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Can anyone define why something might not look "professional"?

What differentiates between professional/unprofessional designs?

I have clients who have said my design does not look very professional. I followed all the things to make it professional - maybe I don't know enough about design? I have seen lots of "professional" design templates that look easy & similar to mine. Most of the time, when I don't have any way to go, I follow these template designs - but when I finish I get feedback that "This doesn't look professional". This doesn't help me though. Does anyone here have real-world help/experience/suggestions would help me regarding looks, font, style... everything. Please give me a way!

In short:
What makes a design professional?

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I couldnt help but remember this comic theoatmeal.com/comics/design_hell Not that it helps. –  Joonas Sep 2 '11 at 8:00
    
this one is funny, i have already given time to this, but i can not pass them to my client or to my Boss,wish i could :D –  Jack Sep 2 '11 at 8:02
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Ask them to show you an example of professional site and learn from that. –  Krom Stern Sep 2 '11 at 9:24
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I know your sample was rough, but another very important point about professionalism is copy. "Something About us"; "About Founder" are poorly written, and do not even have decent capitalization. Even in draft form, the person evaluating the copy will respond to these things (EVEN IF you say 2,000 times that is is rough and for position only), and at this point in your design, your headings should be well-established. –  horatio Sep 2 '11 at 15:00
    
nice point horito i"ll take care of this.. –  Jack Sep 3 '11 at 4:40
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4 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I made this another answer since this is to comment on your design:

You tell us that you can easily recreate professional templates. In fact i doubt it. You really have to learn a lot about webdesign. Seriously far to go, but you are eager to learn and therefor i made this mockup to explain some things. This is not to bash you, seriously no offence meant, i am just being honest.

enter image description here

The basic story is that it is lacking alignment and depth... alot of depth.

I will also include one of my designs i am currently working on width a grid overlay so you can see what i mean. It is far from done, but you will get my point. Please do not use parts of the design i am working on since they are copyrighted.

enter image description here

Take a look at how i create depth with smooth gradients, textures and shadows. Besides that, take a look at how it is spaced.

Edit: Just so you know, i editted the width for copyrighting. So this isnt in real aspect ratio.

Hope this helps you.

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Thats really good to know thanks alot, i'll improve these things, though i deleted that image for some reasons, thank you so much –  Jack Sep 2 '11 at 9:55
    
@Jack you are welcome, never hurts to help :) As for learning. There are a ton of tutorials and blogs about this. Simply google it. Smashing magazine is a good start –  Luuk Sep 2 '11 at 12:01
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How to make your website look professional in my eyes, in no particular order, oh... and in short:) If you need more explanation what I mean, just tell me:

  • Base your color palette around the corporate identity of the client.
  • Listen to his needs carefully so you can suit the style he wants
  • Design for usability. You can make a jaw dropping design but if the conversion isnt good it is useless.
  • Choose your typography carefully (for instance: You wont see Apple products with a graffiti like font)
  • Use the 960gs system before you start designing, this way you are sure your alignment is good
  • Explain and defend your design. Tell the client why you choose particular elements and explain him why they are good. Remember, we as designers aren't always right.
  • Keep learning. Follow blogs and online magazines for new jQuery tutorials etc. Reading is key.
  • Make sure your code is W3C valid and not too big in size.
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I already do these things from time to time but still i dont know what they need, i asked them to tell me what is missing, they say "color is ok" "contrast is ok" everything is working fine but still "its not looking professional" its lacking something, i dont know what is the feel of being professional,look professional, almost always i have to give lots of rounds that's annoy me, i work for my boss he send me such mail and i am demotivated with such mails, they come always :( might be i am not at all a designer –  Jack Sep 2 '11 at 7:43
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Robin Williams, the friend to all beginning designers, points to four things that are critical: Contrast, Repetition, Alignment and Proximity (and yes, the acronym is CRAP!). You should get her book, "The Non-Designer's Design Book" and study it. Everything in it applies to the web as much as it does to print. It's easy to read and very clear. Then get "The Non-Designer's Web Book" and study that. I would add to her quartet: Message, Harmony and Relevance.

  • The Message the client wants to get across is the first thing you need to know, because it informs everything else. In successful photography, design, painting, writing, there is a simple trio of rules that are never broken: 1) Have a message; 2) Include only what contributes to the message; 3) Remove anything that distracts from the message. In a photograph of an athlete, you would use the shot of her in mid-air looking effortlessly graceful, and clone out the empty coke can and half-eaten sandwich in the background. As an artist, you have to know what you're trying to say. As a designer, you have to know what the client is trying to say. This is, after all, what the client is paying you for.

  • Harmony is another very broad requirement that you have to consider early. If the client has a logo and corporate colors, your site must use them and color that harmonize with them. You can't use typefaces that are similar-but-different for headlines and copy. A good rule for beginning designers is to use one sans and one serif that go together, and use only those two in the design.

  • Relevance comes at the very beginning of a design cycle. It applies to color, typography and general layout. You wouldn't use powder blue and baby pink for a design for a high-tech company website, nor for a hip-hop artist. That wonderfully edgy grunge typeface isn't going to work for a lawyer or accountant, but Times Roman might. (You would avoid Times for a site that needs to look modern.) A heavy metal band needs bold shapes and colors, high contrast, but a medical clinic or a baby clothes site would require a much softer look.

  • Contrast means dark vs. light, rich colors vs. tints, dark on light or light on dark. If your design calls for bold contrasts, the key thing is to make them BOLD so that they are clearly deliberate. Only one thing breaks a design faster than "almost-but-not-quite-the-same," which I'll get to in a moment.

  • Repetition places the same type of element in the same place and with the same colors or headline or shape every time. Spacing is consistent. Visual layout has a rhythm, just as music does. If your elements don't fall "on the beat" the viewer is made uncomfortable, just as a band whose rhythm is off is hard to listen to.

  • Alignment, lack of, is the surest way to break a design. There is nothing that screams "amateur" louder than things that don't quite line up. In print, we work to an accuracy of less than 1/1000th of an inch. You can place things way out of alignment, provided the displacement is bold, obvious and deliberate. But never, ever have 7px padding on a p tag and 8px on the h1. (As a side note: avoid centered layouts for anything other than a wedding or funeral invitation. Centered layouts are in repose, serene, motionless, which is almost never what you want. Beginners use centered layouts because they don't know how to align things.)

Alignment and Repetition are why grids are such a useful tool. Understanding these points will answer many questions about the use of grids.

  • Proximity just means keeping things that belong together close to one another. A heading must be closer to the paragraph that follows than it is to the one above, for example.

Get those two books. They will change your designs. In the meantime, here's an exercise: write these seven points in a list, then visit 10 websites that you consider really brilliant and find where each of these points has been applied. Don't cheat. They will all be there, so don't quit until you find every one. Now take a look at your own designs, and find where one or more of these have been violated.

Practice these seven points consciously and deliberately. Before long, they will become instinctive, and your designs will reach a whole new level. That's a promise.

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Alan, your answer will help every beginner, though i am on this exercise, Thank you so much for this and i'll try my level best to keep your promise......let the new sun rise within....:)Thank you once again.. –  Jack Sep 3 '11 at 4:33
    
As I learned (often enough, the hard way), so I pass along. You're more than welcome. Good luck! –  Alan Gilbertson Sep 3 '11 at 8:03
    
LOVE Robin Williams's books. Excellent answer and great suggestions. –  Lauren Ipsum Sep 4 '11 at 17:15
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What makes your design professional or not is whether or not you get paid for doing it.

As for using the term 'professional' as some sort of aesthetic comment, it's pretty much useless. You're going to have to work with your client to get them to be more specific as to what they are looking for in terms of their business goals and objectives--specifically who they are trying to target and which visual approach makes the most sense for that particular demographic.

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