My Journey to Teaching Myself How to Design Digital Products

Why: It’s important to let people know the amount of effort that goes into self-learning in the Tech Industry, especially when you don’t have a Tech background, HCI or Graphic Design Degree.

Where: San Francisco, CA (where the Sharks feed)

How I started: Not so conventional, I was thrown into the deep-end.

When I was a kid, probably around the age of five, I started swimming with a life jacket in the shallow waters. Then one day, unexpectedly, my older brother asked me a question, “Do you want to learn how to swim?” I answered with confidence, “I already know how to swim.” He replied, “No, I mean, without a life vest.” I naively and excitedly answered, “Yes!” without realizing what he had in mind. He said, “Good!” then, picked me up and threw me into the deep-end without my life jacket. Eight feet under water, I had no other choice but to hold my breath, stay as calm as possible and swim to the top but that wasn’t all. Once I reached the top for air, I observed the parameters to evaluate how close I was to the ledge and then swam to the nearest one. Within a minute, I learned how to stay a float and well…swim. I was totally freaked out but wanted to do it again and jumped into the deep-end, off the diving board, for the rest of the summer.

Why the story? Well, I’m sure you can draw parallels. When I was designing for print, my boss unexpectedly asked me one day if I could design assets that would be used for a client’s website. I naively and happily said yes and then realized digital was so much different than print. The task took me longer than expected and he was hounding me for the comps, because it was taking me longer to deliver them than it should’ve. Luckily, after making a few phone calls to friends, who I knew were experienced in the digital realm and Google-ing the basics, I sent my boss a folder of the comps he asked for. Now, that wasn’t the deep-end but it was like my brother who warned me before throwing me into deep waters.

I’m the type of person who wants to do it right or not at all. So, during the small window of time that I had to make the deliverable, I did it well enough for it to be implemented. It might not have been perfect but it was right and good enough, until we needed to do it again. After that day, with every spare time I had, I researched how-to design for mobile apps, how-to design for web etc. and that’s when I knew I was in it for the long haul. The amount of information I had come across was mind-blowing. It completely triggered my curiosity and I suddenly became fascinated with the trade. After that, the journey of teaching myself how to design digital products began.

For those of you who are just starting out, here are the things I did to be of value to the company who had thrown me into the deep-end (gave me a chance to swim).

The Resources, Tools and Tactics I leveraged

Resource #1: My Friends, my Colleagues and well, my Boss

· My friends were a great resource to help me untangle and master the design tools I needed to know to produce the work that I needed to deliver. During the time, I was lucky enough to be attending Art School, so I had a lot of talented and creative friends who were very good at the design programs I needed to use.

· My colleagues were there to give me great feedback and critique my work.

· My Boss, at the time, provided me with his patients and that was more than enough.

Tool #1: E-learning (Pluralsight and/or Lynda dot com)

Both websites offer great courses on how-tos for the Tech world. Pluralsight is more focused on the Tech industry than Lynda. However, I utilized both.

Tactic #1: Study and Test Yourself

Take time to learn the craft. I spent a lot of my spare time studying, just like I did to get my Degree. I stayed up late nights after school and after work to learn as much as I could about the trade.

Identify studying methods/habits that work well for you and apply them. If you want to be successful you have to put in the time. If that means, ordering tacos to go on a Tuesday to get a study session in, than do it. Your friends will understand and you will thank yourself later.
 
Test yourself. Start a conversation with your friends or colleagues about what you’re learning. It will help you process all the information and it will clarify anything that you don’t know or are not sure of.

Resource #2: Top Online Publishers (similar to this one)

It’s important to stay up-to-date with current trends and technology. The best way to do so is to read the news, everyday! It helped me to understand the industry, it’s history and get on board with what was happening.

Tool #2: Design Tools

I spent a lot of time learning how to utilize the design tools in the right way. That doesn’t mean passively using Photoshop or Illustrator to produce a button. It means how to be organized about your work, how to set the program up to the right settings and then how to export your designs properly. Get a hold of the industry leading tools that you’re expected to know and spend a lot of time mastering them. There are hundreds of resources out there that will help you to figure it out.

Tactic #2: Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect, But It Helps!

Take your favorite app and redesign it. It’s important to do experimental design, even if you don’t want to publish them, hold yourself accountable and still do it. I practiced a lot with experimental designs and still do. When I first started, I designed a few different shopping apps to test the water, which were developed around an Omni-channel approach. Oh yeah, don’t just redesign your favorite app; try to apply a user’s and business perspective — identify a problem. Because that’s what you’ll be doing in the real world anyway.

Resource #3: Local Events in Your City

Participate! I attended so many events in my city just to rub elbows with industry professionals. I gained some great friends and had a lot of meaningful conversations, which gave me a lot of perspective on things. Look for industry events in your city or town and attend. If this isn’t your thing, make it; it will take you out of your comfort zone, which is great for growth. You don’t have to talk to everyone but try to, at the least, have one conversation with one person. At times you might not even need to talk. Instead, you might be listening to a keynote speaker talk about their expertise. That’s better than sitting at home.

Tool #3: The Library or Amazon if you want to invest long-term

Read. There is nothing better to learning something than reading an actual textbook written and published by a professor or industry leader. I have a long list of books that I have read and keep as a reference.

Tactic #3: Apply and Never Give Up!

The best thing you can do is to apply your learned skills to real world situations. There is nothing wrong with failing as long as you keep trying and improving. There will be Naysayers along the way; there will also be the little red man on your shoulder that will try to convince you that you suck or that it’s too hard. Just brush him or them off and continue to push forward. Triumph will arrive and it will be very satisfying when it does.

I’ve applied myself so many times and I thank the people who believed in me and gave me a chance. That’s what it’s about and that’s whom you want to surround yourself with anyway.

Life hack #whatever

Have fun! No one said to become a hermit trying to reach your goal. Always be sure to refresh your mind by stepping away from the computer and unplugging. Go you!

Whew, that was easier than I thought…

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