Design until it sucks less; leveling up on design

“Design is easy. All you do is stare at the screen until drops of blood form on your forehead.” — Marty Neumeier

Farm gold and level Up your design skillsI picked the quote above for this post because it’s remarkably similar to my own design process, which I like to think of as “tweak it until it sucks less.” Then I keep on iterating until a deadline looms, squint at it until I can tell myself it looks good enough, launch it, and then feel slightly mortified every time I see it from then on. I know it’s not uncommon to be your own worst critic but even so, a couple of required art classes in college, a lone graphic design class from Parsons, and a whole lot of “on the job experience” is just about the extent of my design education, so it’s past time to level-up. In searching about for the right approach, I’ve found a few good resources that I want to share.

Online resources, articles, and lessons, for a DIY-style design education

First is a somewhat dated (from 2009) but still completely worthwhile post from Tuts+: 50 Totally Free Lessons in Graphic Design Theory. There’s been a little link rot over the years but pick your way through there and you’ll find some gems, like Mark Boulton’s Five simple steps to designing grid systems, a great multi-part tutorial on color theory, and the Complete Beginner’s Guide to Information Architecture. Also worth mentioning from Tuts+ is Teach Yourself Graphic Design: A Self-Study Course Outline.

MOOC-style online course

Say "MOOC"... Looking for something a little more structured, with an actual professor, and actual homework assignments, and actual grades? Want a taste of Ivy League education, for absolutely free? UPenn is offering an online course titled Design: Creation of Artifacts in Society this Fall, through Coursera. Note that this is about design with a big “D”, much broader than graphic design, to include architecture, physical goods, services, apparel, and more. If that sounds appealing, don’t wait to register, because the course starts October 21st, 2013.

The middle way? Semi-structured and self-paced options

Personally, I’m sort of leaning toward a middle ground (though the UPenn class is very very tempting). Something a bit structured, but not overly so. A simple list of resources to read online, while helpful, is not something I’m likely to carve out time for if left completely to my own devices. And as tempting as the MOOC is, for me, fitting a real full-on online class into an already overcommitted schedule right now is the road to crazytown. Fortunately I’ve found a couple of great-looking alternatives, the first of which is David Kadavy’s DesignTrain. David is the author of “Design for Hackers: Reverse-Engineering Beauty” and recently gave the following TedX talk on “the new literacy of design” (and the history of Comic Sans, among other things).

This one’s really time-sensitive though, the 12-week series of email lessons starts on Oct. 1st so you HAVE to sign up by September 30th, 2013 (i.e. just a couple days from now).

One last option is a self-paced course for hackers/developers, Hack Design, with dozens of top designers serving as instructors and curators of the top-notch weekly lessons. And even though it’s a year-long course, it looks totally possible to drop in and just go through a few lessons a la carte without officially registering.

Bonus tips

If you’re going to be a better designer, you’ve got to talk like one, right?  And of course you’ll want to think like a designer, and act like a designer,  and even dress like a designer.

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