Why are designers never 100% satisfied?

orange pacman eating limes
Image copyright: Becca Fatora

Ask any designer if they’re 100% satisfied with their work, and whether openly admitted or not, there’s a very high chance of a negative response. That’s not to say their designs aren’t successful. Far from it. The statement refers more to the bane of any designers life — being overly critical — especially where self-promotional work is concerned.

When working with clients, they have the final say, so it’s easier to know when a project is complete. When a designer creates for herself (a personal logo or website, for instance) it can be tempting to obsess about the details.

Website evolution

David Airey website design

I’ve previously featured the 30 month evolution of my online portfolio, and it’s come to a point where once again, I’m searching for a more effective way to highlight my work.

I use WordPress to power my website. The current design is a custom-made theme that puts emphasis on the content, keeping decorative features to a minimum. It’s a style I like, but there’s no variation in layout between the homepage, static pages, and article pages, which is something shown to good effect on many of my favourite blogs (e.g. a wider content area on single-post pages). WordPress Magazine style blog themes are proving increasingly popular, and I particularly like the Mimbo Pro template by Darren Hoyt and Ben Gillbanks.

Mimbo Pro

For those not wanting to spend on a WordPress theme, there’s the original Mimbo, which is free.

What appeals with magazine style themes, particularly from a graphic designer’s perspective, is how easily you can give prominence to recent projects. They’re right there on the homepage, as opposed to being tucked away inside a portfolio link.

Which leads to my dilemma: much of my success with identity design is due to my blog and the hundreds of posts I’ve published, so it makes sense to highlight the content. That’s where I’d appreciate your opinion.

At present, my graphic design portfolio is accessed through the top navigation bar (replicated at the bottom), and also shown on the top of the sidebar — an attention hot spot. This is good because on every page there are at least three links pointing towards my work. From the other side of the fence, my homepage (the most visited) doesn’t show any of my design projects.

An option different from the current setup is to make use of my .co.uk domain for showcasing work. I bought a separate hosting account for the .co.uk when my domain name was stolen, and I’ve been wondering what to do with it.

David Airey co uk

I’m a little reluctant, however, to separate my portfolio from my blog, and if I do, what’s the best way to tie them together? A simple htaccess redirection?

If you’re thinking of launching a single-page portfolio, Gino at ‘You The Designer’ recently published a primer: The One Page Graphic Design Portfolio Guide.

Finding info on designer site redesigns isn’t easy, so if you know of one, or have been through the process yourself, I’d appreciate your input. It seems much easier to uncover commentary on blog redesigns, and I mention a few here.

Blog redesigns

Some top online entrepreneurs have been redesigning their blogs, and everytime I see a change of scenery on a site I enjoy, it prompts me to think about my own design.

I’m not looking for a major overhaul, but rather a streamlining of what’s here, making it appeal to potential clients. You’ve probably noticed that I favour simplicity and white space. Dark backgrounds, such as those featured on Vandelay and Smashing Magazine, aren’t my thing. A few talented designers use dark web design (Veerle, Aaron and Vivien), but I’ve always preferred light backgrounds with dark text, mainly for legibility.

Design factors to consider

A year back I wrote a post titled 5 design tips for your website or blog. The 5 points are just as relevant now, so I’ll sum them up here:

  1. Keep it clean
  2. Keep it focused
  3. Show images or photographs
  4. Use a colour scheme
  5. Make the text easy to read

What do you like/dislike about my web design?

As I mentioned at the beginning, graphic designers tend to be overly-critical of their self-promotional work. What is it they say? If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it? Hmmm.

Your constructive criticism would be great. Is there anything you’d change about my current design? I’ll be featuring your suggestions and thoughts in a follow-up article, published soon.

Resources for website redesigns

46 responses

  1. Hey David

    Thanks for the mention :)

    Personally I think that magazine style themes are a great way to present a websites content as they tend to be designed around the different categories/ topics on offer which lets people find what they are looking for quickly and easily. At the same time they are something a little different from what is rapidly becoming the norm (ie traditional blog layouts).

  2. Hi David,
    To start with, the things I like about your current site/design are:

    – very readable
    – still looks great even though it doesn’t have tons of images
    – navigation is clear and effective
    – it features your best work

    That being said, when I arrive at your site it’s to read a blog post, so I am not the typical visitor from a Google search looking for logo design services.

    In general I think it’s hard for blogs to pull off the magazine theme unless they have lots of new content all the time, but your situation would be a bit different since you would be highlighting your portfolio instead of posts in a particular category. I like the idea and I think it could work nicely. Individual posts would still be largely the same, so it shouldn’t have a major impact on the blog.

    If search traffic (people looking for your services) is arriving at your homepage instead of a portfolio page, I like the idea of having something from your portfolio visible immediately without another click. If most of your search traffic is going directly to your portfolio than it’s a bit different, in my opinion.

  3. I like Mimbo too. But I’ve seen some magazine layouts which cause problems for me as a visitor: “hang on, where am I supposed to go first?”. Maybe I’m too easily overwhelmed by choice :-) I agree with Cat about the accordion style for a single page portfolio. It’s very smart.

    I’m all for keeping your portfolio under the same domain if possible, for consistency, and for some form of visual consistency too between the blog and the portfolio pages – this doesn’t mean the entire layout has to be the same, but certain visual elements in common. But it depends on how easily you think you can incorporate a static portfolio page in with your existing WordPress theme.

  4. David, you definitely did the right thing making everything more personal. Designing for yourself is the hardest thing any designer can do and often get wrong, but you’ve made good progress. I did the same as you originally, using a ‘studio name’ when it was just little old me, and writing in the third person. How wrong that was. Now I’ve earmarked a more personal url and am looking to create a portfolio site there very soon – with NO third person copy! Damn you, I was eyeing up the same concertina style too! Heh.
    I don’t think you should separate your portfolio out. Maybe you need to integrate it better into this site so that it is more noticeable. Maybe an image of your latest work in the top right column with a link to the portfolio section?

  5. David, I love the way you’ve laid your site out, and in relaunching my own, I’ve been studying yours (erm, the incessant hits last week from the same visitor on some of your pages is probably me, sorry if I messed up your stats :] ) because you have a lot of elements that work well. I was actually meaning to contact you to check my site over because while your site was certainly an inspiration, I don’t want to be a copy cat. The three-column layout is perfect for here because your blog is such an important part of your site to your readers.

    If you wanted to showcase different work, perhaps you could add a sidebar module that randomly shows a different piece on each reload. That’s a design element that’s always stayed with me throughout each redesign including my current one, and I’ve never regretted it. It’s also pretty easy to implement – only one line of code in your template. If you’re interested, I could send you the script that I use.

    And I do understand your dillema with showing your portfolio on a separate domain, but I agree with Tracey that it’s best to keep it all in the same domain for consistency, as well as for Google’s rankings (I learned that the hard way). My only critique is that the portfolio page itself, while consistent with the rest of the site, could be shown in a similarly clean but more elegant manner. It’s one page where you could break away from the three-column layout… just a suggestion.

  6. I just got notified that my name was mentioned on your blog. I am a big fan so this is a happy day for me. :) Thanks for the mention.

  7. Thanks for the shout-out ;)

    I hear what you’re saying about never feeling satisfied. There’s the Paul Valéry quote, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned” which is very true of layout and design, at least in the eyes of the designer. I could quit my job and fine-tune my own site for the next six months and never feel it was quite right.

    I dunno about a true magazine layout, but maybe your new homepage could benefit from more chunking of content, rather than the traditional linear blog layout. You could keep it short and break it into modules: “Last Five Posts”, “Featured Logo”, “Latest Testimonial”, etc, to give new clients a nice clear index of who you are and what you do. Maybe first putting together wireframes would help?

  8. I’m a firm believer that a person’s web presence should be like a visual thumbprint. When I first came to DavidAirey I was struck immediately by two things – the simplicity and the header. I smiled right away. David …. Airey. The sky. Clouds. Ha-ha. Good one. And the design reflects that same “airey” feeling throughout.

    There are blogs with amazingly intricate designs, like Nick La’s N Design and WebDesignerWall, and then there are minimalist ones like CaoInteractive. I’m sure each one of these designs sprung from the creative soul of the person who implemented it. As it should be. A blog or web site made to please the masses has about as much substance as an empty paper sack. A personal site should be, well … personal.

    Your site reflects who you are, and I always feel a nice calm when I come here, like putting my feet up on a settee after a hard days work. There’s a relaxation here that says, ‘Hey, welcome to my site. There are no dancing Teddy bears here, sorry. Just good content delivered with a friendly smile.’

    Ahh, good. Another thumbprint.

  9. Ben, you’re very welcome. Great job with Mimbo. I agree that traditional blog layouts are becoming less interesting, but on the flipside, people know what to expect, and understand how to navigate them, which makes content easier/faster to find.

    Steven, you pick-up on an important point – where visitors are landing (homepage or portfolio page). Great to know a little more about what you enjoy, as I value your opinion.

    Tracey, there are some magazine themes that have given me a similar problem (where do I look first?). The aim with my current style is to have the focus on my logo, then my photograph, then the ‘graphic design’ section at the top left, followed by the central image and headline, and finally the subscriber count. I’m not sure how well I pull that off, but if I was to change theme, I’d focus on a similar series of movement. I think you’re right to mention keeping the portfolio under the same domain. It makes most sense for search rank purposes.

    Steve O, what was your prior studio name? Back in the day, I asked friends and colleagues for their thoughts on a number of names I came up with. New Dawn Graphics won the vote, even though it makes me cringe now. As for the accordion navigation, go for it! I’m not sure how much prominence I’ll give to my .co.uk, but it’s still a template, and not one I can take any credit for.

    Gio, thanks for the compliment, and site visits. If there’s anything you think I can help with RE: your own site, do get in touch. Your idea for the sidebar module is an interesting one, and I’d appreciate seeing the code you use. I guess it’s for the ‘now showing’ and ‘featured’ section in your single-post sidebar? I reckon the best solution is to remove one of my own sidebars for static pages, allowing more space to display my work. This has been mentioned in the past, but I just haven’t got around to testing / modifying the code.

    Dave, it’s a pleasure! Thanks for visiting, and I hope all’s good over there.

    Darren, I like that quote. Very apt. I’m not clued-in on wireframes, but I’ll certainly look into them, and thanks for the ‘chunking’ suggestion.

    Doug, thanks for your thoughts (sky, clouds, Airey etc.). I appreciate that, and was glad to read someone thought that way. What’s also fantastic is the calm you feel.

  10. I think you should try and keep you portfolio under the same domain as your blog, purely because of the weight of traffic coming to your blog. So maybe all you need is a different layout just for the portfolio section? There’s quite a lot of stuff in your portfolio, and maybe it might be better to focus on four-six of your best projects that you want to highlight the most (with an option to browse the other portfolio items).

    The other thing you might consider doing is creating a new homepage so rather than having a blog homepage, have a page that pushes people in the direction of your sales content and potfolio, a bit like how I’ve done. I’m actually going to redesign my homepage soon to bring a bit more emphasis back to the blog content, so a happy medium between pushing people towards my hard sales propaganda and my useful blog content ;).

  11. David – thanks for the mention. :) Regarding your blog design, I like that there is an emphasis on your content because of the excellent articles (like this one) that you consistently write. I would like to see a gravatar integration into your comments, however. I think that would give an increased feeling of community and familiarity.

    Your 5 important design factors are ones that I also take into consideration whenever designing new sites. One aspect I have personally been trying to work on in the past few months has been to design a site to be intuitive, or easy to use from the visitor’s perspective. That can seem to make all the difference when it comes to average time on site.

    Excellent article and thanks again for the mention! :)

  12. Revolution and The Morning After are a couple sweet layouts, as far as WP themes go. I originally tried to set up my blog on WP, but I could never get passed the login page.

  13. David,

    The world is not a static place. Every day we go through experiences – good and bad – that shape our thoughts, our feelings, our plans, and everything to do with who we are. To remove your blog, which is in many ways a very public extension of who you are, from the flow is doing a disservice to yourself.

    You are a different person now compared to the person you were a year ago. You are a different person now compared to who you will be next year. Your blog shouldn’t remain static – it should change with you and reflect David Airey. Let it be a signpost – not an artefact.

  14. Aaron,

    I think you’re right. A change of layout for the portfolio section will be more appropriate than using a separate domain, and help with consistency. I like how your homepage places more emphasis on your work than mine, but wonder why you’re going to change it after the recent launch. I’m guessing it has a lot to do with your move to full-time self-employment? Will you be publishing more blog content?


    You’re very welcome, and thanks for the compliment. :) You may remember that I used to show avatars on the blog comments, and when I removed them, there was an interesting discussion amongst readers on whether they should stay or go. More info here.


    If you decide to give WordPress another try, and want any help, just let me know. Perhaps I can point you in the right direction.


    I’m not quite sure what you mean by ‘removing my blog from the realities of life’, but you make valid points about how a blog should reflect who you are. I completely agree. I’ve learnt so much in the past year, thanks in many ways to blog authoring.

  15. hey david !
    your blog design is amazing ! don’t change it please :)

    By the way, why you don’ t separate blogging from what’s business ?
    i mean :
    http://www.davidairey.com : your business web site -including portfolio- 100% intended for your to potential clients.

    and :
    http://blog.davidairey.com : your fabulous blog ;)

    finally It’s just an idea :)
    anyway, thanx a lot for this blog !

  16. The studio name I previously used?

    Guido Design

    Background: I heard the word ‘guido’as a kid and loved the sound so it became the name of one of my toys. Since then I always had something with the name and so I thought it would work as a studio name too. Can you guess how many times I had to spell it? Yup, every time.
    Now it feels like ancient history and a little dated.

  17. Very nice to see your emphasis on content! So many times, there is too much weight place on “attractiveness.” I know that this is important, but no content is no content. Bravo!

  18. Don’t move your portfolio it is right where it belongs, with the rest of your creative works. Your blog carries its own weight without having to see your portfolio it is awesome and with the 3 links to your portfolio we always know where to find it!

  19. David,

    I thought it didn’t make sense either, so changed it.

    Essentially what I mean is a blog is not static – it’s not a snapshot, so don’t take it out of the flow of like and make it so. Let it be a living, breathing object ;-)

  20. David, I could say “Don’t change your site! I love it just the way it is!” But I’m a designer and I know when you want to make changes you will, regardless.

    However, from an artistic standpoint, the only suggestions I would make would be not so much a redesign as a re-organizing of the design you already have. Simplistic layouts appeal to me, too. I also like the color blue, and the unobtrusive element of white space.

    You said, “The aim with my current style is to have the focus first on my logo, then my photograph, then the ‘graphic design’ section at the top left, followed by the central image and headline, and finally the subscriber count.”

    So, for example, take the Revolution theme. Your header would be the first element (perhaps with the search option incorporated on the right as they have it), then your photo below that on the left (somewhat larger), and on the right a blurb of your current article, and to the right of that you could put your graphic design section. Below this top section you could have the rest of your content, perhaps separated into columns as they have with a graphic heading each one.

    Just a thought. I’ve come to like this theme the more I look at it. I would love to switch to WP, but I already bought a domain through Blogger and they are hosting it.

  21. Hey David,

    Great article. I think if I were to make one change, it would be something perhaps silly, but maybe something where your header is able to know what time it is, and thus give you an appropriate sky background. Beautiful summer mornings, pitch black heavens, could look good. Or not :)

    “Finding info about logo designer website redesigns isn’t easy, so if you know of one, or have been through the process yourself, I’d appreciate your input.”

    I have just wrote an article on the dacheboard about how I redesigned my portfolio over the last couple of years, thought it may be of interest to you.

    Evolution of my portfolio over 3 years.

    Keep up the great work

  22. Hi David,

    Interesting article as ever…

    Here’s my thoughts… I really don’t think you should have different content on a .com and .co.uk domains. It could get very confusing for users and search engines.

    I think what you have now is very successful and if anything is only in need of evolution not revolution.

    I think just having a new homepage design would work well, maybe push your blog to another page davidairey.com/blog for example and have your homepage feature your business more and display some of your work. The homepage could still heavily promote your blog.

    Kind of like my new homepage at http://www.boltonwebdesign.co.uk where I have all of my general business information, portfolio example, testimonial example and my latest blog post headlines listed. In your case I would make the blog posts more important than they are on my site but you get the idea!

  23. David

    I have webdesignangst all the time – and seeing those one-page portfolios makes me want to change again!

    Having said that, I think your blend of blog and portfolio works really well – the site is your voice, so two sites would give you two voices, which is a bit weird unless you’re a ventriloquist… er… metaphor going astray…

    One thing you said above:

    “The aim with my current style is to have the focus first on my logo, then my photograph, then the ‘graphic design’ section at the top left, followed by the central image and headline, and finally the subscriber count.”

    I’m curious why you put so much emphasis on your photo? It’s a nice personal touch, but is it necessary to put it in such a prime position?

  24. manau,

    You’re very welcome, thanks. As for your suggestion to move my blog to a subdomain, I’m not sure it’s the right thing to do at this stage. I previously moved my blog from a directory to the root folder, and lost some Google juice in the process, so am reluctant to do that again.


    I can empathise with having to spell ‘Guido’. Everytime I say my surname, it’s ingrained into my mind to say, “Airey… A, I, R, E, Y”.

    Ali, Dan,

    Thanks for your own opinions.


    Ah yes, I noticed you edited the comment shortly after publishing my reply. I get you. :)


    Good of you to map out my requirements against the Revolution theme. That template would be a great choice, no doubt. I’d need to put in a fair amount of customisation, though, considering its popularity. Brian Gardner’s definitely on to a winner there. I think you’re right about re-organizing, as opposed to re-designing.


    I like your suggestion a lot, and figure it’d need some form of Flash for the top banner? I remember seeing something similar on another website, and thought it was a nice touch, but it was quite a while back so I’m not sure where. Thanks for letting me know of your dacheboard! I’m sure it’ll prove a great addition to your site, and look forward to reading many more of your posts.


    Yep, seems from yours, and other comments, that separating the content and portfolio across two domains isn’t the best move. Thanks. I’ve received some great tips from Aaron about the conditional tags in WordPress, and will switch up my sidebars a little, in order to feature specific logos or testimonials.


    “webdesignangst” is a good way to put it. I have to prevent myself from spending too long on ‘tweaks’. As for the emphasis on my photo, the idea is to put a human face to my work. The vast majority of my clients never meet me face-to-face, and I can appreciate the value of seeing what someone looks like. That said, your point about its positioning is a good one, and I do wonder if I should move it to a different location.

  25. Funny timing of this article because apparently I should have finished my custom blog design last week.

    I had a post make the front page of digg last night entitled What I Hate About Becoming A Designer and since I am claiming to be a designer, having a free template is very faux pas.

    In typical Digg fashion most people didn’t get the point of the article and decide to nitpick and criticize the author, it would have helped my credibility to have my custom designed finished instead of still in my sketchbook.

  26. As long as you keep bringing stellar content and keep your flourishing community by continuing to give each person individual attention like you have been doing then I don’t think a redesign will effect you either way. I do like the cleanliness of your current design and would hope that any redesign would maintain clarity and readability as a priority. Cheers and good luck.

  27. I think making other people happy is more important than making myself happy. I’ve accepted the fact a long time ago that nothing I ever do will be what I wanted it to be, but if it is perfect for the client or other visitors then should it really matter? Personally, I think not.

  28. For the JUST COOL commenter, I’ve not had any experience using Blogger, but you’re not the first to mention the limitations. Good luck with it.


    All the negative Digg comments can be discouraging, but you’re not alone in receiving them. I publishing a blog article you might empathise with: Here’s what happens when you get on the front page of Digg.


    Thanks for the encouragement. It’s comments like yours that keep me going. :)


    Good point. Catering to the audience is certainly important. Cheers.

  29. What if you offer a few logos here (perhaps in the form of previews to the articles where you’ve written about the design process) and then have a link that says something along the lines of “If you like what you see, contact me or if you need a few more samples, head to my portfolio site.” I think it’s ok to separate blog and logo portfolio, but make sure there are plenty of links to your portfolio (like in key places in the nav, as you have it now).

    As to your web design, it’s very clean and super simple to navigate. I don’t see any fluff that needs to be taken away. I really like the blue you use throughout the site and I’ve come to identify it as David Airey Blue ;) The only negative point I can possibly think of is your site isn’t flashy, which is maybe what some people would like, but this is very representative of your style, so you wouldn’t want the flashy-lovers anyway!

    And thanks very much for the mention, David!

  30. Self-acceptance begins inside each individual. If you decide you are unhappy with any of your efforts, this reflects back on how you feel about yourself or your general confidence level. No matter what you do to earn a livelihood, whether its web design, graphic art or something else entirely, being happy with your efforts is a choice.

  31. Lauren,

    I like that description: ‘David Airey blue’. Perhaps I can have it added to the Pantone swatch book. :) As for any lack of flashiness on my site, this is a conscious decision, as the simplest sites are often my most favourite. That said, I do like David’s suggestion to have a top banner that changes with the time of day. I wouldn’t know where to begin, but it’s a nice idea.


    Let’s hope it’s not ego. :)


    If you decide you are unhappy with any of your efforts, this reflects back on how you feel about yourself or your general confidence level.

    Excellent point. Those who make the best impression are usually those who feel happy about themselves.

  32. David,

    It’s been a pleasure reading your rather insightful and true-telling entry. It’s admirable that you’re willing to be so truthful. I couldn’t agree more with your statement that perfection is the bane of a designers existence. I don’t know if you share this mannerism, but if I am to complement a designer on his or her work, they are often very shy and or reluctant to agree with my positive reinforcement. Whether or not they are actually pleased to receive the complement, I will never be sure. Though, it seems to me that the driving force behind a designer lies in the perpetual quest for unattainable beauty.

    I mean, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s quite a sustainable method of motivation.

    For what it’s worth, I think your design is phenomenal. :)

  33. Hi

    I think i feel the same way. I never was satisfied no matter how good it looked in first place after a couple of visit i would not be satisfied but somehow with my teckitech.com blog design i am kinda satisfied and i don’t know why. I am starting to enjoy every single time.

    It is kinda strange isn’t it?


  34. Interesting points, Cullen.

    Perhaps designers are less inclined to show delight at praise because what they really seek is criticism.


    That’s good you’re becoming more appreciative of your blog design. For most designers it’s likely to be the opposite, as they grow tired of what they’re used to.

  35. Dear David,

    Though I liked this website I would like to see some nice colors coz this site seems toooo white…this site is too formal like the website of highly official government or something like that..it would be better if you use some personal wacky kind of thing…but not too much which makes the site even more personal…it would also be nice if you put your latest work section coz it is only the work you do that has attracted thousand of visitors..right? keep it up.

  36. Thanks for the thoughts, guys.

    There’s no denying how much this blog has helped with my self-employment. I’m 99% sure I wouldn’t be doing as well if my website was Flash-based.

  37. Thanks for another encouraging post. I really like the simple design and cool clean colors on the site, it is a great style. I’ve been playing musical layouts and logos on my own site for just the sort of reasons outlined here. It is encouraging to know that others go through some of the same issues and come out of it with a good design.

  38. Great article David. It actually got me thinking about our own website and whether it is effectively showing our own portfolio – something I have just blogged about. I am also looking whether to move to a magazine style but for different reasons. We are looking to bring a bit more prominence to our blog which is a bit hidden at the moment.

    As for your site, if the blog is what has brought you the most work I would not separate your portfolio to a different domain. However, I do think that your portfolio could be a bit more prominent than it currently is. However, as you say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


  39. Tamez,

    You’re very welcome.


    I think you’re right about not separating the portfolio domain, and also that I could add more prominence to the actual portfolio entries. I’ll pay a visit now and see what your own site thoughts are.

  40. Hi David.

    Love your site.
    Just on the topic of designers never being 100% satisfied. This is something I am having a big problem with. I have been attempting to design a logo for myself for over a year now, but by the time I finish a design I have already grown to hate it! I know it’s almost impossible to answer but do you have any advice for me on how to overcome this. I still dont have a logo or a brand for my freelance work!! HELP!


  41. I certainly can empathize with fellow designers on a their own identity not providing complete satisfaction as I seem to redesign my website every 6 months! Having said that though it would be boring if we were completely satisfied from the outset. I really think it’s great that websites and identities evolve even if sometimes it is not necessary!

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