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Working on my first design project at Startup Weekend Seattle

How to get a job as a designer without going to design school

I became a designer without going to design school

I got my job as a designer without going to design school.

This is a guide to teach yourself design.

Update: I first published this blog post over a year ago. Since then I’ve gotten hundreds of emails asking for more guidance and easier to follow steps, and I finally found one: Designlab. This course wasn’t around when I was learning, but man do I wish it was — it would have made the whole process a lot less daunting. What I really like about it is that it gives you project assignments, and then connects you to a design mentor who gives you feedback (they have really good ones who work at Facebook).

First, learn how to draw.

  • You don’t have to sit in a room with a bunch of other artists trying to draw a naked woman.
  • You don’t even have to get that good at drawing. Just learn some basics so you can be comfortable sketching with a pen.
  • You only have to do one thing to learn how to draw: get the book You Can Draw in 30 days and practice for half an hour every day for a month. I’ve looked at a lot of drawing books and this is one of the best.

Learn graphic design theory

  • Start with the book Picture This. It’s a story book of Little Red Riding hood, but will teach you the foundations of graphic design at the same time.
  • Learn about color, typography, and designing with a grid. If you can find a local class to teach the basics of graphic design, take it.
  • Go through a few of these tutorials every day.

Learn some basics in user experience

There are a lot of books about user experience. Start with these two quick reads that will get you in the right mindset:

Learn how to write

  • Don’t fill your mockups with placeholder text like Lorem Ipsum. Your job as a designer is not just to make pretty pictures — you must be a good communicator. Think through the entire experience, choosing every word carefully. Write for humans. Don’t write in the academic tone you used to make yourself sound smart in school papers.
  • Read Made to Stick, one of my favorite books of all time. It will teach you how to suck in your readers.
  • Voice and Tone is a website full of great examples of how to talk to users.

Learn to kill your work

  • This is the hardest step in this whole guide.
  • Be prepared to kill everything you make. Be prepared to violently slaughter your precious design babies. The sooner you can embrace this, the better your work will become. When you realize your work isn’t good enough, kill it. Start again.
  • Get another pair of eyes. Ask for feedback on your work from people who care about design. Don’t know anyone? Make some designer friends — go to designer meetups and events.
  • Get the opinion of people who don’t care about design, too. Show your work to people who would be your users and ask them to try your website or app. Don’t be afraid to ask strangers — I once took advantage of a delayed flight by asking all the people in the airport terminal to try out an app I was designing. Most of them were bored and happy to help, and I got some great usability feedback.
  • Listen. Really listen. Don’t argue. If you ask someone for feedback, they’re doing you a favor by giving you their time and attention. Don’t repay the favor by arguing with them. Instead of arguing, thank them and ask questions. Decide later whether you want to incorporate their feedback.
  • Adobe Illustrator Classroom in a Book – It’s boring, but if you get through at least half of it, you’ll know your way around Illustrator pretty well.
  • Vector Basic Training – This book teaches you how to make things in Illustrator that actually look good.
  • Now for the fun stuff! Follow these online tutorials and be impressed by what you can make. Here are two my favorites – a logo and a scenic landscape.
  • You’ll want to take it a step further than a logo though. Learn to create a consistent brand – from the website to the business cards. Check out this book, Designing Brand Identity.
  • Read this short but very comprehensive and well-thought out book on iPhone design: Tapworthy. It will teach you how to make an app that not only looks good but is easy to use.
  • Geek out on the apps on your phone. Critique them. What works and what doesn’t?
  • My favorite paid one (pretty affordable at $25/month) is Treehouse. If you’re starting from the beginning and want someone to explain things clearly and comprehensively, splurge for Treehouse tutorials.
  • Find poorly designed websites and redesign them.
  • Got an idea for an iPhone app? Mock it up.
  • Join a team at Startup Weekend and be a designer on a weekend project.
  • Enter a 99 designs contest to practice designing to a brief.
  • Do the graphic design exercises in the Creative Workshop book.
  • Find a local nonprofit and offer to design for free.

Written by

Director / Brand Videos / Keynote Speaker. 500 million views. Founder http://butterbar.com

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