When I was first learning how to design websites, the landscape of digital design looked different than it does today. Nearly fifteen years ago we cherished our AOL CDs that promised a thousand free hours of Internet access. We loathed designing within the handful of fonts only available on our local computer. We were proud of the websites we designed using tables within tables. We loved keeping all content above the fold. And designing “mobile first” was nothing but a futuristic tale. Considered outdated now, the education I received then was the foundation I needed to succeed today.
“While having a good set of principles is key, this foundation is only as good as what you build on it.”
Once you leave school, you will be the one solely in charge of building on that foundation. There won’t be any assignments from teachers, mid-term projects, or final exams. That sounds great, right? But what’s important about all those things is that they were teaching you how to become a better designer. You were learning how to learn.
And once you leave school, the pace at which you learn becomes less frequent. While you’ll learn a ton in your first years on the job (likely way more than you learned in school), you’ll eventually grow more secure in your job. And the moment that happens, the more tempted you’ll be to become comfortable, or worse, stagnant.
Unless you seek out ways in which to learn, challenge yourself, and grow.
Imagine if I didn’t learn about better web typography, how to design tableless websites, or how to design mobile first. Would I still be considered a good designer? Maybe within the confines of those previous standards. But definitely not by today’s standards.
Now, if I didn’t learn how to do these things back then, how did I learn to do them well today? It’s simple: I taught myself.
There’s been no better time to be a self-taught designer. There are limitless wells from which to learn and grow in your craft. Conferences, books, blog posts, or videos; most of these resources are available for free! Take advantage of it.
The easiest way to never stop learning is to make it a habit. Regularly challenge yourself to learn about design. Watch or read one new tutorial a week. Read one new book a month. Go to one new conference a year. No matter how much you think you know, there’s always something new to learn.
My time in design has taught me that although there are basic principles to good design, the mechanisms we use to bring designs to life are always changing. I can’t imagine what it’ll take to be a successful designer in the next fifteen years. But I’ll certainly be teaching myself how to be one.