One of the things that I like about web design is that there’s always plenty to learn, regardless of how experienced you are. I know that my knowledge really only scratches the surface of web design and development, and I appreciate the fact that seemingly unlimited resources are available to allow me to become a better designer.
Every designer needs to place some importance on continued learning and improvement due to constant changes in the industry. Without ongoing improvement and adaptation you might be designing sites that would have looked cool in 1997. One of the challenges for designers is finding time and making this a priority rather than an afterthought.
The design community is filled with sources of inspiration and helpful sites for encouraging growth in abilities. Each of us needs to take our own unique approach to personal development that works for us. I’d like to share some of my thoughts and what works well for me. Hopefully some of it will be applicable for you as well.
Tips for Learning from Other Designers
The online community of designers truly is a community in that there is a lot of interaction and people willing to help others. As a result, we can all learn from talented individuals who are willing to provide some teaching or inspiration. All of us have our own unique strengths and weaknesses as designers, which makes it easy and convenient to give and take. It’s not the case where the most experienced have nothing to learn or no one to learn from.
Improving skills as a designer can come in a few different forms. You could pick up a book, follow online tutorials, look at inspiring examples from other designers, accept a challenging project, or just play around and experiment on your own. Personally, I like to mix it up and learn in a few different ways.
Get an RSS Reader
I’m sure most of you are already using an RSS reader, but they may have some helpful features that you’re not using. I use Google Reader and when I come across a tutorial that interests me, I’ll star it for later. When I’m reading through my feed reader I rarely have time to work through a detailed tutorial at that moment, but it may be something that I’ll want to use later. By starring it I can easily continue what I was doing, and then when I have some time I’ll go through my starred items and find one that I want to work through.
My advice is to star the good tutorials that you find throughout the week, and then once a week go back to your starred items, find the most interesting one and go through it. Most of us don’t have time to go through all of the tutorials that interest us, but one per week is realistic, and you’ll still benefit from continued growth that can be taken in any direction you choose.
Bookmark Designs for Inspiration
Those of us who read design-focused blogs and/or visit design galleries constantly come across designs and examples of work form other designers that can inspire us in our own work. With no system to keep track of these items, you may remember one of them but have no way to get back to it when you need it. A bookmark manager like Del.icio.us is an excellent solution for this problem.
Many designers are already using this approach, as you can see by looking at the tag “inspiration.” However, if you have a large number of bookmarks tagged as inspiration, it may be hard to find specific examples when you are looking for them. Maybe you’re bookmarking a page because of a specific aspect that you like, such as navigation. Del.icio.us can be even more helpful for you if you use a more specific tag like “inspiration-nav”. If you consistently use descriptive tags you’ll have a wealth of help when you’re in need of inspiration on a specific aspect of style of design.
Having a network of other skilled designers can be very handy when you need some help. Not too long ago I was looking to add a specific functionality to a site that I’m working on and I wasn’t sure what was the best way to go about achieving the end result. I have a friend that has similar functionality on her site, so I sent her an email asking what she would recommend. Her response was better than I could have expected with some great advice and examples to use in my own site. Many designers are willing to help, you just have to ask (and it helps to have an existing relationship).
If you don’t have an existing network of designers, start to get out an meet new people, whether it’s online or off. You can also take advantage of forums that are available for this purpose. However, you’ll need to be careful of the advice that you take, as some forum users may not necessarily provide the best advice.
Many of us spend so much time online that we forget or overlook many of the more traditional resources that are available. There are some excellent books on design on just about any subject you need help with. This is one method that I need to use more often myself.
What’s Your Approach to Learning from Other Designers?
How do you take advantage of the knowledge and skills that other designer make accessible to us?