How the 100 Day UI Design Challenge helped me to become a better designer
Is a design challenge only a waste of time or is it really worth it? Is it possible to gain useful skills by creating only nice interfaces without solving any real problems? There are many kinds of design challenges designers participate in, but what’s the point?
Back in 2016 I started the 100 Day UI Design Challenge because I wanted to do some visual exercises to polish my aesthetic skills and become faster, but at the end I realised that I learned much more. As Forrest Gump’s mama always said, it was “…like a box of chocolates.” I didn’t know what I’m gonna get. 😅
What I gained
How to do a quick UI research
Since the challenge was about creating a piece of user interface every day for a hundred consecutive days — even at weekends and on holidays — I had to figure out a pattern to collect ideas.
I downloaded and went through a lot of applications that may apply solutions related to the daily topic. (The topic was given by Paul Flavius Nechita.)
Also, I searched for app concepts and unique interfaces on Dribbble, Behance and UpLabs to see how others would solve different kinds of design problems. I took screenshots of the downloaded apps, and saved all the interesting designs/links related to the topics.
By the end I realised that I had a pretty nice collection of dashboards, sidebars, landing pages, list elements etc. that I could use as an inspiration if I had to design something like these in a real project.
Improved my time management skills
So you have to deliver a design every day for 100 days, which can be challenging if you have a full-time job. Not to mention that you are committed to work even at weekends and on your days off, so you have to learn how to manage your time properly. ⏱
My tactics consisted of three phases:
- Browsing the Internet to find some inspiration — in the morning from bed and while commuting
- Thinking about how my design would look like and how it could be unique (forcing myself to have at least 2 or 3 different ideas) — during the day, mainly on my lunch break
- Creating the final design (in Sketch & animate it in Principle) — in the evening
Thanks to time pressure I have learned how to focus on the really important things. I followed this pattern to be as fast as possible.
Improved the quality of my design
I learned new design patterns and tried uncommon solutions, played around with typography, paddings, margins, colours, etc. I believe that you can get better by experimenting. Well, during this design challenge I had the opportunity to work on some really interesting concepts. 🎉
Got familiar with new tools
Before starting the challenge, I had mainly used Photoshop and Illustrator, because the clients or the developers required it for some reason. Of course I knew Sketch and Principle, but I never really got to work with them for a longer period. That’s why I decided to complete the challenge with using only tools that I’m not so familiar with.
Completing the challenge was a great way to learn new design apps, that actually made my workflow much faster and encouraged me to use them in real client projects as well.
Learned from my mistakes
I believe that receiving feedback is the most important part of the challenge, as you can get a lot of different ideas and learn from your mistakes. Therefore, I uploaded my screens to Behance and to Dribble — when I finally got my invitation 🏀 — every day, but I didn’t really get any useful feedback on these platforms: that’s why I decided to organise weekly feedback sessions where I asked for my colleagues’ opinions.
On day 9, for example, I created this recipe app screen. Based on the feedback I got, I noticed that the labels on the tags are barely readable. I realised that I have to learn about readability and contrast, so I dug deeper and read a bunch of useful articles. I learned how the web became unreadable and read about color vs. contrast. Also, I learned a lot about web accessibility and found a really cool color contrast checker tool here.
Had a lot of fun
If you like experimenting, learning new things and working on crazy.. I mean out-of-the-box solutions 😅, you would definitely enjoy completing a challenge like this.
Here is an example of an animation that I really liked working on.
As a designer a very wide skill set is required to deal with real projects, but the skills that I managed to improve by this challenge definitely are a part of it.
Obviously not everything can be learned by completing a challenge like this.
On day 37 I created this file storage widget, and asked a bunch of people what they thought about it.
It turned out that the small blue bar in the bottom left corner seemed to be a progress bar, that showed the upload status, however, my intent with it was to show how much free space you’ve got left. I realised that it was a usability issue, and if it had been a real project, I would probably had to make changes on the UI, and test it again to make it work.
A nice user interface does not necessarily provide a good user experience. User testing in many iterations is a must-have part of creating a great application. Of course designing an out-of-context screen and showing it to some of your friends (like I did here) would never teach you how to create an application for a real client. It simply lacks the steps of a decent UX process. If you want to do it right, you can learn more about a proper UX design process here.
Let me give you another example. On day 34 I was playing around with Principle and wanted to create something exciting. I ended up with creating this animation:
Soon I started to think if it would work in a real project: the combination of these interaction animations (bouncing and moving elements) might be just too much. It‘s one thing that it looks nice, but would people understand what’s happening? 🧐
Tips for starting the design challenge
- Commit to the challenge. If you feel that one hundred days is too much for you, start a shorter one or give yourself more time for creating the screen (create only one screen every week). Either way, keep your deadlines, and finish what you’ve started. 💪
- Save your research data. Having a collection of UI elements and screens (a collection of login screens, dashboards, etc.) can be very useful when it comes to seeking inspiration. It can come in handy when you’re designing something similar for a real client.
- Always ask for feedback. Uploading the results to social media (such as Dribbble or Instagram) regularly and getting followers can help you keep you in the game, but such platforms will only get you likes and comments like “nice” or “great job”. If you want to get valuable feedback, the best way is to directly ask other designers to analyse your design.
- Document the feedback. Make sure that you understand why the feedback was given, notice how you can improve your designs and if you have time make changes on your screens. 👍
Completing a design challenge is not only about improving your designs’ quality, but is also a huge commitment. It can help you improve your time management skills, learn new design patterns, get to know the best practices, learn new tools, and of course have fun.
The beauty of it is that you’re allowed to make mistakes. If you do it right, it can be a great way to receive feedback and hypothesize what the problems could be with your designs in real scenarios. This can help you notice problems easier in your future projects.
Grab every opportunity to learn something new, start your own challenge, implement your crazy ideas and experiment with unusual solutions. If you’d like to know more about how I faced this challenge, you can find it all here.