Picture this. You open Twitter and start scrolling through your feed. Suddenly, you see one of your design heroes publish his or her latest article on a blog. Because you admire the designer, you click on the article and begin reading once the page has loaded. “Yes! Yes! Yes! This designer’s absolutely right! And goddamn smart too!” you tell yourself as you read the article. When you’re done reading, you go back to your Twitter feed. You continue scrolling until you find another piece of design content to consume.
As designers, most of us tend to keep up-to-date with the latest design content — articles, books, podcasts, and YouTube videos. It’s a bonus if these come from designers we wish we could be like, or companies we’re dying to work for. What’s good is that we’re curious and that we love learning. However, what’s bad is that we end up passively consuming design content.
Passively consuming design content means scouring through design resources and absorbing as much information as we can without forming our own opinions on the subject matter.
By passively consuming design content, we become unable to ask questions that help us think more deeply about a topic. By failing to think more deeply, we blindly accept what we consume as facts, even when it could be the opposite. We end up with a superficial and sometimes faulty understanding of a concept. Finally, the worst and I think most frustrating effect of passive consumption is “understanding” ideas found in a book or video and then forgetting them days later. Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. 🙋♀️
What then can we designers do to actively, instead of passively, consume content? By asking ourselves questions like:
1. How relevant is this article, book, podcast, or video to my current context?
Asking yourself this question helps you gauge which design content is applicable and valuable to your own circumstances. If you’re a fresh graduate who’s looking for a UX design role, consuming content on how to nail design interviews and how to improve your portfolio will be most appropriate for your situation. On the other hand, if you’re a full-time product designer who’s working to increase the number of new accounts by 60%, then perhaps studying onboarding or customer acquisition would be more helpful.
You might ask — What if a certain type of content isn’t relevant to my current context? For example, I could be a UX researcher but reads articles on graphic design. In this case, should I or should I not continue reading up on graphic design?
The answer is to ask yourself why you’re reading graphic design articles in the first place. Are you involved in a graphic design-related project? Are you curious about how graphic design works? Or are you reading to fill your brain up with random knowledge?
While reading for the sake of curiosity isn’t wrong, it’s important to figure out the value you’ll get from consuming certain types of content.
2. Do I agree or disagree with the ideas I’ve come across? Why?
One of the best ways to actively consume content is to form your own opinion on a topic. Even if what you read or watched came from a reputable source, there’s still a chance that it’s grounded on some bias as well.
For example, a design leader could say that outcomes must come first over outputs as a key principle for design-centric organizations. However, what works for one person will not work for everyone. And perhaps that design leader is strongly advocating for those principles because they’ve worked for him or her.
Regardless if you agree or disagree with the ideas you came across, what’s important is justifying why you agree or disagree. Doing so not only gives clarity on your thought process, but also uncovers biases that you might have. Are you agreeing or disagreeing because you have numerical evidence or experience to support or refute the central point, or because that’s what everyone thinks?
3. How can I relate what I’ve just read with what I’ve learned before?
Drawing connections from prior knowledge and experience bridges an unfamiliar concept with a familiar one.
Maybe you’ve read a book whose author contradicts the ideas that a podcast guest strongly advocates for. Maybe you watched a video wherein a design leader’s ideas were similar to those of your colleagues. Maybe concept A is related to concept B because the latter is the result of the former.
4. How can I apply the concepts I’ve just learned to my life?
Have you ever wondered why some designers absorb information quickly? That’s because they’re skilled at applying the theoretical knowledge they’ve gained from books, podcasts, videos, and the like into their work and lives.
While consuming as many design resources as you can may seem productive, there are some things you can only learn by doing them. For example, learning by doing allows you to experiment with trial and error. It also bridges the gaps between theory (what you’ve read or watched) and practice (what you do with what you’ve read or watched).
5. How will I teach what I’ve learned to others?
If you want to understand a concept well, try explaining it to others in the simplest way possible. By doing so, you’ll easily pinpoint concepts which you struggle to explain. You’ll also identify areas where you end up resorting to using complex language and terminology.
Another way to teach others what you’ve learned is to write a blog post about a given topic. For example, if you just read a book about growth hacking, you can write a book summary, as well as your key takeaways, on your blog. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even vlog about your learnings on YouTube.
Putting it all together
Most of us tend to passively consume design content — myself included. By passively consuming design content, we avoid critical thinking and blindly accept ideas without questioning them. We fail to weave connections that deepen our understanding of the subject. At worst, we can’t relate with what we’ve read or watched, or we can’t even remember them.
If this sounds like you, it’s time to start asking yourself questions when consuming design content, starting with this article. 😁
🤩 Here’s a bonus section for you: Where can I find credible design content?
When consuming design content, you may ask yourself the 5 questions listed above. But another question to ask yourself is whether you’re consuming credible design content.
To save you time, I’ve listed down several credible books, podcasts, and YouTube channels for you to check out. Happy learning! 🤓