Creating the momentum to grow your design career: 3 exercises to improve your design skills
We often see growth as a linear path. However, self-reflection is a significant part of how we grow in our careers and lives. Reflecting helps us stop and re-evaluate where we want to go as we progress.
My design journey started just over 13 years ago. I don't remember choosing design as my career path; it chose me. Back in high school, I used to create digital art in Photoshop for my friends and myself.
In my last year of school, I got an ask from a friend of a friend to make a logo for a new music band. This was the first time I made money from design. After that, I did more graphic design work, helping local businesses and individuals with brochures, business cards, and CD covers (damn, I'm old).
Years later, I noticed a few areas I could grow rapidly and spots where I felt I wasn't progressing as much as I wanted. Reflecting on my progress, I realized I could create the momentum I needed to grow.
Here are a few steps I took:
- Identifying personal growth metrics
- Finding challenging problems to solve
- Getting results by taking action
- Reflecting and iterating
These helped me notice why I was stuck in certain areas and how I could adjust to where I wanted to be.
Identifying personal growth metrics
Each month during the review, I would ask myself, "Who do I get from where I am now (point A) to where I want to be in the next five years (point B)?" This gave me clarity on which skills I needed to build to get there.
Here are a few examples of my personal growth metrics from the past:
- Career direction: study visual design, UX research, interaction design, and how it connects to marketing, sales, and business in general.
- Hard skills: Problem-solving for impact, a more profound understanding of human behavior and psychology, the "why" behind design decisions, giving and receiving feedback, prototyping.
- Soft skills: Negotiation, managing conflicts, communication, and storytelling.
Identifying your personal growth metrics will help you get a sense of the direction you want to move and keep you focused on things that help you move towards your goals.
Finding challenging problems to solve
These should be the problems that require you to stretch your creative muscles, learn new techniques and tools, and push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
- Look for problems in your everyday life: start by observing the world around you and identifying the areas that bother you. These can be minor issues like difficult-to-use kitchen gadgets or larger ones like a confusing website or mobile app. Once you've identified the problem, consider how to improve the situation through design.
- Explore new industries: sometimes, the best way to find challenging problems to solve is to look outside of your own industry. Look at industries such as healthcare, transportation, or finances, and identify the problems that could be solved better with design.
- Collaborate with others: working with others can be a great way to find problems to solve. Pay attention to what tools, websites, or apps your friends, colleagues, or family members constantly complain about and take an opportunity to solve their problems.
Remember that the key to finding challenging problems to solve is to keep your eyes and mind open and be willing to explore new ideas and industries.
Getting results by taking action
Growth comes through practicing whatever skills you desire to enhance at any stage. Some skills can take you from A to B, but we often get stuck thinking that we're making progress when in reality, we're not.
I've gone through a few phases in my career when I felt like I was going in circles with no clear direction.
In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear illustrated this concept well with "being in motion" and "taking action."
Being in motion is preparing, strategizing, and pondering how to address a situation. For example, re-designing a portfolio website that wasn't published yet. Or writing ideas for articles that never see the world. Doing these tasks makes us feel like we're making progress, while in reality, we're doing them because we're afraid of taking a risk.
Taking action, on the other hand, is what produces a result or an outcome. In terms of design, this could be reaching out to potential clients, or looking for opportunities to identify the problem to solve. In writing, it's researching the topic, diving into the facts, and publishing the articles.
If you want to grow your design skills, take action on finding problems to solve and solving them.
Reflecting and iterating
By reflecting on your work and iterating on your designs, you can refine your approach, learn from your mistakes and build upon your successes.
- Identify areas for improvement: take time to reflect on your work and identify areas where you can improve your designs. You'll start recognizing patterns in your design process that lead to better results. This will help you build better techniques and skills to incorporate into your future work.
- Learn from your mistakes: take a step back and evaluate your designs. Find areas that didn't work as well as you wanted. Pay close attention to what went wrong and learn from your experience to make better design decisions in the future.
- Refine your design process: reflecting on your process will help refine your approach and make it more effective. Try new tools, experiment with different design techniques, or take a new approach to solve a problem.
By reflecting and iterating on your work, you will build stronger skills, develop new techniques, and make a more significant impact through your design work.
3 exercises to build your design skills
Now, if your goal is to build or improve your design skills, here are 3 exercises that helped me.
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