Perfecting your UI Design Skills

Practice makes perfect. But how do you perfect, when no one will pay you to practice? This post is written with newbie self-taught designers in mind.

The term UI/UX Designer is a generalization you should not take so lightly. The first part, UI (User Interface) deals with how your product looks while UX (User Experience) deals with how your product works. Despite these been snuggled into one word, they require 2 very different skill sets.

Thinking about it, every website or app on the internet is made up of a bunch of components (buttons, sliders, tabs, accordions, tables, headers, footers, blah blah blah…) using different fonts and colors. However, to create a good user experience, you’ll need to combine these components to form ‘design patterns’. Keeping in mind that you can’t combine badly designed components and end up with a good experience, it is really important that one first learns how to design a good interface before going into the experience.

We learn faster through practice

If you went to design school, you’d most likely go through over a year in school before doing an internship, paid or not. As a self taught designer think of your first year as the practice year. It may seem hard because you’re thinking what am I going to practice with? I could do a design challenge, or design an app.

Well, these may not be the best ideas. Remember that when you’re designing to solve a problem, you’re thinking of the interface, the experience and the business goals of your product (3 major problems, even for pros). Why not focus on solving one, then pick up the next?

Where to start.

  1. Principles of Design: while you’ll find a bunch of variations for this, some of the core principles include Alignment, Hierarchy, Contrast, Repetition, Proximity, Balance, Color and Space, read more here and also check out this book: Universal Principles of Design. With an understanding of these principles, you’ll be on your way to designing good interfaces and all the designs you see and get inspiration from will make more sense to you.
  2. Pick a preferred tool: Sketch, Adobe XD, Illustrator, Figma, Affinity Designer, there’s a list of tools to pick from. Choose the one that’s available to you(whispers: “choose Sketch 😋”). You need to know how to use your tools, learn their strengths and find others to compensate for their wicknesses. Don’t forget to join the Facebook/Slack Communities for your chosen tool so you can ask questions whenever you’re stuck.
  3. Redesign, Redesign, Redesign: I don’t mean redesign Facebook’s timeline to make it better because then you’d have to factor in the user experience. I mean redesign as in recreate Facebook’s timeline, as well as possible and every other website/app that has a good interface (Medium, Airbnb, Mailchimp, Inbox, Dribble, Behance, the list goes on). Obviously, this is not work for your portfolio, this is you practicing and in the process you’ll master your tools and define an efficient workflow. The best part is you can be your own judge, it’s a matter of comparing what you’ve done with the real thing.

Dont get caught up in the recreation though, remember it’s not portfolio worthy work. As you improve your skills, read more books (not just blog posts) and continue to refine your work flow, it’ll become much easier to design an accordion, or a slider because you’ve done this so many times before. The next phase will now be the experience, where do I use a stepper? should it be horizontal or vertical, how should I lay out the table? You get the point.

The goal is to learn progressively and not burden yourself with too many problems early on. It can get pretty overwhelming, learning design on your own. Find yourself a mentor, someone with a good eye for design that will give you constructive feedback. Don’t always expect the feedback to be positive, it is however important that the feedback is good (it’s coming from the right person, and you’re learning from it). Your work may still suck but that’s okay, for now.

I hope this has been useful. Thank you for reading, don’t forget to recommend this post 🙈. Stay woke!

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