How do you improve as a designer?

over 6 years ago from , http://meet-cristian.com

On behalf of the less experienced among us, I'd like to ask the more seasoned designers of DN first of all what they think makes a good designer and secondly what they do to improve.

Peronsally, I feel out of touch with the industry (I'm a freelancer) and I find it difficult to appreciate the larger picture of how design works and what makes a truly great designer. My development so far has been fueled by trial and error and learning from my mistakes, but also putting a lot of effort into really understanding things (the project I'm working on, the client's company, their industry, audience, etc.) so that I could be in a position to come up with useful solutions.

I (and most likely other less experienced designers) would be greatful to anyone who shares their wisdom.


  • Ray MartinRay Martin, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    For me, it's been a mix of surrounding myself around others I admire (designers, developers, people in other industries; basically, anyone who gives a fuck about what they do) and getting out of my comfort zone.

    Sometimes this means going into a presentation and bombing, or being challenged about design decisions I was sure were the right ones—being critiqued with full honesty has been one of the biggest things for me because it can help you see things differently. Tunnel vision is real, and it's so easy to spin your wheels on the same thing.

    Kill your ego. This will only help you grow by welcoming valuable feedback with an open mind. This is crucial when you're in a team whose common goal is to make great products, experiences, brands, etc. with the best possible solutions.

    As overly cliche as this is, "failing" will only make you a better designer. This circles back to getting out of your comfort zone and realizing that the people you work with are looking at you (and trust you) to solve whatever it is you're working on.

    Immerse yourself in multiple areas, not just design. Read up on anything and everything, because you never know when NASA will come to you to design an app and now you're suddenly a rocket scientist.

    tl;dr... hang out with people who are doing cool stuff, step out of your comfort zone, kill your ego, and be interested in multiple things.

    Just my 2 cents.

    19 points
    • Cristian Moisei, over 6 years ago

      Hey Ray, thanks for this. I completely agree that being open to feedback / critique / other people's ideas and learning from them is one of the best ways to grow and I try to absorb as much information I can from my conversations with clients and the few people I get to work with (again, freelancer).

      But I do feel like that's not enough, so what I'd like to ask is: are you talking about your work colleagues or are there other people you are hanging out with and learning from?

      1 point
  • Jonas S, over 6 years ago

    Being a better designer is only about skills and practices. This is what I have done that have worked for me:

    Read books by the best writers and deliberately practice the advices in the books. Brainstorm about fake projects or apply the advices on previously done projects to really, really understand what they try to teach you. And, read at least to different books from different authors on the subject to get a better overview.

    Teach. To really understand a subject try to explain it to others in the simplest way possible. You will discover how little you actually know. And you don't really need an audience. You could just write it down.

    Practice. There are no shortcuts. Select a skill that you want to improve like typography or creativity and set a side at least a couple minutes everyday for a year Create an exercise around the skill.

    Steal. Find a design that you really love and try to rebuild it. It could be a whole app or just a button. You will discover all the little decisions behind the solution. Those decisions are now you in your own toolbox.

    Have patience. You will not improve over night.

    You have to try to discover what works. I want to recommend The little book of Talent which is about finding exercises that could improve any skill.

    7 points
  • Keaton TaylorKeaton Taylor, over 6 years ago

    Ultimately design is about people. If you're not an asshole, you're striving to do work that is good for users and you're engaged in the design community at large (twitter, seriously) you'll grow in your carer. That's not sexy or groundbreaking like "Hey man, learn React!" or "Copy people until you get better." it's a little more practical but it's 100% true across most anyone I know who's successful in this industry.

    1 point
    • Cristian Moisei, over 6 years ago

      Thanks for this. Who do you follow on twitter and who do you engage with? The most valuable accounts I follow are from agenices who either do amazing work or are transparent about their process (kind of short on the latter lately).

      I try not to tweet unless I have something genuinely useful to say.

      0 points
      • Keaton TaylorKeaton Taylor, over 6 years ago

        I mean guys like Justin Mezzell and Rogie are great. Kyle Lambert over at OLark is a great guy. In addition to twitter, just get to know people. Go to a meetup or to a conference. Those people will have information and views you wont. Expands the brain muscle.

        0 points
    • Christian Krammer, over 6 years ago

      It's always about people. The older I get, the longer I work as a designer, the more I realize that it's all about people, and foremost, good relationships - to your developers, to your boss, generally to your teammates. It also helps if you can present your work, why you made certain decisions. Just "because I like pink" is no justification. ;)

      0 points
  • Darren AlawiDarren Alawi, over 6 years ago

    Passion, patience and practice, in that order.

    1 point
  • Andy LeverenzAndy Leverenz, over 6 years ago

    I've done my best work as a result of hacking other people's designs or code. If you can find a mentor (who is good at what they do) try and shadow them on their projects if possible.

    I remember years ago when Photoshop was king I had a mentor that would knocking out some really impressive designs. I asked if could get a copy of his PSDs and since we worked together (I was an intern at the time) he was cool with it. From there, I dissected each layer piece by piece and later used the techniques in my own work. At that time layer masks were new to me and from that point forward it changed my entire workflow for the good.

    Fast forward to now: not a day goes by where I'm not trying to learn or achieve something new. If anything I'll be sure to read the latest news regarding web design and tech so I can have some knowledge about where the future of my work is headed.

    My takeaways and suggestions:

    • Pick apart other people's work
    • Practice a lot
    • Try and always push boundaries. Humans can get too comfortable and in doing so we tend to be repetitive
    • You will always feel out of touch. There will always be someone better than you. It's how you approach your own path is what makes you unique to a prospective client or project. Figure out what you accel at the most and focus on it. More often than not people get hired for being a specialist in one skillset rather than a jack of all trades whose work is decent but not great.
    • I wrote a short article on the matter if you have interest.

    Hope this helps!

    1 point
  • jj moijj moi, over 6 years ago


    0 points
  • Adam Hopwood, over 6 years ago

    My development so far has been fueled by trial and error and learning from my mistakes

    For me learning through trial and error - getting things wrong - is massively valuable. So many people learn how to do things from others but don't know why they do it or why it's an important part of a design process.

    Find a way to do this in a safe space (admittedly hard for a freelancer!).

    0 points
  • John Jackson, over 6 years ago

    I've been designing since 2011 and the very best advice I can give you is to just keep designing. When I first started designing, every month I'd look back on the things I designed the month prior and say "Whoa, what was I thinking? That was terrible!" I still have those moments today; I look back on work I've done in the past year and can point out many areas that I could improve upon.

    My greatest increase in knowledge and experience, though, came when I dropped my freelancing gig for a full-time position at a consulting agency.

    0 points
  • Rick KhannaRick Khanna, over 6 years ago

    Find a design you really like and try to duplicate it. Seriously. You'll learn new techniques and ways to achieve certain design elements. Hell, design this DN page right here. edit: After writing this I see someone mentioned it above but it really does help.)

    Also just try to outdo your last project with the next. Every time. Don't compare yourself to others yet. You keep doing this you'll soon enough see yourself amongst the better designers.

    0 points
  • Thomas Michael SemmlerThomas Michael Semmler, over 6 years ago (edited over 6 years ago )

    Something completely different, but you write "I am a freelancer", though you link to a company website? How does a freelancer turn into a "we"?

    I personally feel like this is the time to look for a place in a team, especially if you consider yourself a UI Designer, as stock solutions on the webdesign market are too affordable and satisfy most client needs already.

    As a small company or freelancer you generally want to provide your clients a reason to choose you, over a stock solution like squarespace or buying a wordpress theme. Most of the time, that USP is quality because of handwork. But, webdesign as a handwork has become much more expensive because of mobile over the years, unless you have some sort of product that you just end up configuring, instead of starting from scratch everytime, you will not be able to provide an affordable solution for your clients, that also ends up satisfying your need for doing high quality work, while also being profitable - that just doesn't work anymore imho. Furthermore, if you do that, you will exclude your practice from things that many designers these days do, like prototyping, motion design, etc. There is no need no time and no money for prototyping a client website, unless they pay 20k+, which they probably won't pay to a freelancer or a two man company.

    I think its problematic to think, that X or Y makes a good designer, because ultimately all you want is to tell us that you are one of us, that you are industry standard and that you are good in what you do, and you already are. But the core problem you describe is fuelled by imposter syndrome, not by the need to truly improve. I think you already know, what your next step is. Don't wait for another designer to tell you what to do, or to tell you where you need to improve, because you already know it yourself. If you consider yourself a UI Designer, I suggest you also start learning development skills, depending on what platform you make interfaces for. If you just want to "feel like a designer", look for a position in a team that practices agile.

    0 points
    • Cristian Moisei, over 6 years ago

      Hey Thomas - I appreciate the frank comment. Joining a proper company is on the roadmap and I understand there will be far more opportunities to improve once you're surrounded by a team working towards the same goal. In your opinion, what are the best companies for a designers (UI/UX) to work at?

      Now, in regards to freelancing, my colleague and I find it pretty easy to design for clients who want a simple website but either don't want to get their hands dirty with a WP theme or want more than the builders can do, and we only charge around £2-3k for such sites. The real value however is the expertise we can bring, the ability to solve design problems, to handle the stuff the client couldn't handle themselves.

      I don't think the problem with freelancing is site builders, those are still too small and weak to do much damage, but rather the steep competition - it's relatively easy to set up shop and call yourself a designer.

      Lastly, Hyperion is the team name a freelance developer and I use to work on projects together, but legally we're each independent and I would hardly call ourselves a company.

      0 points
      • Dave HawkinsDave Hawkins, over 6 years ago

        The best companies are ones with supportive teams, who you get along with, and hopefully with a mentor who you feel can really teach you something you don't already know. If you go to an interview, make it known that you really just want to learn and see how the people there react.

        In my own experience, going for un-sexy companies in my junior days helped me make a massive impact on the design there and enabled me to get into the rhythm of solving big problems. The fact that I was junior meant that if I failed at something, I wouldn't suffer massive consequences, it was chalked up to experience that I learned a lot from.

        2 points