Many ways to learn

This was first published on my mailing list The Looking Glass. Every week, I answer a reader’s question.

Photo by Mikael Wiman

Q: As the only UX/UI designer in my company, I worry that my growth will be limited because there are no other designers around that I can learn from. I could consider joining a company with a larger design team, but I enjoy my current company and believe in our values. What else can I do to continue my growth?

One of the things I believe the most firmly is that everyone has something to teach you if you’re looking for the lessons. And these people don’t have to be other designers at your company! There are many paths to becoming an awesome product designer and many people to learn from along the way:

Learn from your users — unless you’re building design tools, at the end of the day, the design opinion that matters the most is that of your users, not other designer. So one of best ways to learn is to talk to the source. If you avoid jumping to conclusions and instead ask many questions with an open mind, you can learn what your product design is doing well and where you need to make improvements. This feedback loop of watching or talking to your users to identify problems, iterating on potential ideas, and validating how well your products actually work for them is among the most powerful ways to build both your problem solving skills as well as your empathy.

Learn from people with different skillsets — Everyone has strengths, no matter who you meet, and chances are good that they are better at some particularly useful skill than you. With all the people you work with, look around and ask “What qualities do I admire about this person?” Tell your coworkers what skills you’d like to learn from them, and as you’re working together, ask them for advice and feedback. From engineers, designers can learn how to break complex problems into smaller pieces and how to think about solving for edge cases in a structured manner. From data scientists and researchers, designers can learn how to synthesize a wide array of data and distill it down to what’s most important. And one of the most important skills for designers is effective communication — saying more with fewer words — which I’ve learned from many of the Product Managers I work with.

Learn from the community — Showing your work to designers outside of your company can provide a valuable perspective. Often, people who aren’t as close to the work are in a better position to offer feedback, as they won’t be bogged down by constraints or fall prey to the curse of knowledge. If you don’t already have a community you can tap into, build one. You’re certainly not the only person looking for design feedback, so as you attend workshops, panels, or design meet-ups, seek to form a group you can share with. This had the added benefit that one of the best ways to learn is by teaching, so by giving feedback to other designers, you’ll sharpen your own thinking as well.

Learn by doing — There’s no replacement for the practical experience of solving design problems and seeing projects through from rough ideas to shipped pixels. Being a design team of one — where there’s no one but yourself to rely on — can be an ideal situation for growth. Rather than worrying about being alone, embrace the opportunity to tackle problems from end-to-end, and create a compelling vision for the future of your product that can inspire your whole team.

Thanks for your question, and have a brilliant week.

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