(I answered this on Quora on June 9, 2017)

I’ll start by saying that what makes a great designer is: the ability to create incredibly refined designs that engage the audience in the simplest way possible to elicit the desired response.

A brief explanation of how I’ve arrived at this definition:

I began college in Fine Arts, but soon found I loved the problem solving aspect of graphic design, so I went that route. Soon after graduating, computers took over graphic design and I loved watching and participating in the evolution.

As the world went online, this same evolution continued.

At first, we made everything as complex as possible… because we COULD… and because we wanted to impress each other. Textures, drop shadows, reflections and swoosh logos! How impressive we were!

Many of us liked to baffle our clients with Geek-Speak (or technobabble) in order to impress our clients; making us look really smart… by making them feel really dumb.

How impressive we were.

But, we quickly found that in order to actually sell things (actual end goal for everything in one regard or another), we had to stop overloading the senses and actually make people feel empowered. Assure them that we’re the ones offering that the one simple solution that others seem to make so difficult. In other words, “We make it easy for you, so that you can get back to being productive”.

While this may sound like technology has taken over the art of design, I argue that the art of design has taken over technology.

Let’s take a look at the age-old art of logo design and then see how it compares with modern UI/UX design (and don’t we sound so smart just saying “UI/UX”?).

Logo design: Something that has been near and dear to me my entire life. The best logos take complicated concepts, then strip them down, over and over, until we’re left with the single simplest, aesthetically-pleasing solution that a designer can produce. More often than not, I like to use icons in my logos that, while looking cool, aren’t usually very recognizable until they’re stared at and thought about for a while. It makes the viewer feel empowered and on the same level as the designer.

A couple of my examples:

Quora: How to become a great designer - logos

Again, the point here is that cool reflections and drop shadows may produce a shiny, distracting object, but its the refined solution that is produced with the target audience in mind that wins the day year after year.

Simple, right? Now, let’s see if we can make this complicated:

UI/UX design: Remember just a few years back when we designed websites with everything under the sun “above the fold”? Sure, you can say that mobile is what actually changed that, but the movement started taking place even before mobile was top of mind.

Like everything else, our first intention is to impress each other with just how smart we are. So how can you put less than 20 links in the header of your website?! Don’t you have anything worthwhile to say?? Shove 150 links in there in drop downs if you have to, for gosh sakes!

It didn’t take long for some savvy designers (who thought through the eyes of the target audience, or User Experience) to figure out that if you want CONVERSIONS, then put your audience immediately at ease. Create a homepage or landing page that is refined – stripped down to its bare essentials… like a great logo. Then guide them where you want them to go. Once again, show them that “We make it easy for you, so that you can get back to being productive”.

A great website design team knows how to balance the offer with credibility, then appropriate information, another offer, more credibility and so on, and do it in the fewest clicks possible.

And it better look light, clean and make the user feel empowered rather than feel stupid. Great design is: The ability to create incredibly refined designs that engage the audience in the simplest way possible to elicit the desired response.

So, how does one become a great designer?

  1. Know your target audience for the given situation.
  2. Refine, refine, refine… until you find the perfect balance of simplicity to aesthetically pleasing.