#1. Read. A lot.
You need to first know what you are getting yourself into. I read a range of books and articles from websites like CreativeBloq and Medium. Start out with design fundamentals including Type, Color, Space, and Layout to better perceive ideas for UI and visuals.
Knowing the lingo and wearing a Designer’s Lens helped me view the world in myriad of perspectives and imagine creative ways to solve problems apparent only to trained eyes.
#2. Learn by Doing.
The most effective kind of learning is applying knowledge gained in a practical setting. I learned the fastest when taking on projects (personal or paid, any kind with a goal!).
With a ‘fake-it-until-you-make-it’ mentality, I took on freelance projects even when I wasn’t entirely confident in completing them. Knowing what’s possible and what wasn’t was the key. I challenged myself, learned new techniques, and honed them on the job. Additionally, when starting out, abstain from doing free work — it is a reflection of how much you value your own work.
As designers, our superpower is solving problems within constraints and our design tools enable us to do that. Tools come and go, but your problem-solving superpower won’t. You will naturally gain mastery of these tools along with a heightened ‘design finesse’ that improves with time (like wine 🍷). Elon Musk shares the same sentiment:
“It’s important to teach problem solving, or teach to the problem and not the tools.” — Elon Musk
#3. Be Resourceful.
The internet is a treasure trove of resources. The tricky part is finding them. A great way to discover new resources is to subscribe to publications, join communities, and follow thought-leaders on social media.
Part of my design education was reverse-engineering free work designers graciously put online. I would observe how they organize their layers, naming conventions, and design decisions made such as color and type choice.
#4. Talk to Designers!
The design community is extremely supportive. Get to know your local community; you’d be surprised how willing they are to share and how much you can learn from their experience. In the online sphere, there are Slack and Facebook Groups with thousands of active members sharing resources and bouncing off ideas. Quality work is produced with feedback from others. When you ask, you’ll get constructive feedback, pointed out things you might have missed, or even provided with a fresh perspective.
Don’t be shy! If you don’t ask, no one will know.
Lastly, gain inspiration from the works of other designers. They make great personal benchmarks when starting out. Identify what makes their work impressive, learn their processes, and then adapt with your own style. My favorite site for looking at awesome student portfolios is Cofolios.