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Web Design/Cheating or learning?


H David, I seem to learn in a very logical way, and at this point have the skills to design a responsive website with a grid system, a responsive menu etc.

However, I have only just started to design an actual site and realize that my eye for the best font and color layout is not very good at all. I have been trying to get through this by experimenting and seeing what looks best, but do you think it is ultimately best to learn from examples from other websites?

I noticed in the past answers you gave examples of colors from your own website designs. However, my thing is that if I copy another person's layout too closely then I am not doing it myself. Maybe this is just my perfectionism, which is a bad habit I have.

Is there any basis to say you are better off learning from trial and error or are all web designers in effect copying from tried and tested formats and colors that all web designers use?



It's very common practice to learn from the works of others. Shakespeare is a very widely-known very popular author, but very people know that "Hamlet" was not original. There was already a play in production in Shakespeare's day called "Hamlet," and Shakespeare even named his son "Hamlet" because he liked the play so much. Shakespeare himself felt he could do better, so took the bulk of the story and rewrote it. And he did make it better. Today he would've been sued.

When I work with web design clients, I ask them to find 2-3 similar competitor sites. If they think there are no competitors, they usually live in Fantasy Land and I won't work with them (it shows that they are unwilling to do anything proactive and will be most likely be difficult to work with and it also shows that they're unfamiliar with their own chosen area of expertise). Then I tell them that my initial mock-up or design will be based on the 2-3 samples they provide me. Yes, we can change font, some colors, menu, and so forth, but you have to have something to go on and you can't let the client pick design - that's supposed to be our expertise.

So, I guess what I'm trying to get at it is that a) it's fine to look at others for examples. That's how everyone learns. But you have to have a line that you won't cross in terms of getting too close to someone else's work. You can't directly copy or mirror someone else's work. You can be inspired by it, do something similar but is obviously different.

Another way to learn layout and design and color standards is to simply study them from reputable industry sources. I love "Web Designer" magazine from the UK. It's available at some bookstores, certainly online, and you can buy copies for your Kindle or e-reader. They list top industry sites, top designs, interview larger agencies, and have very relevant articles and tutorials. I refer to their magazines often. And again, I also look to larger cities such as LA, Toronto, France, New York; and look at agencies there to see what kind of work do they put out. I live in a very small city that's in many ways isolated, so to truly do the best work possible I am capable of, I look to "big dogs" in much larger, more competitive venues.

As far as learning, I honestly learned everything I know from trial and error. I tried setting up a free site myself to see what it was like. From a business perspective, it was unreliable, tacky (with ads all over it and hidden fees to have them removed, and so on), there was content censorship, and anyone could have your site removed at any time for any reason. So I know about free sites and DIY services first-hand. I studies HTML and JavaScript and some CSS while in college off and on for years. So I know about it and can read code. I tried multiple eCommerce programs, so I know about them. And so on...I just paid for deluxe hosting, set up some sites, and tried different things with each one, taking notes as I went along. When it comes to SEO, I was able to get to #1 on Google for my local web design terms, so I know how to do it. So my advice is to do the same: pay for a deluxe hosting account, set up 5 or so demo sites and try out different frameworks, different themes, different SEO approaches, different blogging styles and approaches and so on. It's really the only sure way to know something is accurate without the games people play being competitive or deceitful.

So, how I learned and do learn now, is a combination of trying things out, testing procedures and processes, and studying common industry standards. There's documented psychological studies in color use. I read them and rely on them. I look at design magazines and design TV shows, read "Web Designer" and so on. And yes, I like to be a perfectionist and do the best possible at all times, but that is a standard that will evolve over time. My best is certainly not my best from 5 years ago, or even a year ago. I'm always studying new frameworks, new themes, new procedures, so that's part of what makes web design an art form and one that can be enjoyable and rewarding over a prolonged period of time.

Hope that helps.  

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David Somerfleck


I've been developing professional-level websites for small-to-medium businesses since (at least) 1998. I can answer any questions related to WordPress, website development, training, eCommerce, set up, marketing, social media integration, business management, and small business development as it pertains to integrating internet marketing, and Search Engine Optimization.


I have 10 years' experience developing websites for small to medium sized businesses, have successfully started two profitable businesses on my own, and have been training people from all walks of life in web design, SEO, and WordPress since 2010. I have a BA in English, and also have worked as a professional journalist, copywriter, editor, and educator.

Aurora Chamber of Commerce Colorado Technology Association The Internet Society Freelancers Union International Webmasters Association Denver Better Business Bureau Colorado Small Business Development Center Network Denver Metro Volunteers SCORE Denver Foothills United Way Denver IT Alliance former member Society of Professional Journalists Investigative Reporters and Editors American Federation of Teachers

Gulfshore Business magazine Naples Daily News Cape Coral Daily Breeze Fort Myers Neighbor newspaper

BA, English 10 years' experience in web design 10 years' experience in educational program management and teaching Training people in WordPress, web design, and SEO best practices since 2010

Awards and Honors
Published in over 50 periodicals

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AOL Caribou Coffee Ruby Moon Investigations Even Flow Coffee small to medium businesses and startups across the US

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