Design is one of those professions where even without a diploma you can find a cool job and even make a career. The biggest tech companies won’t ask you for any educational documents – unless, of course, you’re really cool in design.
Nevertheless, academic training is a rewarding experience. I’m sure you will learn a lot, plus it will be a good help when looking for a job – companies might not ask for a degree, but a degree will be an argument in your favor.
If college/university is still not in your plans, I have good news for you. You can teach yourself how to design online anywhere in the world. A great example is myself.
I started studying design and coding back in high school – from various online resources and books. Unfortunately, back then there weren’t all these courses and YouTube channels, but it was possible to find some good blogs and tutorials on Photoshop.
This was enough to learn the basics and start making my own projects. When you go to college, you first study for a few years, and then you start looking for a job. It was different for me – I was constantly doing small projects and studying at the same time.
I was launching my own sites and practicing all new knowledge and skills on them. Soon people began ordering me sites like mine – so it turned into a job.
In my spare time, I started fulfilling orders for clients from all over the world – sitting in my bedroom in a small Polish town. That’s the magic of freelance work – and today, working remotely is even easier.
When I moved to Chicago, I tried taking college courses, but I quickly realized it wasn’t my thing – plus, it was too expensive.
You can learn to design on your own, as long as you do it properly and follow a good program. These days there’s so much information, courses, books and tutorials on the Internet that it’s hard to concentrate and learn the minimum information you need to get started.
I’ve been studying on my own for years, and I think I can help you.
What you don’t need to learn
There are several myths about website design that often scare newbies. So, let’s take a look at exactly what you don’t need to know to become a web designer:
As we learned in the last lesson, you don’t need to be an artist to be a good designer. In fact, your drawing skills play no role in design. Your sketches should be not so much beautiful as simple – to convey the essence of your ideas. Remember that design is more of a science than an art!
You don’t need to draw illustrations, icons, banners and other website elements. The web designer’s role is to design the user experience, interface, colors, typography, and layout. Everything else is just resources that can be sourced from other sources. Don’t be distracted by another tutorial on how to create beautiful icons and fonts.
We discussed this topic at length in the chapter “Should a designer code? If you’re only interested in design, you don’t need to know how to code. More to the point, complex backend coding is too much for a beginner. Concentrate on the design, don’t worry about the code just yet.
A bunch of fancy design tools
There are a million different tools out there right now for designing wyrframes, site maps, user paths, layouts, animations, prototypes, etc. We’ll talk more about design tools in the next lesson. Keep in mind that all the work can be done in one normal tool – like Photoshop or Sketch. I’ve personally used Photoshop for years to create Wireframes, graphics, and web designs – and nothing, I survived!
When you’re new, it’s so tempting to learn a new tool to work faster and more efficiently! But to do that, you have to learn the interface and behavior of the new tool – and that takes a lot of effort and energy. Plus, you’ll have to constantly switch between different specialized programs.
Start the process of self-learning
One of the perks of learning at school or university is a clear syllabus. All the information is already organized, and you can always ask teachers or other students a question.
In fact, that’s how I conceived my Design Course. In it, I detail the five key elements of design: research and UX, typography, colors, layouts, and designing in Sketch (learning the tool and synthesizing all the material I’ve learned). Plus, here I personally answer all of your questions and give feedback on your results.
I built the Design Course on the foundation of my own self-study process. Studying design can go very effectively if you combine different types of work in the right proportion. You can spend years studying design theory, but without practice you’ll never really know how to apply your knowledge to real projects.
“Knowledge is useless unless you learn how to use it”Anton Chekhov
*The global Internet attributes this quote to Chekhov, but I could not find a similar statement by Chekhov in Russian. The author of the statement above is Viktor Grutsenko.
So, here’s where to start studying design:
Learn from examples
Observe and analyze what other designers are doing, make notes, draw sketches, and try to understand why a designer made a certain decision. This way you learn to intuitively distinguish good design from bad.
Look at designs online every day and hone your ability to spot valuable details in each piece.
Save the cool examples so you can go back to them if you want. You don’t have to spend the whole day doing this – take 10-15 minutes every day to look for it. The important thing here is consistency, so you train your brain to notice and remember good designs and patterns.
Study design theory
Design theory is at the heart of any well-designed website. If you know the theory, you won’t have to make decisions by pointing your finger in the sky. Any argument can be won if you can support your point with theory.
There are many theories about color, layouts, typography, interfaces, user experience, conversions, etc. You don’t need to know them all, you don’t need to use them all in every project, but mastering the most key concepts is essential. Master one principle a day, find examples of its application in real projects and use it in your work right away. This way you’ll remember better – and more importantly understand – design theory.
Learn how to use your software
As I said before, you do not need a lot of tools – enough to master one of the major programs for design (in future lessons, I will help you choose the right one).
You don’t need to know every function perfectly. It’s enough to learn the hotkeys and tricks with which your work will go faster.
When you get to you with the basic functions, continue to explore the possibilities of a tool and apply it to your work. There’s a chance that sooner or later you’ll have to switch to another software – don’t get stuck to one tool.
I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop since the beginning of my career, but switched to Sketch a couple of years ago. Contrary to my fears, it had almost no effect on my workflow. I spent a couple of days practicing new hotkeys and mastering basic features – and soon started working as quickly and confidently as I had before in Photoshop.
Practice, practice, practice, practice
The most important part of the learning process is to constantly practice everything you’ve learned. You don’t have to wait until you’ve built up some critical skill set – until you get your hands dirty! As soon as you discover something new, sit down at your computer and try to replicate it. Make quick layouts, experiment, and create something of your own.
If you’re already working on some client projects, try to constantly apply new knowledge to your work. If you don’t have projects, find them or make them up.
Your fictional projects will be good for your portfolio, which, in turn, will help you find real clients. The main thing is to experiment and try something new in design every day.
And finally, do not be afraid to share your work. For example, on Dribbble.com. Presenting your work, telling about the process, commenting on the designs of others and suggesting improvements – all these are integral parts of a designer’s job.
Learn from your heroes
Explore the design world, look for your heroes – and learn from them. Repeat after them, copy their workflow, listen to their advice. Observe how their style changes over time and what direction they’re moving in. Learn from their mistakes and absorb their experience. They too may have had the doubts and struggles that you are experiencing now – and you can look at the choices they made then and where it led them. For example, at the beginning of my journey, I couldn’t decide whether to run my freelance business under my own name or come up with a brand name. I read the posts of several designers and made the right decision.
Sometimes you can just take an email contacting a designer. You’d be surprised how many cool designers are willing to personally answer your questions. Respect their time and ask substantively. Advice from someone who has achieved the heights you aspire to can be a good boost to your career.
Learning to design doesn’t have to be difficult – you can make the process enjoyable. In fact, you will never stop learning – set yourself up for a long marathon and don’t be afraid of anything. Work hard and create designs, even if it seems like you don’t know enough yet.
There’s a good chance that you’ll be a skilled and in-demand designer sooner than you think – the demand for designers today is very high. You’ll gain more experience from one real client project than you would from a year of studying design in a vacuum.