5 Things I Did (and Do) to Get Better at Design

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Even though I went to school for design, I didn’t start honing my skills until a few years later. I got my first job as a developer (something I taught myself) but I never lost my love for both design and code. Since I was stuck only doing half of what I enjoyed at work (coding), I had to find other ways to keep working on my design skills. Here are 5 things I did (and still do) to grow:

1. I drew inspiration from the best.

There’s no better way to get the noggin excited and inspired to design than looking at good design. I absolutely love checking out sites like Site Inspire, Awwwards and One Page Love. They’re a great place to start if you’re just getting in web design or getting ready to start a new project. Initially when I was just starting out, I would find myself emulating design elements that I enjoyed on other sites. But the more I understood the decisions made by that designer (instead of just blindly copying), the better I got at making those decisions myself.

2. I got in the habit of starting with pen and paper first.

Once you get into Photoshop or Sketch or whichever tool you use to make your designs, it’s so easy to get distracted by the tool. I learned early on how beneficial sketching is to the design process. When I try to sketch wireframes of the site first, I’m able to run through and explore more ideas than if I started on the computer first.

3. I practiced on personal projects.

Practice makes perfect right? The more projects I designed, the better I got. It also helps if you’re actually interested in the project you’re designing vs just doing it for the sake of practicing. I’m still surprised at how far I’ve come and where I would be if I didn’t have the enthusiasm to work more on the side. Since I didn’t have the opportunity to do it at work, it was the only other choice I felt I had to get better.

4. I challenged myself to do something different on every project.

It's so easy to design every site like the last one, especially if you’re proud of it. Once I started feeling more comfortable with my design decisions, I made an effort to do something drastically different on every project. From trying crazy layouts to finding new, less common typefaces and playing with color. While some of my crazier ideas never made it to production, I still think it was a good exercise for my growth.

5. I asked for feedback.

Critiques were always hard for me in college but also so necessary. With everything I design, I always try to ask at least one person to give me feedback. It took me a while to not get emotional if someone didn’t immediately love my work (still does now a little bit) but I’m always so grateful at how it turns out when I have an open mind and incorporate the right changes. It’s also just good to get a fresh pair of eyes because more often than not, they’ll see something you don’t.

It takes time, patience and a lot of practice.

Just like most things in life, I didn’t get better at design over night. It took me almost 5 years before I felt confident that I wasn’t too bad. And I still think I can improve so much more. But continuously doing these 5 things helped (and still helping) me get there.

Do it with passion or not at all,
– Kim Goulbourne aka “Bourn”

CommentsAre you a designer? What things have you done to help yourself improve?

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