How You Can Get Good at Design
The key points from this assignment.
- Do some design every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes
- Embrace criticism of your work, and develop new versions
- Regularly work away from the computer
Image credit: Baseline Team
In this assignment, we’ll briefly look at four easy-to-adopt practices that will help accelerate your design learning.
Design every day
If you want to get good at design, the key is to do it often, and to do it a lot. If you have a busy schedule and need to choose between doing a little bit every day, or a lot once a week, choose the first option.
There’s a reason that professional musicians practise every day. Yo Yo Ma, one of the greatest cellists of all time, a master of his craft with a 55-year career behind him, has this to say about practice:
“Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practising is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practise for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes.”
Yo Yo Ma practising his craft. Image credit: NPR Music
Completing lots of short design sessions will help to consolidate knowledge more quickly and reliably than occasional, longer sessions.
So if you only take one thing away from this lesson, let it be this: do some design every day. Even if it’s just for five minutes. Draw a sketch. Notice some graphics. Take a photo. Analyse how a mobile app works. Complete an assignment on this website. Read a page in a design book.
Before you know it, these small actions will add up, and you’ll have formed a bank of new design knowledge and experience.
Image credit: Jon Tyson
The first version of work is almost always bad. That’s true for professional designers as much as it is for students. Getting feedback (which is a euphemism for criticism) is essential.
Often, we don’t want to seek out critique. We might feel that we worked hard on the project, that it’s already good enough, that we don’t want our work picked apart, and that getting feedback might land us back at square one.
But inviting criticism of our work is the only way we can get to the best results. And when you have a final result in front of you that’s a hundred times better than your first version, you’ll be glad that you asked for feedback.
In Part 3, we’ll go into detail about how and when to get feedback on your work — and how and when to offer it to others.
Create multiple versions of work
Image credit: Jungwoo Hong
The process of creating multiple versions of work is known as “iteration”.
It’s a good idea to create lots of versions of your work on each project — and save all your drafts so that you can look back at previous versions. (Again, we’ll cover how to do this in Part 3, when we talk about design workflow).
Also, create different options and directions as you go along. When you take a decision, think about the other ways that decision could go, and explore those directions a little, too.
Go down as many paths as you can in the time available; that’s how you find the strongest ideas. This is also good practice for a professional environment, where you’ll often need to present two or three different options to clients or colleagues.
Step away from the tech
Image credit: Marvin Meyer
Many new design learners obsess about learning the software. Those tools are important, of course — but they are of secondary importance.
That’s because the purpose of computers is generally to execute an existing idea; software doesn’t usually help us much to come up with new ideas, or explore the outer limits of a design problem.
In the assignments ahead, you’ll learn that the design process is fundamentally independent of computers and software. Embrace walks, experiments, craft, pencil, pen, paint... when you change your constraints, you also change the kind of ideas you can access.
Design often, get feedback on your work, explore lots of versions, and step away from the computer. Do these four things as much as you can, and you’ll see the quality of your design work rapidly increase.
Next, let’s complete another icebreaker exercise, and assess your existing skills. And if you think that sounds boring — well, it might be, but it will also leave you feeling pretty good about yourself. Onwards!
Assignment version 1.0
Last updated 7 June 2021