Inspiration

8 Ways to Improve Design Skills This Summer

July 10, 2018

With summer in full swing, it’s time for designers around the world to take some time to relax for a bit and enjoy the beautiful weather. Even while lying on the beach, there a number of things creatives can do to improve their design skills. And that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss today.

Here at Proto.io, we spoke with influential figures in business to round up their suggestions for strategies designers can implement this summer to set themselves up for success in all seasons. Taking time to recharge is necessary to be effective in any field, but learning should still be continuous to keep your skills fresh.

Before we get into our list, it’s important to point out that summer doesn’t have to be a time to slow down, in fact it can be some of the busiest months for savvy freelance designers. As some are winding down for a few months, it can be a great time to take advantage of that and increase your client roster. Whether you’re taking a break or gearing up this summer, here’s what designers should be doing this summer to improve their skills.

Consume Content by the Design Greats

Blogs, podcasts, books, subreddits; there is no shortage of design content on the web. No matter how you like to consume content or what kinds of products or services you design, there is surely something for everyone. AIGA’s Eye on Design, UpLabs, and Smashing Magazine are some of the resources that you’re sure to love.

Try Something New

Getting out of your comfort zone is the only way to continue learning. It can be easy to get into a groove in your career where you know the tools you use like the back of your hand. However, that isn’t how you get to the next level in your career. Add more tools to your repertoire and build upon your existing design skills.

Several paintbrushes in a glass jar.

We spoke with Adam McIntyre, founder of BrandPacks.com, and he warned designers about the temptation to stop learning once they have mastered the leading design tools. While having tip-top design skills is great, learning new tools and new ways to put them to use will keep the learning and exploring wheels turning.

McIntyre told us, “I’ve been using Adobe tools for over a decade, and I still learn new things every week. There are dozens of free tutorial websites out there with quality in-depth tutorials, so next time you have an hour to spare, try something new!” Even the most senior designers can hit roadblocks on projects. Getting out there and seeing what other designers are working on and what hacks they suggest to others will help improve the way you approach your work.

Get Numbers to Back up Your Success

Whether you’re looking to get a raise at work or maybe want to branch out and attract new clients with an updated website, you will need proof of the quality of your work. This information can come in many different forms. For example, we talked to Amy Wenslow, CEO of Products To Profits, and she told us that the best designers “Gather testimonials from past clients that demonstrate with numbers, if possible, the difference your work made for them.” Even if your work has slowed down for the season or you’ve decided to take a short break, returning to past projects to assess what impact you made and how that can translate to future success with new projects can get you ahead in your niche.

Network Authentically

All designers need community. Whether that’s a group of friends that cheer you on, colleagues that critique your work to make it better, or a mentor that always looks out for opportunities that fit your skills, attracting the right professional connections and maintaining those relationships is crucial. Making this happen means going out to relevant events and being able to describe who you are and what you do in an appealing way. Wenslow suggests designers “become better skilled at telling snippets of their story that illustrate the benefits of their work when asked what they do.” Having one elevator pitch is short-sighted. Instead, have tailored versions of your story ready, depending on who you meet and what they’re interested in.

Beyond those events that put you in contact with the movers and shakers in your niche, nurturing those budding relationships is key to making the most out of the opportunity. This can come in the form of asking a prominent designer to meet for coffee or creating a book club for designers with similar interests.   

Two coffees on a wooden table surrounded by succulents.
Getting coffee with a design leader in a beautiful setting? What could be better?

Check out Conferences in Your Area and Beyond

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, design conferences can have a huge impact. First, they foster the ability to network authentically, as we suggested in our previous point. And they can introduce designers to the latest and greatest technologies that can take their design skills to the next level. For designers just starting out on their careers, trying out local conferences might be a good place to start. Then, as a designer begins to establish themselves or has increased the budget for events, check out some of the biggest design conferences; it can yield great results.

Put Your Best (Digital) Foot, Forward

The way you present yourself online matters quite a bit. Your website, social media accounts, and beyond need to be crisp and shine a positive light on who you are and what you bring to the table. Here are a few questions to ask yourself in order to revamp your online presence:

  • Does your LinkedIn profile have links to your recent work and have appealing descriptions of your landmark projects? Have you added in a header photo and a professional profile picture? Have you worked to infuse a bit of your personality to show potential employers who you are, along with what kind of designer you are?
  • Is your website optimized for search engines with metadata and appropriate copy? Have you redesigned your site recently to showcase your personal style?
  • Do you interact with discussions related to your industry (for example, participating in Twitter chats) and build community on social media sites?

In an era of hyper-connectivity and with the ability to share your work far and wide using online tools, a key design skill is always positioning yourself positively. Your website and social media presence have the ability to attract new clients and invite fellow designers to strike up professional relationships that can gain you access to new networks that get you ahead.

Find Inspiration in New Places

With school wrapped up and temperatures rising, summer is peak travel season. The places you choose to visit and the people you interact with have the ability to inspire design ideas you can bring to the table when you return from vacation With that said, choose vacation destinations that are visually stimulating. See beautiful vistas, visit legendary museums, and experience live music in an unfamiliar setting. Random things can bring the most inspiration, such as flavors of food or colors of fabric in a market. When planning your next vacation, think of the design skills you’d like to hone in the near future. What you experience and what ideas you come up with can be more interconnected than you might think.

A hammock tied onto two palm trees on the beach.
Living the dream.

Remember that Design Skills Are Diverse

Implementing good design is much more than knowing exactly where to position a button or picking complementary color palettes. To be well rounded, designers need to be excellent communicators, know how to sell their ideas, and build a supportive network. The way that designers hone this supplementary skills is myriad. Some may choose to watch TED Talks, while others may attend meetups, or take online courses in areas in which they feel like they could use an extra boost.  

One core design skill that Wenslow highlighted that is often overlooked is your value proposition. Why should a client choose to work with you? Why should your employers give you a highly sought after a new project? When you can properly articulate why your work stands out, you get many steps closer to achieving your goals as a designer.

How Do You Hone Your Design Skills?

So there you have our top tips for improving design skills this summer. While we always aim to create comprehensive lists with all the top tips for designers, we like to get input to make our suggestions even better. Have a way to improve design skills that we missed? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio.

Proto.io lets anyone build mobile app prototypes that feel real. No coding or design skills required. Bring your ideas to life quickly! Sign up for a free 15-day trial of Proto.io today and get started on your next mobile app design.

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