consequences of breaking them (both the risks and benefits).

Great designers are innovative. When they do break the rules, they come up with fresh ideas to solve the issues that users are having, when the usual solutions aren’t working. The implementation of these ideas is how design trends are born!

3. Great Designers Steal

Yes, you read that correctly. Great designers steal, then they improve. And I’m not the first to make this claim. As it turns out, Picasso, one of the most influential fine artists of the 20th century, felt the same way.

“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” ~ Pablo Picasso.

In the example below, Smena created this snazzy paper shredder image.

Paper shredder image, original

Hanna Jung, a designer at Google, restyled the image slightly and added animation to it. It’s quite clear that Jung did not come up with the original concept, but was nonetheless inspired to tweak it and make it into something even better.

Paper shredder image, inspired example

We find another example in Brandon Termini’s fresh take on the navigation system for a technology company’s web site.

Navigation concept, original concept

Inspired by Termini’s navigation concept, Ilya Kostin decided to try something similar and the result was nothing short of elegant.

Navigation concept, inspired example

4. Great Designers Declutter Ruthlessly

“The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.” ~ Hans Hofmann.

What’s usually deemed as unnecessary in interface design is visual noise, too much text, over-animated objects, and basically anything that steals the spotlight from the necessary elements. Great designers know this—they experiment various ideas, then reduce the overall design to declutter.

“We’re the leading company…, we offer this, that and also this…, we understand why…, we will do this, this and that…, blah blah blah…”. Does any of this sound hugely familiar? Minimalism is about more than using a white background and flat user interface elements (actually, it’s often not about either of those things)—decluttering starts with content.

Why? Because users hate noise, it waste’s their time. All the average user wants to know is:

  1. What your brand/company does
  2. How it benefits them
  3. How to reap those benefits immediately

When you bury the valuable information in fancy visuals, unnecessary features and fluffy, unmeaningful copy, the easier it is for users to try their luck with another competitor.

Let’s take the Buffer homepage for example. Right off the bat the webpage describes what Buffer does (“share on social media”), why you should choose it (“A better way”), and offers a clear direction for the user to take (“Get Started for Free”).

Decluttered Buffer homepage

5. Great Designers Understand the Value of Speed

Fantastic websites are aesthetically pleasing, mobile-friendly, use legible typography with emotionally captivating imagery, flawlessly forms, and wonderful user experiences overall. But, as laudable as all of these features are, they’re utterly useless if the website doesn’t load in less than 3 seconds.

Let’s face it, website speed matters. Faster-loading sites are better by all metrics: better user experience, higher conversions, more valuable engagements, and even higher search rankings. Great designers understand that loading times and perceived performance matters, even if the other half of this feat is taken care of by the developer.

An Kissmetrics study showed that a 1-second delay in load time could result in a 7% loss in conversions!

Great designers collaborate with developers to analyze the way users are engaging with their websites, identifying which webpages/mobile app screens are loading slowly, or which are perceived to be slow because of excessive images/features.

And then they rethink, reduce and improve!


Obviously there is much, much more to being a great designer than what’s been mentioned above, but these are the 5 hot design skills that are turning heads in particular. So, are you a head-turner, or a face-palmer?