If you want to be a successful designer, you better be into learning new things. As a designer, you’ll never be bored. When you start out, there are so many fundamentals to learn like theory, color, and print. As you get into building software and apps you need to learn research, code, and product design. This might sound like a ton but don’t let it overwhelm you. It doesn’t all have to be learned in a weekend or even a year. Start with the basics and grow from there as you feel comfortable. You’re entering an industry that will stimulate your mind and allow for continual growth if you grab it!
Technology moves fast
Look at your mobile phone. Now, look at your last mobile phone if you still have it. That older phone probably feels like it’s way older than it really is. Technology moves fast. The best jobs in design today are for tech companies. If you want to keep up, you also have to learn to move fast and keep expanding your experience. Our design tools change, new standards emerge, new mediums are on the horizon. For example, mobile design wasn’t even a thing before the iPhone came out. With a browser on a phone, it opened up a whole new type of responsive design that we had to learn.
Coding is the same
Learn all the time
Don’t take breaks from learning. Instead, develop it into a habit and it won’t feel like a chore. It’ll just be natural. You do this by starting slowly and ramping up. Pick a night a week to do some reading. You aren’t free at night? Start reading on the bus on the way to work. I used to carry a small sketchbook with me and I would spend my lunch break sketching. The point is to start small on something you know you can do consistently. Once you are feeling comfortable then add in something new.
Try new things
One thing to keep in mind with learning is to have fun with it. Don’t be afraid to try new types of design, coding, drawing, painting, or whatever seems interesting to you. It doesn’t always have to be a skill that directly impacts your career. Painting might not be useful for building enterprise apps but it may give you some stress relief. The key is to keep at it. Don’t try something once, decide it’s too hard, and abandon it. Give yourself at least 30 days with each thing you try. In that timeframe, you should be able to get a feel for if you’re into the subject and want to explore it further.
Apply your learning
Side projects and freelance work are a perfect way to apply your learning. They are also a great way to try new things out within the context of a project. Let’s try a side project example. Perhaps you’ve been getting into painting once a week. You’ve found you’re actually quite good at. Some friends have bought some of your work and have encouraged you to sell more of it. You come up with the idea of selling your work online. Now your side project is born. You’re going to need to figure out how to build an online store or use a platform like Shopify. You’ve never built a web store before so this will be a new skill to learn. You end up going with Shopify and build your own template using their liquid template system. You launch your store and sell some of your paintings. Fast forward 6-months later. You’re applying for a new design job that requires experience with Shopify’s liquid template system. Bang! You’re now qualified for this position because of the learning you did on your own side project.
Find a good employer
The best employers support learning and education for their employees. They realize that by investing in their team, it will help the long-term sustainability of their business. It’s also hard to hire good people, so you should invest in the good ones you have. Some ways an employer can support learning are:
Make time for learning
Often employers may let you carve out some time during your week to work on side projects. Some companies do a monthly hackathon for a couple of days to help engage their workers.
Give you a budget
Some of the best companies will give you a budget to support your learning. You can use the budget for things like books, conferences, memberships, or anything else that helps you grow.
Companies that get the learning culture often organize events in the office. They’ll bring in guest speakers to talk on subjects that are relevant to the team and industry. When you see a culture like this, grab on to it, as you will learn a ton.
Set aside time
Like I mentioned earlier the best thing is to not make this a chore. You want to build healthy habits that you don’t have to think about. It’s always a good idea to have a book on the go. You’re not a reader? Then check out Blinkist. It’s a great iPhone app that boils down books into 15-minute summaries you can read or listen to. Audiobooks are another great idea. Listen to them on your transit commute or when you are driving around on the weekend.
Most people learn not through memorization but by doing. That’s why it’s a good idea to go analog with your learning. If you’re keeping notes as you read a book, actually write them down. You retain information better that way compared to using a computer. Try taking a painting or art class. It will not only give you inspiration but it can help recharge your creative batteries if you need it. Always keep a sketchbook on the go. Even if you aren’t a great illustrator, use it to track your progress and just practice the basics. I guarantee you if you do 15–30 mins of drawing a day for a month you’ll be excited by the results.
Learn to be a lifelong learner and you’ll go far as a designer. Don’t sit on your hands and get left behind as technology drives our industry. Building a good learning habit will not only help you in your career. It will help you succeed in life.