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10 Things You Can Do Today to Become a Better Designer

One of the challenges of being a web designer is the need for continual improvement. While you will certainly gain experience and improve skills through client projects, it’s also necessary to dedicate some time outside of client work to focus on new skills and staying up-to-date with an industry that changes at a rapid pace.

Since we all have busy schedules to start with, getting a real impact with the time you set aside for learning is essential. In this article we’ll take a look at some things that you can do today to improve your abilities in some way. Even with just a small amount of time available, there are things that you can do with a focus on continual growth and improvement.

1. Take a Critical Look at Your Recent Work

One quick way to identify some areas for potential improvement is to go back and look at some of the projects that you have completed in the past few months. Obviously, taking a critical look at your work throughout the design process is important to any project, but sometimes having some time away from the project will allow you to come back and view it with a different perspective. So if you’ve had a few months away from a project you may be able to see things more objectively than you could while you were working on the project.

Maybe you’ll see some things that could have been done differently or better. These types of lessons can be useful on other projects going forward, making your past experience even more of a learning experiment.

2. Seek Feedback and Constructive Criticism

While looking critically at you own work is important, you’ll also gain a lot from getting feedback from others. This includes feedback from clients, users, and other designers. Taking feedback and constructive criticism isn’t always fun, but if you look at it as a way to improve your skills and make yourself a better designer, it’s really a good thing.

Resources like Concept Feedback exist specifically to help designers get feedback on their work (also see our post 19 Resources for Getting Design Feedback). Community sites like Dribbble, Forrst, and UCreative are also great resources for getting feedback on your work.

3. Examine the Work of a Talented Designer

One way to learn is to study the work of talented and experienced designers. Observe their work and the design decisions that they have made on their projects. For example, if studying web design projects you can look at things like layouts, calls to action, white space, color schemes, typography, and even fine pixel-precise details of the design. The things you pick up could serve as inspiration for your own work.

Chances are you probably already have a few specific designers that you admire, but if not, community sites like Dribbble and Forrst are also ideal for identifying talented designers to follow.

4. Get Back to the Basics

In an industry that changes so quickly it’s easy to get caught up in trends and the newest tools and resources to use in your work. Sometimes it helps to make a deliberate effort to get back to the basics and brush up on fundamentals like design theory and color theory. A great place to start is this post compiled by Psdtuts+, 50 Totally Free Lessons in Graphic Design Theory.

If you already have a solid knowledge and understanding of design theory it’s not a bad idea to brush up on these topics occasionally. And if you have never devoted much time or effort to the basics, today is a great time to start.

5. Follow a Tutorial to Learn Something New

There are thousands of helpful tutorials available online, not to mention those that are offered in magazines and books. If you have a few hours to spare, why not find a tutorial that will help you to learn something new, or to expand on the skills that you already have? Most likely there is something that you have been wanting to learn more about, and there is probably already a good tutorial written that covers exactly what you want to learn.

Sites like Psdtuts+, Nettuts+, Webdesigntuts+, Tutorial9, and Design Instruct are excellent places to find tutorials to follow. Of course, there are countless other sites and blogs that publish design and development tutorials, so find some that you like and subscribe to their RSS feeds.

6. Start a Personal Project

A personal project can be anything that you do on your own, rather than for a client. It could be starting a blog, building an e-commerce site, developing a new community site, and really the possibilities are endless. Personal projects are great because they provide you with an opportunity to experiment in whatever way you want in a real world situation. You are the one making the decisions, so you can take it in any direction that you want, allowing you to gain valuable experience. Just about anything you could want to learn can be done through a personal project if you are able to put in the time.

Personal projects can be done at a lot of different levels. If you have only a small amount of time available there are opportunities, and if you are looking to create something major that will require a lot of time going forward, you can do that too. Another benefit of personal projects is that you also have the potential to make money to supplement your client work. Whether it is through selling products, selling ad space, affiliate promotions, or some other type of income, personal projects have turned into significant sources of income for many designers.

7. Re-Design for the Fun of It

One fun type of challenge is to re-design a popular website for the fun (and learning) of it. While your design isn’t going to be used by the company it can still help you to solve problems and make design decisions just like you would if you were actually designing the site in the real world. Of course, it doesn’t have to be a popular website. Just choose a site that you think you could improve and that you could learn from the experience.

If you want to see examples of such designs, see 18 Cool Concept Designs of Notable Websites at Hongkiat. As you can see, designing in this way can even bring you some exposure in addition to providing a valuable learning experience.

8. Sign Up for a Class

There are plenty of online courses, as well as those at local universities or community colleges that could help you to learn new skills and to build on the ones that you already have. Not everyone has the time available to take a class, but if you do, it may be something worth exploring. Even if you are not interested in working towards a degree there may be a particular course that could help you to learn something that would be valuable to your work.

9. Take Photos

Photography is a favorite hobby of many designers, and the two fields have a lot in common. Not only is photography a fun activity, but it can also be a learning experience for designers. Things like composition and colors are critical to good photography, and the lessons can also be applied to graphic design. For more on the subject, see Why Designers Should Take Up Photography at Design Instruct.

Taking up photography as a hobby is ideal because it is possible regardless of how much, or how little, time you have available. Subjects for photography are all around us. You don’t have to leave your town, or even your house, to start experimenting with photography. And you also don’t need an expensive camera, simple point and shoot cameras will do for these purposes. If you enjoy it and you want to take it further a more expensive camera can wind up being a good investment.

10. Visit an Art Museum

Most cities have an art museum of some kind. Why not take part of a day to go visit the art museum nearest to you? You can view the work of highly-talented artists and pick up some inspiration that can be put to work in your own design. Many designers rely only on online sources for design inspiration, but getting out and being inspired by other types of art can help to open up more creativity in your work.

What’s Your Experience?

When you want to learn something new or improve your skills, what are your preferences?

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