ASK DN: How do you keep learning after school?

5 years ago from , Product Designer at AppDirect

I'm new to the career. I graduated Design school almost two years ago, and I'm wondering how to best keep my skills sharp and keep learning new things. I really want to become the best I can possibly be, and I'm afraid of stagnating.

Do you guys learn enough at work? Do you feel the need to supplement it on the side? I'd love to hear your process, and I'll check out any suggestions! Books, online classes, side projects, what's your go-to?


  • Sam SolomonSam Solomon, 5 years ago (edited 5 years ago )

    Side projects are the absolute best thing you can do! Sure read books, and if it is something completely new, take a few classes. However, building something yourself is the absolute best way to learn.

    I work full-time as an interactive producer, so much of my day-to-day is managing projects. I spend many nights, mornings and weekends working on side projects. They've allowed me to sharpen my design skills as well as learn a ton about development.

    Here's a few things I built last year—

    • An interview series featuring people in tech and design.
    • An HN/DN-like community for people in advertising.
    • A chmod calculator.

    Here's a few things I'm working on this year—

    • A Rails-based resume creator.
    • A newsletter about space, technology.
    • A sports betting application.

    An important step for me was getting my own Digital Ocean server setup so I could host a ton of projects without having to pay each time I wanted to experiment with something new. It's serves as a platform where I can build, explore, fail and start again.

    2 points
    • , 5 years ago

      Digital ocean looks really cool! Any suggestions on how you have yours set up? Is it a different droplet for each project, or, how does that work?

      0 points
      • Sam SolomonSam Solomon, 5 years ago (edited 5 years ago )

        Yeah, I've got a $20/mo droplet that has a LEMP stack with Ubuntu 14.04. Right now there are about 10 sites running off of that one droplet with no performance issues. I had a friend who does system admin help me with the initial setup. With that said, if you aren't familiar with Unix commands it may be a little tough.

        Right now if I want to add a new site, I ssh into the server, create a database, setup WordPress and then configure nginx. Once that is setup, I can just FTP into var/www/sitename.com and edit the files that way.

        0 points
  • Wes OudshoornWes Oudshoorn, 5 years ago

    I think the best skill you can have is the skill to learn new skills. It's so incredibly easy to work for a few years and to forget what it's like to be a novice at something. The fact you suck at something new can really hold you back, especially if you're already an expert in other fields.

    Also, dive into related fields: writing, photograpy, painting, music. At a certain point, you'll be able to translate lessons in one field into another field.

    As for practical stuff: Always buy more books than you can read and never feel bad for only reading half of a book. Talk to people.

    I also suggest signing up to Gibbon.co, an awesome way to find the right content for new topics you want to learn.

    1 point
    • , 5 years ago

      I totally agree on the topic of diving into related fields. I used to do a lot of illustration, which helped me a lot with composition and color when it comes to design. Maybe it's time to pick that up again.

      Also, wow! This Gibbon website looks incredible! I'm definitely going to give it a try. Thanks so much!

      0 points
  • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, 5 years ago

    What we do. In no particular order.

    • Books. We schedule in a minimum of 30m reading daily. Now that we run our own company that's in 9-5 working hours.
    • Scheduled learning. We schedule in four hours a week of "learning" during our working week. Time to go play with a new tool, or try a new technique, or experiment with a side project.
    • Selection of projects. We try and pick work that pushes a bit at the edges of our core competencies — rather than something that sits smack-bang in the middle of the things we do well. That we we can learn new stuff on the job.
    • "Local" meet ups. Nothing like learning from your peers. If you don't have anything local, consider setting one up. Which is both a learning experience in-of-itself, and a nice profile raising activity.
    • Conferences. I personally get a lot of value from actually attending conferences rather than just watching the videos. Mostly from meeting and talking with other attendees.
    • Teaching and speaking. Nothing helps you learn something better than organising it and teaching it to other people.

    As every — YMMV ;-)

    1 point
    • , 5 years ago

      Thanks for the suggestions Adrian! I'll have to give some of these a try.

      What do people usually use their reading or learning time for? Have there been any cool projects that have come out of it, or something entirely unexpected?

      0 points
      • Adrian HowardAdrian Howard, 5 years ago

        What do people usually use their reading or learning time for?

        It depends. Sometime it's something techie — for example recently I spent some time playing with Gulp.js — which resulted in us moving over to it from Grunt.js.

        (Another tip —have a list of things you want to learn about. Technologies, skills, etc. That way you have something to focus on and track. We have some trello boards we use for that purpose).

        Sometime it's academic stuff. I've got Victor Papanek's Design for the Real World on my to-read pile, which got there after it was mentioned a talk by Mike Monteiro — also watched in learning time.

        Have there been any cool projects that have come out of it, or something entirely unexpected?

        There have been several side projects. Some of which we thought were cool. None of which were commercial successes. All of which taught us lots of stuff.

        Entirely unexpected stuff? Oh loads. For example back in 2010 I sat in on a talk in London where some folk were talking about the way folk like Janice Frasier were integrating UX into Lean Startup stuff - sort of "Lean UX". It was addressing exactly a bunch of problems that I was having with some of the teams I worked with, and that model has completely changed the approaches we have on integrating UX with the business over the last four or five years.

        (This is another advantage of attending smaller meetups. You get to hear about neat things long before they enter the hype cycle, books get published, etc.)

        0 points
  • Wojciech Zalot, 5 years ago

    I would say that Skillshare is not a bad idea to constantly learn something new or simply refresh some old knowledge, watching TED is also good idea. For me after several years of professional experience it's not about "how" but rather "why"

    1 point
  • ポール ウェッブポール ウェッブ, 5 years ago

    I have a lot of side projects that I'm really passionate about, so they keep me busy. I am also forced to learn new things in order to get the result I want too. A recent (like, just now) example is with my Aries web browser. I have to write a history manager and I discovered a solution to a double loading issue with iframes in the process (an issue Aries has had for about six months).

    I don't really do meetups, although my job would like me too. If you're social, it's a great way to learn new things and be inspired.

    1 point
  • Mustefa Jo'shenMustefa Jo'shen, 5 years ago

    Hey Ryan, just jumping into Designer News for the first time today. This is a great question!

    Are you involved in your local design community, and are there meetups to learn or meet folks at? Are there any startups that really need help you can do side work with, maybe at accelerators, or incubators?

    Reading and classes are great, but doing real work (more of it) is even better.

    1 point