Pentagon Structural Lattice Image credit: National University of Singapore


The extra time taken to arrange your work is a true sign of professionalism

2½ minute read

Look. What your workspace looks like when you go home for the day is your business. It’s your space and you need to be comfortable and able to get stuff done. Maybe it’s a minimalist nirvana; clean and cool and white. Maybe it’s a nest of papers, books, half-empty soda cans… whatever works for you. But your work should reflect a clean orderliness; an underlying structure that reflects the beauty of the surface design.

It’s like a kitchen. You’ve got to break some eggs if you’re going to bake a cake, right? Flour was made to get all over the place. Splatters: they happen. Messy workspaces are an unavoidable reality and a necessity for productivity. But when the chef goes home for the day — a pro chef — that kitchen is spotless.

The same applies to your design work.

Pros organize

The work of design may be messy and sketchy and all over the place for awhile, but before you button up that piece and call it done, you need to clean it up.

Name those layers. Organize your symbol library. Use that handy little folder icon to group related elements. Organize your CSS file into a logical, consistent, predictable pattern.

These things are all under-the-hood elements (I know, I’m mixing all kinds of metaphors here… consider it automotive gumbo) and your initial thought might be that no one is ever going to see them. It’s what’s on the surface that counts, right?

A true sign of professionalism is following through and completing the entire design job. This includes the often tedious process of tidying up.

Why does it matter?

Well, in a professional environment, it is entirely likely that someone else is going to have to either (a) work on the file you created or (b) work with assets generated from the file you created. It’s going to be much easier for them to do if you left things in decent shape when you put the file away.

Hell, that person might be you, months or years from now. Are you going to remember where everything is? Probably not.

So, yeah, professional courtesy is a big reason for keeping things organized. But — and I think this is the most important reason to keep you stuff in order — it’s a matter of professional pride. You designed this. It’s got your name on it. Whether others are ever going to look under the hood or not, you wouldn’t half-ass the job would you? Of course you wouldn’t; you’re a pro.

Speaking of pro: nicely done, Pixeden!

Clean as you go

Another maxim from the kitchen biz is “clean as you go.” Wash that bowl when you’re done mixing instead of dumping it in the sink with everything else. It makes the work of cleaning up easier.

The same concept applies with design. Clean as you go. It’s a pain and somewhat inconvenient, but make it a habit to name elements something logical when you create them. Occasionally take breaks to look at your organization structure from a high level. Does it make sense? Does it need tweaking? Do it now. Save procrastination for later.

Don't be this guy...

By keeping things organized while you work, you’ll elevate the outcome of your efforts from amateur to pro. It’s completing the job. It’s doing good work.

You do good work, right?

What are your thoughts? Join me in the conversation over on Twitter .

Originally published June 26, 2016
File under: design  techniques