Use these methods to get better

Up to this point I’ve written about the foundational principles, pillars, and knowledge involved in good visual design. That’s only part of the picture. If you want to get better at visual design, you need to practice.

Inspiration

One of the simplest ways to improve your own visual design is to surround yourself with good visual design from other people. I keep a “Design inspiration” folder on my computer, where I’ve got hundreds of app and website screenshots, as well as graphic design that I like.

It is absolutely not a problem if you use someone else’s visual design as inspiration for your own, as long as you make it your own. Even better if you combine elements from more than one source, as long as you know how to avoid the two inspirations clashing.

Often if I design something new, I look at my inspiration folder and use it as a guide for the style I want to design in. A useful test to see if you’ve copied another person’s design, rather than taken inspiration from them: if you could put them side by side and not be ashamed to talk through the inspiration for your design, you’ve probably put enough of a spin on it.

Copywork

Copywork has a long history in the arts. In short, you recreate someone else’s good work, pixel for pixel. This teaches you about how that design was created, because you’re repeating the original designer’s steps.

If you want a longer explanation, it’s best to read this article by Erik Kennedy.

Deliberate practice

Deliberate practice is the act of purposefully practicing parts of visual design to improve at them. One simple example is if you sat down and spent half an hour studying drop-shadows, learned more about how other designers approach them, and tinkered with the shadow settings in your design software. At the end of the half an hour you’d probably be an expert in drop-shadows (They’re quite simple once you know how, after all).

Deliberate practice is absolutely not limited to design. Look online if you want to learn more about the benefits, and how to approach it.

One way to practice visual design is with practice prompts. There are design prompt generators available online if you want to be given a challenge and don’t want to come up with it yourself. Search online for “design prompt generator” and you’ll see plenty of suggestions.

Good feedback

One of the unfortunate truths of improving at almost any skill is that it’s much better if you get good feedback on your efforts. Improving on your own, with only your own judgement to guide you, isn’t anywhere near as good.

Another unfortunate truth is that it’s not easy to find people who are both good at visual design and willing to take the time to critique your visual designs.

I recommend you look into some or all of the following:

Wherever that feedback comes from, it’s important that you share your work, accept the feedback, and work on improving. Especially at first, it’s very difficult to share something if you know it might not be good. It’s also very difficult to improve if you don’t.

Learning from experts

There are some experts who share what they know about visual design. Often for a lot of money. Still, many of these experts share visual design expertise for free, if only as a way to encourage you to sign up for not-free.

Here are some designers to look into:

Apprenticeship

Because it’s a craft, visual design skills benefit massively from an apprenticeship model. If you can work closely with someone more experienced than you, you’ll improve massively. The problem is that you need to work very closely with that person, and not every workplace offers that sort of approach. It’s also a lot to ask from someone else.

If you can find someone to take you on as an apprentice, even if that’s not what they call it, brilliant. If not, at least there’s a whole page of different approaches you can take, above.

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