How to become better and happier as a designer?

Web and Graphic Design similarly to other creative fields are quickly changing whether it is due to technological innovations or changes in the society which reflects on creative thinking and solutions. Improving technical skills and pushing the limits of our creativity are equally important when it comes to perfecting oneself.
As web and graphic designers you probably have what I call “not good enough” attack which in my case results in buying a great deal of books, watching a great number of tutorials and signing up for many online creative courses. Although I might look like crazy, I just love these attacks because I learn a lot and push myself to be a better designer.
A while ago, I used to work at two places which resulted in 14-16 work hours a day, depression, no reading time, no exercise time.. just nothing… I became a design slave… What’s more, one of my jobs was absolutely not good as I allowed to become a design “monkey”… doing stupid stuff most of the time, nobody listened my point of view and I just hated it… I tried to change the situation but the response from the manager was “I do not always like what you do..” Fair enough.. I do not regard myself as an exceptional creative person but I tried to develop myself and for three years I worked as a designer there I became better… and not because they allowed me to do it.. Because I wanted to do it and in my free time I did tutorials, read online design blogs and books, tried new stuff.
This is the time when you will probably think that I did this to myself and you will be perfectly right. Yes, I did it and actually I do not regret it. I appreciate it because I learnt some lessons the hard way. What I meant by telling this story is not to complain, I just want to say that there is a way to become better even if you do not have choice and you are forced to do a job you do not like and you are feeling unappreciated every day. Yes, you have to sacrifice your free time, sleep less and feel a bit tired but it will eventually pay out in the long run because in perfecting yourself and developing your creative skills and thinking you will become better and by doing this you will feel better and this will result in better job opportunities and better mood…

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Here are my tips to become a better designer:

Books! Books! Books!

Design books are expensive but you can always put some money aside each month to buy some books. Phaidon Press have sometimes a 50-75% sale and you can buy some amazing design books at very good prices. Also, pay attention to EBay books section, there are treasures buried there, just for a few bucks. Buy also other books like fiction, short stories … and read them. Books are vital to the creative person as they boost your creativity.

Read Design Blogs


There are hundreds of great design blogs out there where you can find amazing information in your industry and you can learn so much new stuff. I cannot tell you how much I learned by reading them. You can even set up an RSS feed list with some design blogs and read it every morning with your cup of tea or coffee.

Learn the basics


Whether you graduated from a design school or not, you should know the basics really well. Know the fundamentals of design such as layout, hierarchy, colour, white space, alignment, contrast, shape… by heart. This will allow you to criticize your own work as well as the others in a professional manner and set aside the subjectivity in judging design. Knowing the basics also will help you to be better in your work even when you are trying to break the rules and do something different.

Observe and collect


Design is all around us whether you notice it or not. From books, magazines, TV commercials, posters, ads – all is designed. Look at the world around you and collect the information in your head or with a camera.  You can even play a little game in your head – try to figure out how the designer did this particular piece of work, what tools are used. Be critical and think about what do you like and what you don’t. How would you do it yourself?

Challenge yourself


Try to assign yourself small projects. Whether it will be a designing a business card or a website or a set of icons or try to come up with some CSS stuff. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that you try to create something every week which will make you feel better. Think about it as a creative habit.

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Allow yourself some free time to draw. Have a sketchbook in your bag or on your desk and try to draw for a few minutes. Drawing will train your eye in way that neither Photoshop nor Illustrator will do.  It will improve your analytical thinking and your ability to generate ideas on paper before going digital. It will improve your digital skills and you mental library.

Be part of the design community


Photo by Waag Society

Pay attention to what’s going on in your city or country. I bet there are some design related events that you might attend and meet fellow designers. It will keep you up-to-date with the design trends and news, and you also will find friends that you can collaborate with or receive feedback from them. In both cases it will be beneficial…


If you have the opportunity to travel, just do it. Whether it is in a nearby city or in another country. Travelling is very inspiring, experiencing new cultural environments and seeing different artwork will open your mind to a new ideas and perceptions.

Exercise, eat healthy food and enjoy life

Being a designer means sitting long hours in front of a computer with no movement at all which can affect your health. Especially if you are a freelance designer and you work from home. Think about allowing some time to exercise whether you will be joining the local gym or just do some exercise at home. I tend to do exercises 3-5 times a week, stepping away from the computer and I feel better. Also, try to eat good food. I know that sometimes junk food the easiest and quickest solution but it doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to prepare a really good and healthy meal which does not involve fried stuff, mayonnaise and meat with questionable quality.

Last but not least, enjoy life and have time to meet friends, watch movies, take walks, and attend exhibitions and music concerts. Do not work all the time and do not think about work all the time. If you feel better and enjoy life you will be a better person which will make you a better designer. As simple as that.

If you want some creative boost have a look at: Monday Treat: 15 great songs to boost your creativity and 12 tips on staying ispired.

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