Come tomorrow, I will have been a web designer for 20 years (estimated - I believe I started in June, but it has obviously been a long time). That's a lot of years in an industry that changes constantly, and frequently, wildly.
How do you keep up with the changes in the web design & development world?
You redesign your own website regularly.
While you may be getting a lot of work as a web designer, you probably aren't getting to explore too much of the new stuff as it comes out.. Or at all. If you've spent any amount of time in a fast-turnaround agency setting, or focus solely on small businesses, you know exactly what this is like.
So, how often should you redesign your personal website, as a web designer?
I myself redesign every 6 months to a year. Each time I do, I try something new. Something I typically don't get to experiment with at wherever I'm employed at currently, or explore techniques & technology that may come up at some point at my employer that I'm not already familiar with.
In fact, I'm in the process of such a redesign right now.
So, what have I done with my redesigns in the past? I taught myself web animation, initially with Velocity.js. Later, I tried anime.js. Played with jQuery (and fell in love, and have also replaced anime.js). Messed with SVGs and animation. Got dedicated to Flexbox for layouts (css-grid is nice, but Flexbox works great for the bulk of my stuff). Started building using Oxygen. Learned the REST API. Got heavily involved in custom fields, custom post types, and more.
My current redesign is less about learning new things; I'm just fleshing out some additional aspects to streamline my redesign process in the future (more custom fields), and focusing on the new art direction (as shown in my post about my resume web app I'm building here). I may do some automated A/B testing on the navigation, but otherwise, this is purely a maintenance & art rebuild, rather than a new skill build.
I recommend web designers redesign their website every year, at least. Try some new code out. Experiment with new trends. Optimize your site.
Here are a few things I'd suggest trying out with a redesign:
- Go-crazy with optimizing for load times. Image optimization, minification, and even switching to SVG for graphics. Make your site load faster than the rest, my friends! My upcoming redesign will, much like my current one, feature pure vector graphics for the art outside of images for my posts.
- Learn a new platform. For years, I hand-coded my entire site. I used WordPress back when it was young, but I also used Textpattern, and even coded my own blogging platform (that was ultra-minimal, and ultra-fast - great for cheap hosting plans). I considered switching to October a year ago, but opted to stick with WordPress.
- Learn a new features of your existing platform. Working with WordPress, there are countless ways to build a website. You can straight up code your own theme, or use a myriad of builders (I myself enjoy Oxygen, because it allows me to mix in PHP code seamlessly, making everything MUCH more time-efficient).
- Experiment with web animation. Whether it is CSS transitions, or even full-blown Javscript-driven animation, you can find plenty of ways to do both subtle or wildly cool animation on the web.
- Build your own framework. I tend to bypass frameworks for a lot of my own stuff, just because I can code something up really fast that'll do exactly what I need. Bootstrap is amazing, and I guess Foundation is OK (I had to work with it at my previous job), but if you're young in the web world, building from the ground up is great way to solidify your skills. Plus, you can really get pixel-perfect markup out of your wild mockups in Photoshop/Sketch/XD/whatever, and not have to think about how your framework handles columns.
Here's what you'll want to avoid doing with each redesign.
- Changing your copy too much, or removing a bunch of pages. SEO is crucial in this day and age, and if you're deleting out a bunch of pages, or changing the URL, you're in for a bad time. Also, don't get too crazy changing your content. Updating is great, but if you're rewriting entire pages with each redesign, you'll need to rethink your growth strategies.
- Half-doing the job. Nothing reflects more poorly on a web designer than a half-done live website. Only launch once you're done, and make sure it all makes sense. Don't rush it. This is YOUR project; not a rush job for a cheap client (not that you should half do that, either)!
- Throwing in every plugin, library, framework, or latest bit of code under the sun. There are 2 reasons for this: One, load times. Two, and perhaps more critical, is compatibility and redundancy. While you could probably use, for instance, both Velocity.js and anime.js, I wouldn't recommend it. Pick one library and stick with it.
- Experimenting to the point of making your site unusable. I'm partially guilty of this, myself, but that was before I started publishing my web-art separately in my portfolio. While having that pull chain setup for the navigation was cool, my visitor retention went WAY down.
- Ignoring mobile users. This is, quite possibly, the most important aspect of any website. Mobile users make up a MASSIVE chunk of the web. While I typically browse on my desktop, so I can view the full beauty and splendor of the web, I do a fair amount of reading on my phone thanks to social sharing.
Hopefully my advice helps you in planning for your next adventure in web design. Don't forget; your website isn't just there to convey information, but also to be an artistic representation of you, and your work, online. Take pride in your work, and never stop learning.