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8 min read

How I Learned to Design

Lightbulb Sketch

Is design something that can be learned by anyone? Or, is it just something that only the creative can do? What I hear most Developer say, I can’t learn design, I am a Developer, I can’t do design, or I am not creative.

Really funny, because nobody is born been great at anything, If you’re a Developer were you born knowing how to code? No, of course not. It’s something that you failed at and then you tried again, again and again and then over time you picked up the techniques and you learn the knowledge needed to build websites and applications. It is the exact same thing with design, so yes obviously some people do have a natural talent or natural inclination for design.

Designing is, without a doubt, the most creative rewarding thing I’ve ever delved into. Designing as well as Programming taught me that life should be fun, filled with creativity and that anything is possible if I put my mind to it.

I feel extremely lucky to have had the means and opportunity to learn design early in my life. While my methods are certainly not optimal for everyone, they worked well for me.

I have no regrets.

So I figured I’d share my methods with you, in hopes that a beginner will read this and get some value out of it.

If you don’t want to read all this, the important takeaway here is to, above all else, have fun and keep designing.

Install Design tools on Your Box

Sculpture Tools Sketch

While in my own life, I actually learned quite a bit about designing through friends–my real learning started the first day I installed Corel Draw on my Packard Bell Laptop.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you use Windows on your laptop, or if you have a Macbook Air–if you want to learn to design well, you need to start using a design tool. Sure, there are a ton of great designers out there using great tools, but you have to start with the one you can get your hands on.

Select Adobe Products: Photoshop, illustrator

Adobe Products Icon

Adobe is an incredibly complicated design company. More than a design company, it’s a suite of low-level building blocks for modern designs.

It consists of a vast array of products, all of which have distinct purposes and use cases.

Out of all the current products Adobe provides, several are worth a mention: Photoshop, illustrator, Premiere, and Photoshop Lightroom. These products do their jobs incredibly well, and give you quality result.

If you haven’t heard of Photoshop, I don’t know how you found this blog. But anyhow: Photoshop is a very reliable design product that gets you a durability percentage of 99.999999999% (you read that correct, 9 nines of durability). This is probably the most widely used of the Adobe products, and, side note: I’ve never seen anyone complain about this product.

Next up: illustrator. illustrator is an incredibly complex vector product that has a high record of history availability, used by professionals mostly for logo design.

Other Products

Product Logos

For some non-intensive design relating products, I really enjoy using:

Corel for simple banner or business card designs. They have a simple tooling Interface, competitive pricing, and a 99.99% tutorial out there. It’s also a hell of a lot easier.

Sketch for anything that requires UI design. It provides a simple tooling Interface, without the hassle of setting up sizes and all those random stuffs. I also have an amazing introduction to using Sketch you have to read for yourself: *1 for respect.

Have an Intense Desire

Superman Intense Focus Sketch

Why do you want to learn design? What is motivating you? What drives you? Unless you desperately want to learn design, you will fail.

When I started designing, it was because I had an intense desire to design my own stickers. When I set my mind towards learning to design, I knew I would make it happen. I knew that no matter what happened in my life, I’d either learn to design or I’d die trying. It was what I can only describe as a glorious feeling. It was similar to that feeling you have where you want something so bad, so intensely, that you feel it with every muscle in your body.

Regardless of the fact that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing–that I knew absolutely no design inspired people whatsoever–that I had no resources–and that I had zero guidance–I found a way. I ruthlessly read through internet tutorials on random web pages. I spend hundreds of hours scouring random forums looking for bits of information.

The most important thing, however, is that because I wanted it so bad, it felt easy. I’ve always been an all-or-nothing type of person, and I think that this helped me break through the initial barriers and eventually become a half decent designer.

Replicate Small Designs

Designer Loves Designs Sketch

A lot of people now-a-days seem to be learning design by diving head first into complex design like UI designs. While this may work for some people, it seems pretty damn crazy to me. Not only are UI designs complex and vast (designing a modern website requires a ton of wire-framing, user interaction with each page and other separate skills that take years to mature), but they’re frustrating and discouraging for new designers.

I got so much value out of designing small stuffs. Each one was simple enough to be done in several hours (no more), and each one taught me stuff: either a new design tool, exporting designs, or manipulating images. There’s no doubt in my mind that I gained a good portion of my design knowledge through designing stuffs, a lot of stuffs by imitating the work of the people I admire take a piece of work they’ve done, and simply try to recreate it. Just to be clear I am not talking about stealing someone else’s design and passing it off as my own.

The thing is there’s nothing wrong with copying someone else’s work just for practice, I have done it for years and I continue to do it this day, and obviously I don’t put it in my portfolio because it’s not my work but through that process I have been able to pickup so many techniques and learn so many new things but it’s in this act of creating stuffs that you’re gonna be able to pickup and realizing all the small details that make up a great design and all the other things that make up a terrible designs.

Join an Online Community

Justice League in Progress Sketch

The internet is a big place. Designing is a big field. While it is certainly possible to become an excellent designer by yourself, completely isolated–it is much easier to do it with the help of friends.

When I started designing I was lucky enough to meet some amazing like-minded designers online using Deviant Art. The people I met were some of the smartest, passionate, and most motivated individuals I’ve ever met in my life. I’m still friends with some today!

Having other insanely passionate and driven friends kept me motivated, and helped push me to be the best I could. We wrote articles for one another to share things we learned–we critiqued each other’s designs. We talked about projects we were working on.

Having a group of people with the same passion and drive as yourself cannot be understated.

Finding a group like this, on the other hand, is extremely difficult. I highly recommend using Dribbble (as a lot of bright people seem to use it), and gradually exploring new designs from people who share similar interests.

Have Fun and Keep Designing

Girl Having Fun With Clouds Sketch

Designing is fun. Designing is really, insanely fun.  Just writing about it makes me feel happy inside. It’s hard to contain my excitement.

The most important part of learning to design is to always HAVE FUN! Regardless of whether you’re just getting into designing, or whether you’ve been a designer for a long time: having fun is the most important thing you can do.

Let’s say you’re just starting to learn Photoshop don’t start by designing something boring. Design something new! Something that you will find useful and as a source of inspiration. Have fun with it, and challenge yourself.

Can you learn to design? Yes, absolutely 100%. Will it be a lot of work? Yes, it will. Will it be worth it in the long run? Yes, absolutely especially if you are a developer already knowing how to design will just make you that much better.

I could literally go on ranting about how much fun designing is indefinitely. But instead, I want to challenge YOU (ya, you!). Think of something you’d really love to design: maybe it’s a camera cup, maybe a video game character–whatever excites you and gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside. Got it?

OK, now go design it!

Regardless of where you are in your designing career: always have fun, and keep pushing yourself!