10 Ways to Push Your Design Skills in 2017

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As designers, it’s easy to rely on what we’ve learned in the past and stick to what’s familiar: the Adobe Creative Suite, our usual workflow, old habits. But in an ever-changing creative landscape, it’s imperative to be constantly on the lookout for growth and development opportunities.

A few years ago, I drafted a list of ways I wanted to push myself, challenge old habits, and build new design muscles. I’ve spent time the past few days reflecting on that list, noting strides made last year, and considering ways to continue stretching myself.

Learning doesn’t happen unless you make the decision to do so. Challenge yourself this year and continue to push your limits as a designer.

Following is my list of goals for 2017:

1. Begin (or continue) learning a new tool.

This should be a no-brainer. Newer, better programs and apps come out each year. These tools can help improve your workflow and make you a more efficient designer — if you take the time to learn them.

This past year, I went from not using Sketch at all, to using it daily here at Red Ventures. Other notable tools I picked up were Principle, Invision, Craft, Adobe Xd and Animate CC. Learning to use these tools has improved my workflow a ton, particularly for web design. If you need some ideas for programs to brush up on, I recommend:

2. Learn from other industries.

There are countless design podcasts, blogs and audio books out there that provide great insight into our craft. The thing is, a lot of these design outlets can miss other key concepts (related to digital marketing, business, etc.) that are integral to being a designer in 2017.

Listening to people outside the design world has done wonders for how I think about the work I do each day. Here are a few podcasts I’m currently hooked on that have helped inform my design process:

3. Slow down.

Over the course of my seven years in design, I’ve prided myself on pumping out projects as quickly as possible. I can whip up a new design in a few hours —but the work I create in a hurry often requires dozens of revisions and winds up costing more time in the long run.

Last year, I focused heavily on thinking about the why behind what I was making. I took time to consider my options, do research, sketch, and whiteboard before jumping into typography, colors, imagery, etc. By spending that time up front, I’ve significantly reduced the frequency of revisions later.

Take time to think about what you’re doing before you begin to execute. It might feel counterintuitive at first, but after a few projects, your workflow will adapt and the value of the time invested up front will become apparent.

4. Start (or join) a design challenge.

Last year, 20,000 designers participated in the Daily UI Challenge, which yielded astounding results and tons of inspirational work. I personally participated in a fourteen week UI challenge here at Red Ventures that helped me learn both Sketch and Principle.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Take time to practice your craft daily, and you’ll see results over time.

This year I’m going to create a Boxybot every day. Follow my journey on Facebook and Instagram.

5. Write about what you’ve learned.

Last year, I joined Medium and had the privilege of helping launch RV Creative.

I’ve realized over time that writing is a great way to reflect on what I’ve learned, consider why I think the way I do, and share my thoughts with others. Whether or not anyone reads my work is irrelevant. The point is to reinforce concepts I’ve learned by explaining them to someone else.

6. Share work regularly.

What do the most notable and recognizable designers in the industry do regularly? They share their work on Dribbble and Behance. It’s simple, but somehow I struggle with incorporating this into my routine.

If your goal is to grow your personal brand and meet other designers around the globe, you need to share your work in these show-and-tell design communities.

A landing page I whipped up for a mock coffee business to practice with Sketch and Principle. 

7. Rethink your portfolio.

Your portfolio is a reflection of your work and capabilities. It speaks volumes more than your resume ever will. If your portfolio is subpar, outdated, or non-existent, that’s exactly what people will think of your design abilities.

Truthfully, my portfolio is several years old and was done haphazardly between projects, so it needs some work. I’m determined to give it a good refresh this year. What about you?

8. Take time away from tech.

In 2016, I resolved to focus on being present and move away from using my MacBook and iPhone all the time. While I’m not perfect, this shift in perspective has resulted in more meaningful interactions with my wife, kids, friends and family, and also provided opportunities for new ideas to sprout and grow.

As a sidenote, if you haven’t already, check out Minimalism on Netflix. Pretty powerful stuff!

9. Create something to give away.

A few years back, I started making stickers and buttons to give away to fans of my brand Boxybots. Over the years I’ve given away and mailed tens of thousands of robot stickers to people around the world. There’s something so rewarding about seeing a random stranger enjoy your designs. I can’t really explain it. This sharing mentality has introduced me to new people and numerous projects that have paid me back tenfold, both monetarily and personally.

You might not have the financial resources to fund printing and mailing stickers or buttons for free. If that’s the case, consider creating an eBook or a blog with free design resources. This type of sharing can be the difference maker in your career.


Zombie Boxybots stickers I gave away around Halloween

10. Join (or start) a collaborative project or community.

I’m a firm believer that in order to push yourself creatively, you need to be around people that you look up to, creative people that push themselves to their limits. A few years back, I helped start a small group for designers in Charlotte that ran clothing lines. It was an awesome way to interact with others doing the same types of things I was doing, and it challenged me creatively. Through the group, I was introduced to one of the design directors here at Red Ventures, which later helped me land my current position.

Some neat collaborations include 10×16 and Design Brawl, among many others. Check out design-focused communities like Creative Mornings and AIGA, which have chapters all over the world. Additionally, a quick Google search or glance at current Dribbble meetups should reveal options as well. If you can’t find a group that fits your schedule or interests, consider starting one. Getting plugged into your local creative community will be worth the effort.

Drew Burdick is a Senior Designer at Red Ventures and the creator of Boxybots. Follow Drew and the rest of the RV reatives on Medium and on Twitter @drewhburdick.

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