You learn by doing, so do what you must learn.
I visited a major university a few days ago and met some top students. One of them followed up with a question by email. She asked, “What do you think is the best way to transition into interaction design from visual design and illustration? How would you recommend going about personal projects?”
Here is how I answered her:
I would start by redesigning an existing product or service, but in an ascending sequence of steps.
Select a product or service that you have some familiarity with. Identify some real world users besides yourself. Ask them open ended questions about how and why they use the product. Give them time to reflect, consider, and answer at length. As interviewer, you should say almost nothing, and all your questions should be essay. Identify the users’ desired end-states and the motivations that are common to most of them. Write these down; they are your north star.
Now you can begin to play.
First, redesign the product visually.
Second, redesign the way it behaves.
Third, redesign what it does.
In each case, you are designing it for those same users you interviewed. Your solutions should make it easy for them to achieve their desired end-state, and satisfy their motivations. You can change the product, but you can’t change the problem.
The first redesign should be easy. The second redesign should be hard. The third one will demonstrate that you are an interaction designer and no longer just an illustrator.
The initial process of interviewing users and discovering their goals is the hardest part and the most critical part. You should really enjoy doing it. If you find that you don’t really enjoy it, reflect on the path you are choosing. Being an interaction designer means working in service to others, and your personal vision plays only a small role in the whole.
I’m self-taught, so your inclination to learn by doing is familiar to me. It’s not always the best way to learn something, but it is usually the best way to have fundamental insights into that thing.
I really like when young people ask me questions. Sometimes I wonder if they like my answers as much.