How To Create Your Own DIY Design Education

I’m a great advocate and lover of design but I have never been to a design school—I spent my time in college by taking classes on algorithms, data structure, etc. Most of what I know about design comes from independent learning and creating side projects of my own. In today’s world education is not only limited to going to college and getting a degree. Information is everywhere, one just needs to focus on what information is important and what is not.

Here is a collection of the strategies and resources I’ve found to be most valuable while creating my own design curriculum on the side and learning how to do it.

Build fundamentals

If you’re starting from scratch like I did, without having any previous background in design then the first step should be to understand what design really is. This is a very important step according to me because you have to understand early on that design is not just about making things pretty and colourful. “Design” hold many universes within itself! You need to have a basic understanding of what all fields are there in design such as graphic design, print design, interface design and many more. Understanding the difference between each field and what each field demands of you will help you to make an informed decision in which field you want to proceed first.

The best way to build fundamentals is to start off by reading books. There are n-number of great books related to design. Books help you build empathy and build your thinking around design. Here is a very good round-up of design related books by InVision Blog- Reading list for designers but the list doesn’t limit to this. You will find many more once you start exploring.
These are the few ones that I started with:

  1.  The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman- A well-known primer on the rules of usable design, with examples of good and bad design in daily life.
  2. Don’t Make Me Think! by Steve Krug- A classic on web usability and user testing.
  3. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg- Not particularly a design related book but it will give precise insights about how habits are formed and how identify such patterns which can be helpful when you are making design decisions.

Learn The Tools

Along with building your fundamentals you also have to learn how to apply the rules and in order to build something to you need to learn the tools. There is a variety of tools available that will aid your design process. When I started at first, it was so daunting for me to learn so many programs but with a little bit of concentration, you will get a hang of it. Even I don’t know every tool available and the point is you don’t even have to learn every tool. Just a couple of good ones is enough, to begin with. I started with Photoshop for creating mockups. Sketch is also a very good alternative if you have access to Mac. If you want to create more of vector designs and illustrations then you can start learning Illustrator. It really depends on which specific field you want to go in.

There are various tools specifically for wireframing such as Balsamiq, Axure but you can even create wireframes just using Photoshop and Sketch. Don’t let so many big names scare you!

Once you have a hold on creating mockups next you can go for prototyping tools such as Origami, Framer JS. Here is a list of top 10 prototyping tools by Creative Bloq.
Once you dive in you will find that the learning curve is not that difficult, you just need dedication and time to practice.

Take online courses

Treat the internet as your design school. There are many high quality resources online for everything from learning design programs to building your knowledge of visual design, typography etc.
Few well known and trusted online platforms are:

  1. Coursera: More on the conceptual side, taught by different universities. Offers classes like UX design, interaction design, and graphic design.
  2. Udemy
  3. Lynda
  4. CreativeLive
  5. Skillshare

You can even find many tutorials on Youtube as well. One such channel is Tasty Tuts by Gareth David. He has some really high quality content that will most definitely help you lift up from ground zero.

Stay Up To Date

As you work to enhance your design skills, it’s also valuable to stay in touch with what’s happening in the design community. Keeping up with design news can help you uncover new tools and current events.
To keep yourself up to date on the latest news, I suggest reading as many articles as you can from the designers and organizations that spend hours collecting and sharing their knowledge about design. I spend about 30 minutes to an hour every day just catching up with design news and articles.
Here are some design newsletters to which you might subscribe:

  1. Sidebar: 5 great design links every morning.
  2. InVision Blog: A newsletter run by InVision, a prototyping tool.
  3. Product Design Weekly: A weekly digest of design news and resources.
  4. Smashing Magazine: They have a huge array of articles related to design as well as front end coding.

I love the weekly email series by Tobias Van Schneider who is an award winning designer. He has some great insights about design, workflow and creative thinking. I also follow many publications on Medium which is a great platform to read the experiences great designers from around the world share.
On your browser, you can install extensions like Muzli to catch the latest design news and inspiration whenever you open a new tab.

Gain Experience

Only consumption of information won’t make you a designer, unless you practice it. Try to create your own portfolio as you learn side by side so you will have something to show to the recruiter once you go for an interview. If you don’t have real world projects don’t worry! Create your own projects, document your process and you will have a good piece on your portfolio. Once you get a job or an internship you will learn so much more; your learning curve will increase exponentially 🙂

Don’t forget to get feedback for your work. Try connecting with designers around your area or join online communities. Facebook communities are also great way to connect with designers and get feedback for your work.

Don’t give up because initial days will be hard and you will feel like you are on the wrong path. But have faith, keep learning and keep creating!

It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.