A lot of people have been asking me recently how to start a design career or even how to be a great designer. So instead of replying to all of them one by one, I thought writing an article would be much easier. So whether you’re a total beginner or you’ve already started studying design, I’ll share my experience, and try to help you in 10 steps to be not just a good designer but a great designer
1 – Self-learning
I attended a design school, and to be honest, I didn’t learn that much. This really depends on the school, but overall design schools suck at teaching design (sorry). Mostly because they teach you with basic examples and not many “real-life” examples. It’s good if you want to learn basic design stuff like photoshop or even HTML. But right now, you can find this quite easily on the web.
Some good of website to self-learn:
For my part, I did learn mostly by myself. By doing side projects, working as an intern in a design agency & doing freelance jobs. I believe deeply that if you want to be a great designer, you need to learn in the field. Know how the market works, how to deal with clients. Find a mentor if you can. Being a great designer isn’t easy but achievable if you have the passion and the courage.
A good article talking about this:
2 – Be passionate
I believe deeply that being passionate is one of the keys to being a great designer. If you are working or learning design and don’t feel any passion for it, I’ll advise you to find a real passion, and that might not be design. Because if you don’t feel any passion and excitement when you’re crafting something, you’re not going to go far in the design industry, trust me. Passion can push you over your limits, to surpass yourself. When you’re doing design, it’s not just about changing colours or adding some good looking fonts. Design is a lot more thinking. So if you don’t want to think outside of the box, or don’t want to surpass yourself, you can’t be a great designer.
3 – Do side projects
As I said, doing side projects is a big part of self-learning. I do believe that is the best way to practice, and I say that from experience.
When I lived in France, I started going to some events about startups and did my first Hackathon in 2011. It was such a good experience. You basically have to create an app with a team of people you don’t know in 48 hours… Yeah sounds crazy but actually, as of today, most of skills and experience are from all these hackathons. I really started enjoying design and started learning what really was a Product Designer. I did a lot a hackathons, I won some but failed a lot. But you learn from your failures.
Design is solving problems, doing research, find the best way to solve a problem or to sell something.
4 – Solve a problem
A lot of designers think a great designer is somebody who can do the best visual, pixel-perfect and colour palette work. I need to say, design isn’t just about visuals. Design is solving problems, doing research, find the best way to solve a problem or to sell something. If you want to spend your time doing visual work, crafting colour palettes and shapes, you can be an artist, but being a designer is not the same thing.
5 – Work in team
Don’t work solo, work in teams. This is the best way to share ideas and experience. Don’t believe all the best designers work alone and figured out one day what was the best design. The best designers such as Jony Ive have got a team behind them. Helping him craft the best design for Apple’s products. Don’t be selfish, you don’t know everything. Share and people will also share with you.
6 – Always be up to date
You need to be always looking for new trends and new inspiration. Why? Because your brain is like a huge database of images, colours, combinations, and you need to feed it to be more efficient. That why it’s hard when you start designing to know exactly what to do because your brain didn’t have this data in its memory and is not used to it. You need to train your brain. It’s like going to the gym to train your body.
7 – Don’t rush into your computer
I used to see a lot of young designers rushing into photoshop or sketch when starting new designs. I have to say STOP! Unless you have 5 or 10 years of experience and know exactly what is the best way to do things. Even those people have to look for inspiration and do some research. Don’t think you know everything. Look for inspiration and do some research before you start crafting. Merge your inspiration/research into a perfect design that is solving your problem. And I believe deeply that sketching is still very useful when starting a design. Put things on the table, start to sketch, and put all the research/inspiration next to it. That’s how you should start your design. Designing on the computer is the last part of the process.
8 – Learn to be consistent
Sometimes, a difference between a good and a great designer is about consistency. I’m sure you’ve already heard this word. It’s on every designer’s lips and you can even pretend to be a great designer by using this word as often as you can. Consistency is the key to a good user experience. You don’t want the user to go on your website and on next page, have a completely different design. You need to start designing and be consistent with your previous design. I know sometimes it’s much more exciting to start from scratch, but learning to be consistent is always better overall.
9 – Learn and understand code
I started learning code because I wanted to be able to code my own website, but it actually made a huge difference in the way I was designing after that. Unless you’re designing for print, I think designers needs to know how the code works to be able to do great design work. It makes sense and is now a requirement in some jobs. Learn to code, it will help you greatly.
10 – Change job
It sounds funny, but it’s actually one piece of advice I will give you. Don’t stay too long in the same company. Why? Because after a while, you’ll finish learning from this company and need to find new areas to learn. Unless you’re a very lazy person and don’t want change (some people are like this) but I really hope this is not the case for you. You need to keep learning, company after company. Don’t waste your time because you can’t get your time back. When it’s gone, it’s gone. And in addition to that, your payslip will raise faster as well. Double win!
I really think design is a great community. And sharing is part of this. Share your passion, share your feelings, share your experience. Keeping everything yourself will not help you at all. And all the years I’ve been a designer. I always liked to share my experience to those younger than me. So they can learn from me and do the same afterwards.
I have to say, design isn’t easy. It seems easy when you look at it on the surface when you see people moving colours and fonts around, that sounds really cool. But the best designs come from passion and love. I love what I do and I hope you can love it as well. Learning is exciting and I hope you can become a great designer and that I would have helped you in this journey. Let me know you thoughts in the comments!
Philippe from UI Garage