12 advices for developing yourself as a designer

Mario Šimić

Digital designer

Being a designer is not a 9 to 5 job, it’s a constant pursuit of inspiration. You have to look for something that matches your design taste and gives you the ability to make something you like. There are a number of ways to become a better designer, and I’ll share some that helped me.

I started to dabble in design by making wallpapers for desktop computers and really old cell phones when I was in high school. My professional career started around five years ago when I picked up some front end skills in college and matched them with my design skills.

During that period there were a lot of professional challenges I had to overcome. But the real tipping point occurred when I joined Degordian, that’s when my professional development skyrocketed.

Here are some of the lessons I learned during my career that proved to be extremely useful:

Design a lot and not just at work

Sometimes in projects, A lot of time can pass between the first kickoff meeting and the moment you start doing any visual design. Extensive discovery and wireframe phases can keep you out of Photoshop for weeks, and this is why you need to be brushing up your visual skills in the free time. Seek inspiration, experiment and put it out there for others to see. Everything you do counts, even the small stuff!

Don’t think just about the visual

Design is not just about looks. Try to get familiar with the basic workings of code as it will help you a lot. Also, leverage animations within your designs because they too have a meaning. Most importantly, think about the users, about who they are and make your work clear to them.

Find problems and see design can solve them

Most people see problems as problems. I like to see them as opportunities to make something cool that will solve them. Every difficulty in somebody’s life is a potential idea for an app or an online product. Hate the way that company handles ticket reservations? Redesign it and show it to the people!

Learn to motivate yourself

There will be times when you’ll feel down and when nothing will go as it should. Perhaps you think you’re not good enough or you’re not advancing fast enough. That’s perfectly normal. To counter those moments, you need to learn how to motivate yourself. Do something different than usual, take a moment for yourself, read a blog post like this one or pick a side project.

Other people can help you, but you are the only person who can motivate yourself. You’re a designer because you like it, because you want to do awesome work and solve problems. Remember that passion when you feel unmotivated. It’s not magic, it’s just a process that gives you control over your lack of motivation.

Find yourself a mentor

Advice from a mentor is the most valuable feedback because it’s tailored just for you and based on your work. That’s the fastest way of learning and advancing. A good mentor can teach you about processes he/she learned the hard way, which gives you advantage over someone who has to learn everything on its own. But advice is just that, nothing more and nothing less, and it’s up to you to apply that newly acquired knowledge!

There are a lot of ways to find a mentor. Most of the time, that will be someone from your work, but you can also find someone by attending meetups and workshops or even online.

Keep up with industry and trends

I created a Facebook list of the things that interest me. Most design-related websites have their own Facebook pages, so that’s a convenient way to keep everything in one place. If some websites don’t have a Facebook page, you can always keep them in bookmarks. The point here is to be aware of what’s happening out there. I added a list of some resources that will get you started at the end of this post. You’re welcome. :)

Find your process and review it

As you work, you will develop your own process that describes how you do research, how you experiment etc. Try to spend a little bit of your time thinking about ways to improve it. This will give you some ideas on how to save time, organize yourself and improve the quality of your work.
I try to keep a list of the things I learn during a project, and then see what segments of my process need more work. I know this can be hard if you’re chasing a deadline, but you can always give it some thought during your commute home.

Learn to use new tools but focus on design principles

When it comes to design tools, I like to consider myself an early adopter. Newcomers in tool palette, such as Affinity Photo or Adobe’s Project Comet, look good, but keep in mind that while some tools might completely change the way you work, others will be something you’ll use once and never again. What I want to say is, don’t get too attached to them and you’ll be more adaptable in the future. Instead, focus on design principles – the skills you have or that knowledge of typography is something you’ll never lose, no matter the tool. Those are the things worth polishing and developing!

Learn to save time

While we’re talking about tools, it’s worth noting their primary purpose is to save your time. Look for shortcuts and tips, and see how to incorporate them into your workflow. When a new version of a tool comes out, take your time and see what’s new, watch a video tutorial. Trust me, it’ll be worth it. This and your newly polished process will add up over time, and ultimately make you a better designer!

Embrace discomfort

Every work has its own set of challenges, and they can make you do stuff you don’t usually do. But remember, nothing worth learning comes without that feeling of discomfort that lingers in your chest. That doesn’t mean it’s something negative, it just means you pushed past your boundaries and you’re ready to hit the next level.

Be active in design community

One of the ways to get feedback on your work is to become a member of Dribbble and/or Behance. By showing and sharing your work, you’ll motivate yourself to do even more meaningful work. Also, design community isn’t only present online, different meetups and workshops are great ways to establish yourself and your work. If you want to engage the community, consider giving lectures – they can enhance your ability to talk about your work by presenting arguments that explain your design decisions.

Write a design blog

This is something I cannot recommend enough. In Degordian, we’re encouraged to write blogs, especially if they’re related to our profession. Writing a blog will make you research and really think about the subject you want to write about, and that can be very insightful. Also, if you give your visitors something valuable, helpful or educational, they will surely read your blogs. And to top it all off, it feels good to know you helped someone!

Conclusion

These are some of the most important things I’ve learned until now regarding design. I’m still working on some of the things I’ve mentioned but I decided to share them with you because they’ve already proven to be useful.

Go now. Become better. You’ve already made the first step!

Resources to follow

Oh, just one more thing! I prepared a short list of my favorite resources to follow. You can put them on your daily reading list.

Web

Typography

General Inspiration

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