Okay, so you’ve decided to improve your design skills and then you sit at your computer and sit some more and then a little more until you get bored and disappointed with yourself for not coming up with a single good idea.
Where should you even begin?
Should you wait for the inspiration to strike?
Browse gorgeous designs on Pinterest to maybe stir your imagination?
How do those designers even come up with those designs?
What are they eating for breakfast to be that good?
I’ve been through all these stages and the one thing I know is that if you wait for the inspiration to come to you, its going to take forever. Add a few more days to that forever.
Which brings me to my first point in the steps you need to be taking to improve your design skills –
1. Create a system
It’s easy to get caught up in the create when inspiration strikes idea but inspiration is unreliable.
You want to have a repeatable process or a framework which you can rely on.
Start with an end goal in mind.
What are you trying to create and what is the purpose of the design.
Is it to convey a message? Serve as a decorative element?
Once you’ve identified the purpose, instead of waiting for inspiration, you could curate inspiration. Collect samples of design or images that could relate aesthetically to your final design. I have written a detailed post about creating an inspiration board here.
Once you are satisfied with your initial exploration, you can then start working on sketching, prototyping the design, using colors, textures etc in a systematic order.
You don’t necessarily have to follow the same steps here. You could tweak and create the ones that you are most comfortable with based on your work style, timings etc.
2. Prototype / Exploration
As a beginner it could be easy to think that the pros hold the pen and create magic in their first attempt. Its far from the truth.
The first draft is never the best one.
Even for something as simple as blog post graphics. You will have to keep exploring ideas and concepts and then revise the one that looks the most promising.
You don’t have to commit to any design in this phase, so you can create and explore as many as possible
This is the unavoidable part of the process leading up to the final design. From the absolute beginners to the top designers all have to go through the process of prototyping.
If you allow yourself to go through this phase you will have far better results.
Don’t stay hung up on the first bad design and think that you are not good at this.
3. Study your favorite designers
Follow all of your favorite designers on social media, join their email lists, study their projects on Behance or Dribbble. You will learn a lot just by understanding their thought process and the way certain things influence their style.
Wether they write blogs, post snippets on Instagram or send out newsletters, there is a wealth of information to be obtained in any of these.
For me, I just stalk all of my favorite designers and design studios. I follow them on Instagram, I am on their email lists or whichever place they will let me follow them.
4. Do projects beyond your skill levels
This is tedious work but I cannot tell you enough about how much I have grown each time I’ve tinkered around on a project that was beyond my skillset.
You don’t have to take up super ambitious projects like designing a massive wall mural or re designing the iTunes app. If that’s your thing then certainly go for it. Just assess your design skills and think of what kind of design is logically the “next step” in complexity.
It could be designing a logo or a poster or an e-book cover or creating custom typography.
Anything that at this moment that feels like “that’s hard, I’ve never tried that, it might take a few days until I get a hand of it.”
Just pushing your boundaries a little bit at a time will help you grow by leaps and bounds and make you more confident in your design skills.
Ultimately this is what you want. Confidence.
As creatives we might even HAVE the skills and not know the value and feel like we are not “good enough”.
5. Critique your best designs
We all have that one design that we did, that we are super proud of. Sharing on Facebook, screaming from the rooftops kind of proud.
It could be that one logo you designed for yourself, or that simple graphic that you created for a Facebook ad.
After a few weeks or maybe months, critique your design.
Spot any mistakes that you can, think about how you would do it differently today. This doesn’t mean that logo you designed is flawed or your website looks old so it needs a revamp or my portfolio is outdated so I need to panic kind of thing.
Only critique it. This exercise is only to help you understand if you’ve had any growth in your skills over a period of time.
6. Have your designs critiqued by another designer
As creatives, it is hard to accept constructive feedback. Maybe we are emotionally attached to our designs or maybe we take our design critique as a reflection of ourselves.
It will be difficult but just for a bit, detach yourself from the design. Imagine that its a piece of work that belongs to someone else.
Now give it to some other designer for critique.
This is important. Have another designer critique your work. Not your friends or your family, unless they are designers.
It might be intimidating but a professional critique well help you better understand the nuances which non designers cannot spot.
7. Pick your design tool and master it
Whichever design tool you pick wether it is Illustrator, Corel, Inkscape, invest time into learning the tool and master it.
Learn all the capabilities and the limitations of your tool. What kind of designs can be created using your tool and for which designs you might need help from some other tools.
Learn all the shortcuts ( they save tones of time ) and become really really efficient at using the tool.
At minimum, you should at least know the short cuts to the features you use daily. Heres a thumb rule, if you can confidently teach the tool to a beginner without the need to refer to Google or YouTube then you are good.
8. Learn design from books, blogs and other resources
Pick whichever medium you can learn the best from. If you learn better from videos there are tons of design channels on YouTube.
If you learn by reading you could follow high quality design blogs. Here is a list of 10 design blogs that offer information on variety of design fields.
Lastly, you could also purchase design related books and courses. There are tons available on amazon and if your favorite designer has any than you could buy those.
9. Study Good Design
Pick any good design and study it. In the beginning it will be hard to tell what separates a good design from bad but the more you learn the more you will start noticing the differences.
Think how you can design it using the design software you use.
What tools / shortcuts / features would you need to recreate the design. Better yet, try creating the design yourself to get a hang of the style.
Sometimes the designs which seem really complicated to create might not even be that complex.
Better yet if you have the vector version of the design you can use the outline mode in illustrator to learn how it was constructed.
If learn designs from a good designer this way, then you are automatically incorporating best practices of design into your work.
The only way you can get better at improving your designs is through practice.
You will never know unless you try.
Pick a project, work through it. Wether you create a good or bad design in the process, each project will help you learn something new.
Just start doodling if you must. You never know what gems you might uncover!