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no. 9

5 Tips To Improve Your Design Skills

It doesn’t matter how good you are today. What really matters is how fast you progress and what steps you take every day to improve your design skills.

Recently, I tried to sum up my last several years of being a graphic designer in order to discover what really brought me to the level I’m at today. Nothing happens overnight. It takes a countless number of hours, plus practice and patience.

I tried to select five actions and routines I’ve been doing regularly for the last few years in order to become a better designer.

“Every artist was first an amateur.”

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

1. Learn to identify good design

If you want to create great designs, first you need to learn to recognize a good design from a bad one. It usually comes with experience. The more experienced of a designer you are, the faster you can perceive a better design.

You should train yourself in order to hone this precious skill every day.

The rule is simple: browse design projects every day. Start your day by going through the most recent design showcases and examining the work of other talented and experienced designers.

Study well-designed pieces and try to answer the question: “What makes it so good?” Focus on specific design elements (like navigation bars, search fields, buttons, etc.) and compare them with other examples. Try to guess why the designer made certain decisions. At the end of this process, sketch your own ideas as often as you can.

Treat your ability to identify good design like a muscle. Like every muscle, you need to train it to make it stronger and better. Don’t think it’s something you need to be born with. You can learn it.

Also, look around – there are great designs everywhere around you!

A list of great sources of beautiful designs and inspirations:

2. Study design theory

Everything moves so fast and if you want to be in the game, you need to know your stuff from the source. Read about new design techniques or trends. Study the design theory to find a sense in what you’re doing.

Don’t focus too much on how to achieve trendy visual elements in your designs. It’s very tempting to look into those “step-by-step” Photoshop tutorials. However, it won’t make your design skills better.

A good design doesn’t start in Photoshop, it starts in your head and on the paper. Understand the design theory first and add a visual skin later. Do your homework.

3. Have a sandbox

Create a place for yourself where you can try new things. Your own website or some other personal projects are usually a good place to start.

Treat it like an experiment and don’t be afraid of using unusual layouts or colors. Don’t settle with the first idea that comes to your mind. This is your playground and you’re your own boss. Have some fun with it and be creative.

If you don’t have any personal projects, create a fake one and pretend like you’re doing a job for someone. If you’re a beginner, those fake projects can be really helpful to build your portfolio and show off.

4. Improve your style

Sometimes a designer is like an actor and has to play different roles depending on the project that he or she is working on. However, it’s good to settle around a specific group of clients that we feel confident with and that fits with our design style.

For example, I definitely prefer clean and minimalist designs because I feel that approach is perfect for businesses, corporations and content-heavy websites. My portfolio is full of these kinds of projects and people usually know what to expect from me.

Try to find your own style that you feel good with. If there is a relatively big group of clients (even if it’s a niche) that finds your design attractive, you’re on the right track. Keep improving your design style and introduce new elements to every new project.

Think about your personal design style as your trademark. You want people to recognize your work and the best reward is when other designers try to copy you. It’s annoying but you can be proud of yourself!

5. Teach other people what you know

This is a very important step I’ve recently decided to take and started this blog. I always felt like. I was not someone who could teach other people because I’m still learning too. However, I discovered that sharing your knowledge is a great way to learn as well.

Writing design articles helps to organize your thoughts and review the knowledge you’ve already acquired. Also, it usually requires some research and examples, which can even lead to knowing the topic deeper and better.

Creating a blog is definitely a good idea and just another step you want to take if you feel like you’re ready for it.

Conclusion

These five tips are not steps that you should take and move from one to another. They are more like actions that you need to take regularly and repeat them over and over. Even if you’re an experienced designer and you feel like you’re on a really high level, you still need to study other design projects, refresh all the design theory, learn new techniques, improve your style and share with others what you’ve learned.

It might be difficult to objectively say if we’re making progress in what we do. If you love your design at the moment of creation and hate it next month when you compare it to your new projects, it means you are making progress. If you see a difference with every new project, it means you have made progress really fast and are moving in a good direction. Keep it up!

What are your routines that make you progress?

Written by Rafal Tomal.

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Comments

  1. Nice to read, like always. Love your blog and can’t wait for your next post ;) Have a lot of fun.

  2. I think to have “design skills” comes up naturally. You can improve it but you cannot learn it. You have to have imagination and see what people really like it (like the author of this blog).

    • I believe you can learn any skill. When you’re talented some things may come faster and easier but it still needs a lot of practice and patience.

      • I definitely agree with you there Rafal. Every human is born with imagination, and we all can hone our skills and imagination as much as we choose.

        I’m fairly new to the Web Design/Developing community and glad I ran into your blog, looking forward to future posts.

  3. Hey Rafal,
    When it comes to boning up on design theory, what are your go-to sources? Or what publications would you recommend starting with?
    Thanks for the thoughtful tips!
    Carrie

  4. Hey Rafal, do you have any recommendations for learning design theory?

  5. Do you think that design can be learnt Rafal?
    I always assumed that being able to pick the right colour combinations went beyond theory… it was more of an instinct.

    Do you think theory when you choose colours?

    • Keith,
      that’s the thing. I believe you can learn anything.

      When I started designing nobody told me I have a talent and there were even some people who told me that I shouldn’t be doing design. I used to be a developer and then I switched to design because I liked it.

      I didn’t choose good colors in the beginning. Now, it’s more about experience. I know what colors look bad because I probably tried it before ;)

  6. Very interesting ideas Rafal, but I am not sure a novice like myself can pull this off. Is there something or some websites or programs that are less daunting and more supportive of someone with limited design skills?

  7. awesome articles. you’re really good bro.

  8. Rafal,

    I had to stop by and say thanks for sharing your design journey and the tips to keep us moving towards bettering our own design skills.

    Regarding Tip #3 – The Sandbox : I’ve harnessed the power of Evernote save photos, designs, notes (both audio & video), and anything else that piques my creative fancy. I can sync with the cloud and my various devices (iPhone, iMac and MacBook Pro) so I’m never without inspiration.

    And thanks for the theory & design sources. I’m a self taught graphic designer & website developer and am realizing without a good understanding of the basics, my work will never reach its full potential.

  9. Hi Rafal,

    Thanks for your tips, and especially for the design theory resources you mentioned in the comments. I was going to suggest that you should probably sign up to be an affiliate for Tuts+ – as a designer, it will be super easy for you to make a little extra money as an affiliate, since you’re recommending them anyway. :)

    I appreciate you -
    Warmly,
    Jeni

  10. I think design is a very special skill that can be used practically anywhere, Thank you again for sharing. Good post!

  11. Any recommended reading on design theory for web design?

  12. Hey Rafal,
    Thanks for your awesome post. It was one of the best articles I’ve ever read. Gave me insights and motivation to keep moving forward.

  13. Hey Rafal,

    You have some very interesting tips. But I seems to struggle a lot with fake projects. Whenever I tried to do one, my mind go blank as if it doesn’t know what to create at all.

    In these types of situations, what kind of suggestion you have?

    Thanks!

  14. This may sound a little cheesy but practice makes perfect, the more you do it the easier it becomes. Thank you for sharing, great post!

  15. Really Inspiring Post. Please If you give me some links where do I find new trends and techniques that would be really helpful for me..

    Thanks in advance,

    Arpo

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