Designer Starter Pack — Education on the Real World

So you’re in school to become a designer. You’ve made the giant decision to become a guru in the art of pixels and to make the best damn products anyone will see or use, but the real world is going to hit you pretty soon. Are you ready?

A Little About Me:

I took a two year program at a technical institute in Vancouver B.C. that gave me every tool of the trade: developing websites, designing, and business courses. I was also a contributor (first year) and editor (second year) at our school magazine Link Magazine that reached thousands of students every month and I focused on tech, reviews, gaming, movies/tv-shows and lifestyle POV. I didn’t know I wanted to pursue design until I read the infamous Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug which sparked a massive interest in pursuing a career as a UX designer.

It was a lot of fun and I’m quite fortunate to get a design role at an amazing automotive marketing company called Convertus (including puppies, nerf wars, hammock room, unlimited snacks etc.). I couldn’t ask for a better company to grow in as a Junior Design Specialist.

Fast forward five months later and the types of designs that we use to scale for our 100+ clients amazes me everyday. Designing with multiple size constraints on a daily basis and for different brands always keeps you on your toes.

School never prepared me for any of this. I say this lightly as it did help me find reasons why certain designs look good, but learning from a power point at the back of the class is all talk and no results.

Practicing design in a time crunch has allowed me to problem solve at a faster rate than I’ve ever done in my life. From problem, concept and result is now intuitive and quick.

I feel like a stronger designer that can tackle on large tasks with 20x more thinking, efficiency, creativity and effort than I did in school. No more three month period on projects, or two weeks for an assignment to be handed in. Now there’s only daily tasks and multiple projects in the span of a month. There’s many things I wish I did to prepare me for the “real world of design” so I made little guide that’s helped me through my transition.

Tips to elevate your design education

Document, Document, and Document

Man if I knew how to document what I learned over my semesters I would’ve been a lot more equipped to handle what goes inside my brain on a daily basis.

Ever filling reservoir of thoughts and ideas

Documenting things on our company wiki saves lives, and now I know why. It is a hub of ideas, resources, links, tutorials and so much more that can be easily found through smart architecture.

Instead of using wiki on a daily use at home or on the go, I use the incredible app called Google Keep. It’s effortlessly entered my life and now I don’t know where I was without it. Setting up labels and knowing what you normally think about on a daily basis will require plenty of thought, but once that’s completed the worlds your oyster.

My Google Keep Labels and Layout

What I love about it:

  1. Clean UI that doesn’t clutter regardless of how many ideas, cards etc. that you add. Super useful to have basic titles to quickly scan through
  2. Reminders are super helpful for brain dumping on the go and being reminded of something later (a design, website etc.)
  3. Using the chrome plugin will create a plethora of bookmarked links that can span across all devices (work computer, phone, home laptop etc.)
  4. Brain dumping on your phone will save you lots of stress, headaches and ease planning projects without the hassle of finding a pen and paper.
  5. An ecosystem of thoughts, videos, images, links etc. that can be jotted down anywhere you go.

Test out other apps like Evernote, but the chrome plugin is what sold me and has become my daily go to for when i’m on an inspiration hunt. Whether I’m on my commute, at home wandering the interwebs or at work, my notes are always in front of me.

Remember a thought or idea can go away quickly (in my case before I’m about to go to sleep and my subconscious takes over)

File and Time Management

I’m a stickler for keeping all my files in google drive and on my office computer pristine. I’ve arranged all my folders by date, and have categorized all my following folders to have sub folders inside. Keeping a track of organization will not only save you time, but will also help keep your boss from having to yell at you for losing important files and redoing them.

Make sure you create a folder that has all of your favorite work. Not only will it save you time in making a portfolio, it will also be a nice way to post content and connect with other designers online (also keep a process of each project somewhere!)

Keep your priorities in check. If you happen to be procrastinating a large project, work your way towards it and eventually you’ll start it without much thought.

Get an Internship and Network with professors

I know it’s scary and exciting to think about what happens once you leave the comfortable confines of a classroom, but if you don’t prepare properly than you will definitely be behind in the industry.

Don’t be scared or intimidated

Reach out to your design teachers and ask imposing and hard questions. Try to find extra projects that they need help with on the side, or see if they can tap into their 100+ connections on LinkedIn from other industry experts/past coworkers. Tap into design clubs at school (even if it’s outside of your industry like Gaming) and test your skills elsewhere.

Remember there are no dumb questions at all, and when your starting out those questions will only get increasingly important. Reach out to alumni and ask them out for coffee to pick their brain, or go to your professor and see if there’s anything else you can do to improve. You’ll be surprised on how many people are willing to help others like yourself succeed.

Practicing industry grade UI/UX applications

Having used the “industry standard” throughout my education and transitioning to the real world has awaken my eyes to all the tools out there. I longer feel trapped by my teachers expectations, instead I feel empowered to search the nether realms to find solutions that work for everyone in our team.

We love using Sketch to take care of our UI and UX components as it’s much more modular, scalable and full of useful plugins. Creating a layout with grids is quick and easy, and the speed at which I can create UI is exponential. You can even get a plugin that will transfer all of your assets directly to After Effects to be animated!

Coming from Illustrator or Photoshop and having to speak to a developer is like finding a needle in a haystack and won’t come out the way you designed it. That’s why we use Zeplin which helps developers gather assets (fonts, images, colours), generate CSS (height, width, padding etc.), and allows for simple commenting about any components of the design. It’s made both our designers and developers life a whole lot easier, fixing errors that may happen through other apps.

If you can think of anymore feel free to comment them down below, and I can try evaluating them and see if it’s worth trying out as a student.

Follow design feeds, email lists, podcasts etc.

Teachers never really gave me much outside inspiration at school, instead I was lead to believe all of my design knowledge would be learned through Powerpoint. I kept up with dribbble and behance on my spare time during lectures, but often times it didn’t provide enough knowledge and was all just glitter. There was rarely any explanation behind the designs and didn’t help me think about the most important part: users.

Eventually I had enough and asked my boss on how he get’s inspiration.

  • He told me he takes time in the morning to go through Sidebar that provides him 5 design related topics every day at 9am. I started opening up links and my world was forever expanded, like a fresh cup of design Joe in the morning.
  • Then I talked to my coworker and he showed me Panda5 which has single-handedly given me design inspirations both from attractive dribbble creations and designer news.
  • Finally, Medium email list has given me a wealth of knowledge both design and life related and is a perfect way for me to cool down after a hard days work. The clean UI has been excellent to read both on my computer and phone, being a breeze to use anytime.

Experiment with Design

School is amazing at experimenting with different types of designs, especially through ever growing trends in UI. This is the perfect time for you to dip your toes in all sorts of styles: flat, google material, gradients and more! I remember my first design was chalk full of unnecessary texture and a horrible cookie cutter logo with unusable layouts

First Ever Wireframes and Mockup for Design 1
I’ve began to realize how to design smarter based on required context, users, and brand.

It would also help (and a fun challenge) to create a UI style sheet for these styles you wish to embark on (also be mindful of limitations for coding). Using sketch would be a simple way to copy and paste re-usable elements (cards, buttons, simple layouts, headers, footers etc.) that will make your designs more efficient and time saving.

To further improve your skills, try out dailyui which I did a few but ultimately became too busy with my internship. Learn from my mistakes and improve on your skills, even if you can’t do it daily but shoot for weekly (and don’t forget to post it somewhere!).

All of this can be applied to developers, including keeping the code you make for headers, footers, hamburger menus and reusing and adjusting based on the project.

Dealing with the “Full-time flu”

This is the toughest thing I’ve had to go through with my new job status. No longer am I in the back of the room having information drilled inside my numbed brain, but actively working 8 hours a day and meeting my deadlines. I can almost guarantee you will feel like a slug everyday after work for the first couple of months, but just know that you’re not alone. Finding something to occupy your time other than hopping back on the computer is tough but definitely doable. Productivity each day is a huge booster to my overall happiness, and simple things each day can build up.

There are ways that I deal with my slug syndromes:

  • Meditation every night using the app headspace not only helps me deal with stress, but also allows me to get a good night of sleep
  • Go back to books that you’ve been put off because of the heavy workload, as it will help you feel productive and relaxed
  • Try out new hobbies/skills such as painting or photography to give you mind and body ease from the day (also a great way to find hidden
  • Walk around the office and take micro brakes (every 30 minutes) that help awaken your body and help it function for a much longer period of time. Drinking plenty of water is a great way to force the body up as well.

Final Thoughts

Getting a new job fresh out of university/college/highschool can be incredibly intimidating and exciting. When it comes to doing what you love everyday, the best thing you can do for yourself is to be prepared. Take moments out of the day to remember that you’ve got a career to be looking forward to with an every demanding, changing industry.

Follow me on Instagram for neat photos and Dribbble where I procrastinate posting my favorite projects.