Design Basics: How to Get Better as a Designer

Design Basics: How to Get Better as a Designer

April 9, 2014 by

Design is one of those things you never stop learning.

When I look back at designs from 12 years, six years and even just a year ago—I can clearly see how my work has improved. There’s even some older work I’m embarrassed to admit is mine. Thank goodness I’ve continued learning over the years and improved since then.

The same is true for most professional designers. Ongoing learning and training is almost always a part of their career—both to keep up to date with technology and to hone and improve their skills.

So what can you do to keep learning and improving as a designer?

Study Design Theory
A great way to continue to improve as a designer is by reading about design and studying it. Design is far more than making things look pretty—design theory will help you learn why things look good.

Learning about the color theorytypographyGestalt principles, the grid and the history of design will allow you to design intentionally using those techniques.

There are great articles on design theory to be found, but I’d recommend a look in the design section of your nearest library or bookstore.

Analyze other Designers Work
Seeking inspiration in other people’s work is always a bit of fun. It’s great to look through design booksgalleries and Dribbble to see what is popular and what looks great.

But here’s the thing: If all you do is find something cool to “take inspiration” from, you’re missing the point. You’re likely to emulate other people’s work, rather than learning how to make awesome work yourself.

Why not try this: Next time you see a piece of design your like, take a moment to look more closely. Why do you like it? How does it make you feel? How has the designer used type, colors and layout to communicate in the design?

As you do this, you will start to see design theory in action and be able to use it yourself to really improve your work.

Practice, Practice, Practice
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks about what he calls “the 10,000 hours” rule. He presents an argument that people reach mastery of their profession (or hobby) after a staggering 10,000 hours of practice.

Whether that figure is an accurate or not, there can be no denying the value of practicing your design skills. Don’t have any design work to do at the moment? You can always look for ministries or organizations to volunteer your services to, or set yourself imaginary projects to complete.

Some people even set themselves a design task to complete every day. This is a great way to make time to practice and improve your skills.

Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone
We all have design techniques and styles we use because we like them or know they work well. It could be your favorite choice of color or typeface, or maybe a particular style of design.

It can be great to have a style that is your own—but it can also be helpful to break out of that occasionally. So use illustration instead of photography, pick a different type family or decide to use fluorescent pink in that next design. It will stretch you, and you will learn from the experience.

Find a Community Of Designers
A great way to continue your growth as a designer is to spend time with other designers. Whether in a real world setting or virtually (through forums of other groups), joining a community of designers gives you a place to share your work and get feedback from other people who know what they’re talking about.

A meetup can be an excellent place to share ideas and collaborate on projects with other designers, or just simply soak in some inspiration from others doing great work.

Many cities will have meetups of designers (check out our Local Labs), but you can also find interesting online groups like the Church Marketing Lab and this Facebook group for church designers.

What do you do to keep learning and improving as a designer?

More: Check out the rest of our Design Basics series.

Post By:

Jordan Gillman


Jordan Gillman is a designer who helps churches tell their story online through Jordesign and ChurchSites. He works in Wollongong, Australia, where he lives with his beautiful wife and daughter, and you can follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.
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One Response to “Design Basics: How to Get Better as a Designer”

  • Dave Shrein
    April 30, 2014

    Great stuff. I am so glad you provided links to get more information on how to study design theory. Consider this one to be Pocketed to read and soak in later.

    Thanks Jordan!



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