Can You Learn Design?

Dan Edwards
Aug 27, 2015 · 5 min read

It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

I was recently asked a great question by Ashley for my #LETSTALKDESIGN series:

I found myself in an awkward position, I had previously thought of myself as someone who was “destined” to be a designer, because I was OK at art and not much good at anything else. Above all, I enjoyed it.

But when I thought back to my early work, I’ve definitely improved. Which must mean, yes, you can learn design. I definitely had.

So, you want to learn design?

First of all, there has never been a better, dare I say it easier time to learn design. The tools we have at our disposal now, compared to even just 10 years ago are incredible. Apps like Sketch & Affinity Designer are very affordable, and of course, there will always be Photoshop. (And yes, I do think Photoshop is a design tool, but that’s for another post.)

There are also some great books available. If I had to recommend any it would be the following:

Universal Principles of Design

Don’t Make Me Think

Seductive Interaction Design

Learn from Others

The best way I learned certain techniques or styles of design was by imitation. It’s far easier for us to create something when a majority the thinking has been done already.

**THIS DOES NOT mean you should rip off a designer and pass off the work as your own.**

What I’d encourage you to do is download some PSD or Sketch files and try to recreate what another designer has made, chance are you’ll learn a ton but also improve your skills in Photoshop/Sketch too

But there are tons of great resources available for you to use and learn from, a simple search on Dribbble will find you hundreds, or you could buy some from ThemeForest or Creative Market.

“But I’ve tried that…”

I regularly hear complaints that people are not satisfied with their progress:

“But I’ve read all the books, and still can’t design for sh*t!”

“I’ve tried Photoshop, but find it too confusing”

“I like designing in the browser, but my designs are never that creative!”

Firstly, design isn’t just about being creative. It’s long been said that our jobs as web designers are to solve problems, and that great design is “design that doesn’t get in the way”.

But we’re creative people right? We want to make something that looks great, too. I get it, I’ve regularly said that design should also be fun. That’s definitely why I got into design, it was a fun contrast to the English and Math lessons I’d have at school, just so happens you can turn it into a career.

Secondly, and more importantly — it takes time.

No-one wakes up a great designer. Every designers work you drool over or attempt to re-create has years of work behind them to get to that point.

Here’s one of my first web design projects:

It’s awful, isn’t it? It’s ok, you won’t hurt my feelings. This was done around 2008, I’d like to think I’ve got better since 😉

It just comes down to time, you’ll likely suck at first but you’ll get there, if you stick with it.

Which brings me to this fantastic quote by Ira Glass:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.

But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit.

Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work.

Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met.

It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

So to summarise, yes you can learn design. And if you want to, you should. But go at it with everything you’ve got. Read, make, iterate and make some more. Share what you learn and learn from others.

Most of all, enjoy it.

You can watch my answer to Ashley in the latest episode of Let’s Talk Design:

Published in Startups, Wanderlust, and Life Hacking


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Dan Edwards

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Designer @ProductHunt 😻 Curating all the things @DesignRoundup

The Startup

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