Recently, someone emailed me this...
"...I feel like what I’ve struggled with the most for the last couple of years is all around polish. I look at everything you put out and it just feels so sharp and polished. I feel like my process is so rushed these days that the “final final” designs just feel incomplete or not to my own satisfaction. So how do you do it? And do you have advice for getting great finished designs while working with a team of designers, PMs, and engineers?
Final polish is difficult to articulate and can rarely be boiled down to a step by step process. The best way to achieve final polish is to keep iterating over and over and over until it "just works." If you are unsure a certain visual element is fully polished, then it's very likely that it isn't.
This definitely gets easier with experience because you have YEARS of bad design decisions under your belt and you can more quickly spot what's going on. This still isn't a full substitute for iterating over and over until it's "magical."
Assuming your design includes a decent foundation of the three visual pillars—typography, layout, and color—you can then begin to iterate on your design to achieve a "style" that makes sense.
Is your design direction on point, or is the concept unclear? If you're not sure, you need to lock in how you want your design to feel.
Will it be fun and playful? Should it be modern and clean with a touch of hi-tech? Should it feel classy and modern with a bit of elegance? This is critical for allowing you to take your designs all the way to full polish, otherwise you'll spin your wheels endlessly in the first three pillars only without a clear direction to go above and beyond.
But it's important to note that you can't skip those three pillars either and go straight to direction. You can technically do them all simultaneously, but this takes practice and gets easier with experience.
Is your typeface usage AMAZING or does it feel so-so? If it doesn't feel very strong, then perhaps you need to tweak your sizes, spacing, line-height, weight, etc.
Is your layout REALLY strong, or does it feel a little disjointed? If it's not well-balanced and doesn't evoke a sense of harmony, then perhaps you need to line things up a little better, work within a better grid, look for places to create lines of continuation. Have you given EXTRA special attention to EVERY SINGLE PIECE of negative space in your layout? Or are there areas that have been overlooked. Double check your type alignment. Most of the time aligning your text to the baseline will produce the best results. This is where typography and layout begin to intersect. You have to get DEEP into the details of every single little tiny seemingly insignificant detail. This is what makes your design polished.
Do your colors look FANTASTIC or are they just kind of meh? If you haven't strategically chosen the HEX code or the HSB value of every single item on your screen, then you haven't completed one of the three pillars. Each color needs a strategy.
There must be a system. There must be a reason for every color. I'm not talking about a "design system" full of reusable components that exists for teams to build applications, though the spirit is similar.
I'm referring to a simple "mental system" of strategically choosing and using type sizes, font-weight, a specific alignment system, a system for determining negative space, margins, padding, borders, overall layout, and colors. This mental system should be used while you're designing and experimenting. You should view this system as a tiny evolving experiment that—while calculated and exact—constantly changes as you discern "yes or no" to your design micro-experiments.
Once you've gotten to a decent place with these three pillars, you can start to investigate the relationship between these elements.
Have you created enough layout connections to create a very noticeable balance between icons and text, images and body copy, and anything else that might live on your page?
To create polish, you MUST constantly pour over every little decision on the screen until you feel like it's magical. Sometimes you'll hit a roadblock and need outside perspective. Don't be naive to think that you must create the entire design to perfection without the input of others.
Sure, I've created things that I believe to be great on my own, but oftentimes the best work comes when you get trusted feedback and critique.
These are the things I'm teaching in Shift Nudge.