Recently I was on a chat with Marissa Louie from Portola Plush.
Marissa has a strong background in design boasting clients such as Apple and Yahoo but decided to pack in the more corporate lifestyle and focus on her passion: making and selling teddy bears!
During our chat, Marissa said something that really stuck with me.
“All designers suck in their first two years of designing”.
… I thought it was just me that completely sucked in my first few years of calling myself a ‘designer’.
Knowing I wasn’t alone is a nice feeling. And 22-year-old Laura would have been very comforted to know others were going through the same struggle.
The thing is, for many people, you’re going through the two-year phase of sucking right now. And two years is a long time to be practising design before you can consider your work good.
What do you do if you’re just starting your design journey but you already have clients that expect (and pay you for) good design work?
What do you do if you’re working in a company where part of your job as a developer expects you to pitch in with the design side?
At this stage, you’re probably still learning with a mixture of basic knowledge, trial and error. You can’t simply ‘learn faster’ or quit your job to focus on the subtle nuances of typography full time.
So what can you do now to make your designs better?
Get feedback from people who have already been there.
The fastest way to improve your designs is to always be on the lookout for good feedback.
I say good feedback specifically because not all feedback is created equal. Especially with design.
That’s because design is subjective. And if you ask different people what they think of your design, they’ll all respond with something different, but not necessarily helpful.
“I don’t like the blue”
“I don’t like those wiggly lines”
How do you know if the blue or wiggly lines are actually bad, or if that particular person has some kind of aversion to the colour blue and anything wiggly?
That’s why, when I’m looking for feedback purely on the visuals (i.e. not on the user experience, or the messaging–these are whole other ball games), I find it most useful to seek feedback from experienced designers.
A seasoned designer should know how to give effective feedback. They’ll have been in the game long enough to know the difference between their personal taste and something that can be improved upon.
If you’re new to design, ask designers for feedback.
Seriously. They won’t bite.
In fact, most designers love to be able to make a few comments and help transform someone’s design from mediocre to pretty darn hot.
But where do you go to get this feedback from? Maybe you work from home and you’re finding your dog isn’t giving you the detailed critiques you’re looking for.
Luckily a bunch of places have been popping up recently that are seriously amazing for getting feedback on your work.
You’ve probably heard of the messaging app, Slack.
Love it or hate it, Slack is a pretty good way to stay in touch with like-minded people.
There are Slack groups popping up everywhere and it may take some time to find the sweet spot between one that is so big and active it’s almost impersonal and ones that promise good things but are completely dead with nothing but the odd promotion going on.
My favourite Slack groups tend to be more business-focused ones that you get when signing up for a course.
Paul Jarvis’s Creative Class is a modest sized Slack group that you get if you sign up to his course on business for creatives.
I feel like I know everybody in there really well and they are all amazing when someone has a problem or needs a bit of feedback.
It’s not constant chatter every day, which I like because I’m busy and I bet you are too. It can be so easy to turn Slack into a black hole of time wasting.
If you’re looking for something more design specific, check out Dear Designers or Designer Hangout.
(By the way, if anybody has any links to some great — ideally free — Slack groups, email me and I’ll put them up).
Find a Friend or Form a Mastermind Group
If you know somebody who is in the same boat as you, why not form a mastermind group with them.
Nathan Powell writes a great post about mentorship groups here. It can be a really good way to keep yourself accountable, especially with side projects, to set up a specific day and time every week to get together and talk about what you’ve been working on and ask any questions.
I do this with two of my good friends, Shai Schechter and Austin Church. I keep a note handy and jot down anything I want to get their opinions on.
“What do you think of this colour scheme?”
“Which of these two concepts do you prefer?”
And we can get some really good feedback going that way.
We schedule a time every fortnight (that’s every two weeks for the American’s reading :-)) on a Monday to go through our work with each other. It’s a great way of getting another pair of eyes on your projects — they will always spot important things I’ve managed to miss.
A hat-tip to Reddit
The last place you can go for feedback on your designs is, of course, Reddit. There’s a channel for design teardowns right here.
It’s not overly active in terms of people giving feedback. There’s a higher ratio of people wanting feedback than giving it (something which the service Criticue is attempting to solve with it’s ‘give feedback to get feedback’ policy) but Reddit can still be a worthwhile place to post as when feedback is given, it’s usually pretty good quality.
Ultimately, getting feedback helps you to take the guesswork out of design. Whereas it’s important to be constantly critiquing your own work to train your ‘design eye’, getting someone else’s opinion can help you to see the small details you may have missed while you’re learning.
So if you’re a new designer or a seasoned one stuck in a rut, I urge you to try one of the above techniques and you’ll not only see your designs improve, but you’ll get to meet some like-minded people in the process.
Just remember when you’re a red hot designer to come back and give others feedback too.
It’s the circle of life.