Here, though, a few more global tips that aren’t limited to specific topics:
Less Is (Often) More
Although some designers have difficulty embellishing a page enough to make it interesting, most have the opposite problem: They try to cram too much on a page. If you fall into this second category, review your designs for elements that can be eliminated or streamlined. For instance, rarely does a page look good with 15 different typefaces on it; it instead begins to look like a ransom note.
Keep in mind that simple isn’t always boring—often it’s modern and elegant instead.
Maintain “Tickler File” Of Ideas
Make note of images, color schemes, layout plans, interesting typefaces, and snippets of code that do interesting things. Other web sites can generate ideas, of course, but so too can magazines, books, opening credits of movies, or displays of color-coordinated bedding and towels in a department store or mail-order catalog.
Keep your eyes open for inspiration at all times.
For instance, gratuitous animation can be annoying and increases download time, perhaps so much so that visitors become impatient and abandon the site. You may also have to use restraint by ditching a clever idea that you absolutely love. Sadly, sometimes those clever ideas end up not really sustaining the purpose of the site you are currently working on. In that case, table the idea for now, but stash it in your tickler file, and consider it for your next project. (Admittedly, deciding to abandon a beloved “pet” idea can be one of the most gut-wrenching decisions that a web designer has to face.)
Check Out Competing Sites
Don’t pass up the opportunity to leverage the experience of others. View competing sites as free prototypes. Analyze those things that the competitors do well, and the things they do poorly. Contemplate how you could avoid merely equaling the competing sites, but instead surpass them. Then consider whether you want to use a design style very similar to the competing sites (on the theory you shouldn’t fix what isn’t broken), or radically different (so that your site is memorable). Either choice can be a legitimate one, depending on the circumstances.
When browsing in bookstores, frequent the art and design section as well as the web development shelves. Of course, non-web related design books can be inspirational, too.
At last, a situation in which you are encouraged to do this! Take note of and learn from the characteristics you personally like and dislike on the web sites you visit yourself. What annoys you? What delights you? Those same characteristics have the potential to annoy or delight your visitors as well.
Focus On Solving Design Problems
Keep in mind that although design is an art, it’s not just art for art’s sake. An artist creates something that is purely appealing, that doesn’t need to have a purpose or satisfy an audience (well, unless the artist likes to eat). She can paint or sculpt whatever she chooses. The only constraints are those of the medium, whether paint or clay or fiber.
A designer, on the other hand, must solve communication problems that have inherent restrictions: budgetary guidelines, business goals, existing branding, target audiences, and the organization’s management. In the design field, pure art often gets in the way of communication. Designers who were artists first and entered web design later seem to have a particularly hard time dealing with these issues.