As I dive deeper into web design, the more I realize how critically important it is to learn from others. By this, I'm not simply talking about using others' advice for coding best practices, nor even about–gasp!–stealing code.

What I mean by "learning from others" is to begin to develop a perspective of others' work that truly values and prizes their talents.

After all, let's be serious: web designers are a conceited bunch. We like to roll out designs and have others laud us with praises about how cool the site looks, how well it functions, whatever. But what do we do when we look at others' work?

I know my first reaction is to critique. "Well," I think to myself, "if I had designed this site (imagine me puffing a giant pipe while wearing a hideously ostentatious robe), I would have done this…" Or, "This site could be SO much better if only they had done that ['that' being understood as what I would have done, obviously]." Am I right? I know I am, because I am one of the most self-deprecating web designers out there, and I do it constantly.

However, this is a tremendously difficult way to function. Not only it is incredibly arrogant, but it actually creates a standard for yourself that is impossible to achieve, e.g., being better than everyone else. I have quickly found that this is patently impossible–I'm just not that good, and my attempts to live up to this fabricated standard are laughable.

So lately, I have made a conscious effort to move away from the stance of critique and have tried to cast an eye for appreciating the work of others. Instead of making mental lists of things that I would do differently, I deliberately mentally document the aspects of the site that are tremendously COOL. I have even begun emailing designers of sites that particularly strike me, just to drop them an encouraging word and let them know that their work is appreciated.

Now don't get me wrong: I am no saint when it comes to this practice. My first inclination is toward the old mode of criticism, and I easily fall into this trap if I am not careful. However, what this imperfect designer has found is that the more I make deliberate efforts to truly appreciate the work of others, the more I enjoy what I do. Web design is now becoming less of a competition between me and the rest of the world, and is transforming into a very rewarding career that brings me a lot of happiness.

Moreover, as I reach out to the broader design community, I am finding a lot of friends. You wouldn't think that a quick email kudos would do a lot, but I'm gaining a lot of friends just from simple, encouraging words. But even better is that these same people invariably reciprocate the kind and encouraging words, and this gives me a lot of motivation to continue my growth and development as a designer.

So do you want to become a better web designer? Start by reaching out and saying something kind about someone else's work–you'll be amazed at the broad world of friends and partnerships that this can open up, and how your entire approach to web design can be transformed by such a simple and easy thing.

More in this series:

On Becoming a Better Web Designer, Part Deux

On Becoming a Better Web Designer [First Part]