At the best of times web design is not particularly easy. Designing a website essentially involve a combination of varied technical skills, as well as a great eye for design and a natural artistry. You might think that web design is something you can do relatively quickly, but once you actually give it a go you’ll quickly find that this isn’t the case – you can end up spending weeks just trying to get a couple of graphical elements to line up.

What’s important then, is that you make this process as easy as possible and don’t inadvertently make more work for yourself…

My Friend’s Awful Web Design Set Up

To illustrate what I mean, consider my friend who I visited last week. He recently became a full-time web designer and has lately been churning out some rather nice looking sites in his spare time. What I didn’t realise until I saw him then though, was that the set-up he’s designing on is actually completely awful.

For starters he’s working on a netbook that has a whopping 1 Gigabyte of RAM and a 9” monitor. On top of that, the netbook is very old and so needs to be plugged in at all times. In terms of software he’s running the very oldest version of… notepad and logs onto his hosting account by going to the online control panel. He has no form of pen-input available (instead he scans in designs and then ‘traces’ around them in Illustrator), and when he wants to log onto his server he has to phone his girlfriend who is the only one who remembers the password.

While I was there I saw him dealing with a scaling issue on a new web design, and actually felt physical pain watching his workflow. Now I understand that not everyone has cash available to throw at new hardware and software, and I know that people tend to get set in their ways when it comes to the setups they use… but in a scenario like this one it would be a highly smart investment to upgrade some of those tools and the change could probably help him to complete work for several more clients per year (if not per month!).

He’s an extreme example, but I know that plenty of web designers out there are right now making their lives more difficult through the use of shoddy tools and awkward setups. If you think you might be in that camp, then read on…

How to Speed Up Your Workflow

So if I was going to advise this friend and others like him on how to improve their setup and get more work done, what would I suggest?

Well the first thing I would probably recommend would be better software: this is completely free so there’s no financial incentive to forego trying them out. In my friend’s case, downloading Notepad++ (for the HTML highlighting and powerful find-replace functions) along with Filezilla should be an absolute minimum.

For those with money to spare, design software is also very important.

Also important though is the set-up. My friend has a home aquarium – which is fine – but some of that space would certainly be better off taken up by a small desk that he could work from rather than lots of fish. Working on your lap with a laptop that always needs to be plugged in is less than ideal.

I would also recommend for this desk space an open notebook and/or a noticeboard for displaying things like login details and design plans (rather than the piles of strewn paper that he was working with when I was there).

And as far as hardware goes, I would recommend a slate computer with pen input to anyone. But for those on a budget, a second monitor and a Cintiqgraphic’s tablet would essentially do the same job in a less portable manner.

Some of these tips may apply to you, others may not. The point is that if you’re currently making life more difficult for yourself than it needs to be, you should look for ways to speed up your workflow and make things run a little more smoothly. Identify what’s currently slowing you down, and either invest the money or start thinking of smarter ways to reduce the problem.