Being a designer means betting on constant development. Mastering the use of the software does not come overnight, but after years of creating. You can learn a function that you missed or was not needed enough in previous projects that you did not need to know about its functionality. Additionally, there are many specifications and rules of digital design, and getting used to them happens only after completing many projects. Every designer also has a preferred aesthetic and style that they weave into their schemes, and learning to stand up for your beliefs in design projects is not an easy or fun affair. Remembering my beginnings and seeing how I grow with each task made me create a list of 9 ways to improve your design skills.
1. Try to understand the developers’ work
Unfortunately, your product without developers will be just a picture showing something that may work, but it will only work with their help. Developers usually do not have creative design visions and are more focused on creating logical systems that just work a certain way. It is in the nature and profession of designers to strive for beautiful interfaces that may be useful but look like works of art. In this relationship, it’s good to meet in the middle, high-five each other, and work as a team. Try to understand the limitations of developers, find out what creating interfaces looks like from their side. Figma is an excellent medium for this! Try to see how the auto-layout tool translates into components on websites! Learn what they are for and how to create design tokens. This will help you learn how to organize your file, and along with that will go your ability to develop correct interfaces. Then the natural next step will be to improve your designs, keeping in mind all the rules and requirements when creating.
2. Organize your work as a designer
Nothing makes an interface more attractive than consistency. If you are looking for this consistency, it is worth betting on robust verification and selection of elements. Design systems help create a product. At the beginning of my journey, my problem as a designer was not sticking to the initial design, having 56 different fonts, 10 colors, and 100 shades. Although let me warn you, if you have never created an application using a style guide, you may feel uncomfortable. Specific schemes, in a way, limit the freedom of creation, but trust me, at the end of the day, it will benefit the developer, the product, and the viewer.
My tactic is to go all the way for the first 3 screens. I then rely on creativity; without any rigid system, I test multiple visions. But after creating these 3 screens, which reflect my idea for the project, I focus on consistency, and the design of all subsequent screens refers to the initial ones. It is worth defining font scales, weights, spacing, colors, and shades at this stage. This reduces the chances of losing consistency at subsequent steps, shortens the work time, and automates it. You don’t have to wonder, “Should I use font 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 or 22 here” because you have predetermined which font to assign in a given place in the project. Thanks to this, you don’t have a situation in which several style elements are used only on single screens, but they have repeated use. You gain consistency, and the UI benefits from it.
3. Pay attention to your feelings as a user
Observing other people’s design mistakes is a fantastic field to learn from! Especially in an area like UI/UX, where you have direct contact with many designs and often use them in everyday life. Any annoyance with incorrect text placement, button color, incorrect size or visibility of elements, or simply a mismatch between style and preference, try to turn it into an observation point and think about what could be improved. Over time, you’ll start to see smaller and smaller errors and have a more precise eye, which will translate to the quality of your product creation.
4. Be a designer 24/7!
This is an issue I always try to bring up if I’m talking to designers, and the conversation usually descends into industry topics. One of the most important principles that I recommend to anyone involved in design is to surround yourself with good design on every day. My mentors recommended this to me, and through interacting with them, I decided to put it into practice, and it has worked perfectly for me. My favorite way to do this is to customize the space to be the most visually pleasing place possible. An area where I have also applied this principle is my social media. But I don’t mean to surround myself with interfaces or IT projects alone. My Instagram feed consists of maybe 10% of designs related to my profession. The rest is furniture, clothing, posters. Despite the diversity of categories, the idea is one – contact with the creative process. Creation can be divided into a few categories: expressing emotions, presenting artistic visions, communicating the process of creation, but also presenting the space around designers. It is inspiring not to answer the question “How to design?” but precisely “How to live to design with pleasure?”. So if you want to broaden your skills, including your artistic sensitivity, surround yourself with artists and their works every day! Don’t limit yourself only to your work, but live it every day!
5. Understand what design systems are for and try to build on them
At the beginning of my career, I was skeptical about design systems. I was afraid that a schematic way of working would not inspire creativity in me, and when design systems began to appear more and more often in the industry literature, there were even publications that directly supported my fears. However, after several years of practical creating, design systems have become the norm and are the obvious choice for most designers. Thanks to the use of the systems, we receive tips on what errors it is best to be alert to, how and why to use the techniques in a certain way; the systems offer solutions supported by research and expert experience. It is worth following the principle “Know the rules and break them.” Based in part on assumptions, boldly try to create your own, and definitely, your skills will increase because you will evolve your awareness when making design decisions.
6. Don’t follow trends blindly
Be kind to have doubts. Every year, a compilation of trends for the year is presented. Exciting approaches to color schemes or new developments are usually worth noting and familiarizing yourself with. But is a yearly redirection to a unique style something desirable? In my opinion, it is worth finding and refining your technique. Build your designer backbone, define your style and think whether adding a trendy element to it will add value to your class or cause confusion, or maybe it is just a passing fancy, and there is no reason to direct your thoughts towards it.
7. Pay attention to typography
Typography has a notable impact on the perception of the interface. So, make sure that the typography is matched in alignment so that reading each element is not difficult for the viewers. It is the details that have the most significant impact on the perception of the entire screen and making it phenomenal. Choose fonts that are comfortable for the eyes, communicate hierarchies with font weights, avoid very large and very small, take care of readability and the message!
8. Don’t analyze the project for too long
Overthinking kills good design. Often, when given a task, we try to reach the heights of creativity to create structures out of this world. However, it will win those designs that are the most balanced in terms of both appearance and comfort in the long run. Of course, let your imagination run wild at first, but be your critic who stands over the design and tries to tone it down as much as possible. Less is best!
9. Talk to people in the industry
Receiving constructive criticism is a skill that must be learned. However, there is no more excellent value than to have your work evaluated and get negative feedback. It is learning from mistakes that is the most effective. The designers’ job is so specific that usually, if we receive feedback, in 75% of cases, it may turn out to be negative. When we collect many tips and information about mistakes made or client’s dissatisfaction, it is worth focusing on why such a situation occurs and what can be improved in the current and future projects.
Talking to people in the industry isn’t just about giving feedback. It’s a good idea to contribute to design groups such as Facebook. Try to provoke some discussion, present your viewpoints, and in this way, you can lead a conversation where you will have to get to know both the fans of your statement and prepare solid counter-arguments if you disagree with someone. Thanks to this, you will gain more knowledge and develop a solid skill needed as a designer, i.e., you will learn to defend your work and argue your choices.
In discussion groups, you can also share your work and get advice from more experienced designers. Do not take every piece of advice as an oracle, but give it some thought. Remember that the more often a piece of advice or comment comes up, the more likely you are to look at it closely and analyze your projects from that angle.
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Progress is not linear
By creating various projects, I see how much there is to learn in design with each passing day and how much more of that learning is ahead of me, even though I feel proficient in creating. However, I know that developing my skills is something that cannot be abandoned. It is essential to remember that progress is not linear and that with many projects, there may be a mistake that we will not be satisfied with. Although, it is worth concluding every situation, and in designing, irregularities can be seen with the naked eye.