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Ask DN: Am I a "real" UI designer?

almost 6 years ago from , Design by Marcus

Hi I'm Marcus and I have a bad case of impostor syndrome.

I've been learning about design for the past 7 months. I just got a new client out of the blue and will be getting £15/hr ($22.50/hr) which I'm pretty damn happy about.

I'm reading books/articles everyday and trying to apply what I'm learning to my designs but most of the time I just feel like I'm moving and text and shapes around to try and make it all look nice and presentable. I don't have any background in graphic design or any skills in terms of drawing and illustrations. I usually work away at my designs and do the best that I can and then I'll need to look at other peoples stuff (usually on Dribbble) to find ways to prettify and inspire my own work. Is that cheating if overly relied on?

Whenever I design something I really enjoy the process and think it looks great at the time, give it a week and I'll look at it again and think it looks boring and basic. So much of the stuff on Dribbble is amazing and so creative so it can be disheartening when looking at my stuff in comparison.

Maybe my confidence will improve the more I keep working at it, I really hope it does. In the meantime do you guys have any advice/tips to help a newbie out. What would help even more would be some advice on how I can improve my designs and become better all round.

https://dribbble.com/marcushanda

Thanks, Marcus

74 comments

  • Jordan KoscheiJordan Koschei, almost 6 years ago

    Yes, you are a real UI designer. I just took a look at your Dribbble portfolio, and you've got some really solid work there. Plus, the fact that you're interested enough to do lots of extracurricular reading sets you ahead of most other designers out there. (Remember, the people you see online are the really motivated ones -- there are far more designers out there doing crappy work that nobody will ever post on DN.)

    Never forget: "Good artists copy. Great artists steal." Looking at the Dribbble Popular page will give any designer thoughts of inadequacy. Don't judge your work against that stuff.

    Design is a verb as much as a noun. The kind of thought you put into your work is just as important as the final deliverable. From what you've described here, design philosophy and technique is important to you, so take heart -- you're doing it right!

    PS - You're wayyyyyy ahead of where I was at the 7 month mark.

    28 points
    • , almost 6 years ago

      Thanks man I really appreciate you taking the time to write me a reply.

      You've boosted my confidence a little too. I kind of have to read lots of stuff because of my lack of formal design education, I have a lot of catching up to do.

      I love that Picasso quote, there's a book called "Steal Like An Artist" which was a good read and kind of let me know it was OK to seek inspiration, but how much is too much?

      I really hope to make a go of it this year and it's started OK with the new client, so onwards and upwards I guess ;-)

      0 points
    • Tierney CyrenTierney Cyren, almost 6 years ago

      You nailed every point I was going to make, Jordan. He has an excellent Dribbble portfolio. It's not the groundbreaking stuff that gets to the popular page of Dribbble, but it's definitely solid work.

      Marcus: I think you're caught up on the idea that all the good designers have a formal design education. This is not true in the slightest. The vast majority of popular/successful designers are self-taught, with no formal education in visual design. The same is true with programmers. Everything you need to learn to be a good designer is out there on the Internet--you just have to find and apply it.

      3 points
      • , almost 6 years ago

        Thanks, I think I feel this way because when I first started learning, a lot of the threads I read veered towards the formal education side of things. Also I got a pretty harsh critique a few months ago and they basically said your not really going to get anywhere without the proper education so I think that worked it's way into current way of thinking.

        The internet is amazing for learning because there are so many selfless people out there willing to create tutorials/blog posts and help out if you just ask. This community is one of those awesome places.

        2 points
    • Cihad TurhanCihad Turhan, almost 6 years ago

      +1 for "Good artists copy. Great artists steal."

      1 point
      • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

        It's a great quote, for some reason I thought Picasso was one of those artists from a few hundred years ago, it was surprising to find out how recent he actually was.

        0 points
  • Robin RaszkaRobin Raszka, almost 6 years ago

    Don't go to/use Dribbble if you want to improve. It's a dungeon of cliché and clueless pixelpushers.

    16 points
    • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

      But it's all so pretty :)

      3 points
      • Robin RaszkaRobin Raszka, almost 6 years ago

        You have a very long way ahead of you, man :)

        1 point
        • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

          My current sphere of learning is UX so I'm going to immerse myself in that area and will hopefully come out the other side a more competent designer.

          0 points
      • Adam Brace, almost 6 years ago

        "Pretty" is not design, thats art. Design is the why and how, keep on learning and stay educated. Don't let finished work on Dribbble be the yardstick on if you are a real designer or not. Try and work with real people and do your best real work and your'll learn so much. Keep it up

        6 points
        • , almost 6 years ago

          That is so true and I'm trying to not think this way any more. I'm finding out that really great design is a collaborative effort as you should always be willing to listen to others and take onboard differing opinions.

          0 points
      • Josh ClementJosh Clement, almost 6 years ago

        That's the problem. Find inspiration from pretty much everywhere else except places like Dribbble. That's the finished art of experienced designers. It sounds like you're still learning (but getting paid so ahead of most students!).

        My main advice would be experiment and make stuff that you might think is stupid or ugly. Use two colours you'd never use, find a weird typeface, make something look dated, design an app for blackberry, just do exercises that wil get you thinking in different ways.

        Stay away from Dribbble!

        4 points
        • , almost 6 years ago

          That's a good idea, taking it back to basics because I've never done that, I just jumped head first into UI's. There's a book called the Creative Workshop that has 80 exercises so I might get that and work my way through it.

          0 points
        • Andrew CiobanasiuAndrew Ciobanasiu, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

          Finished work? I was under the impression that dribbble is to show what you're currently working on. Hence, the low res "shots" posted with bite-sized blurbs.

          Of course there are some giants on there destroying everyone else, but that's just the way it will be in every design related social community.

          My own critique of dribbble (and what it has become) aside, I don't think it should be tossed out the window as a inspiration source. It should be taken, like you said, as the work of experienced designers and with a healthy amount of salt.

          2 points
    • John Jackson, almost 5 years ago

      That really depends entirely on who you follow on Dribbble. There are some very talented designers on Dribbble.

      0 points
  • Thibault MichelThibault Michel, almost 6 years ago

    Just thought I'd leave this here for you to watch whenever you're in doubt: The Gap by Ira Glass

    9 points
  • Vinay ChilukuriVinay Chilukuri, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    Hi Marcus,

    I don't agree with the advice that UI designing is just pixel pushing! It kind of feels reductive to me that if someone says that UI design is just that. Pixel pushing could be one of the means to achieve what you set out to achieve, but not at all the only one.

    I come from an HCI background and not a design background. I'm a UX guy and not a UI guy. However, I'm supposed to design UI mockups and prototypes for my current firm and have been designing them for only about an year. So, please take my advice given where I'm coming from.

    I believe that as a UI designer you need to understand the human process of perception. I see a lot of "beautiful" designs out there but if you put them to a test using an eye-tracker, they fail miserably! I agree that there is definitely the aspect of "artistic style" to a design.. but I belong to the camp who says that a design should at least be functional/usable. I'm not discarding the fact that an interface needs to be pretty, but why just limit one-self to doing just that?

    If you could get your hands on an eye-tracker (from somebody in a University lab), put your designs through them and see how a person's line of sight moves from one area to the to the other. The knowledge that you would glean from such an experiment would be gold. This is the best way to learn about how humans "perceive" interfaces and especially how the interface "affords" them to perform a task in the context of the interface.

    Second, I strongly recommend you to read the book, Computers as Theatre.. It talks about the parallels between building a user-interface and staging a scene in a play with the emphasis on creating an experience.. I've read about half of this book and I don't see UI design as the same anymore. This book will not offer you any "guidelines" to follow, but I promise you that it will expose you to think about interface design in a much more beautiful and a holistic way.

    May be, my suggestions to you fall more in the realm of User Experience rather than Interface design.. but, that is where I come from. Take whatever works.

    Cheers.

    5 points
    • Pedro PintoPedro Pinto, almost 6 years ago

      Hey Vinay, that book looks really interesting. I'm going to buy it

      0 points
    • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

      Thank you for the reply, I appreciate your thoughts coming from a perspective of UX. I'm starting to read some books and articles in this area because I personally think UX should be a huge part of UI design anyway. If your designing a interface for a user you have to be thinking about the experience of the user too, they should go hand in hand.

      I've read a little about how people look at websites and it can be in a Z pattern or F pattern so I think it would be fairly important to lay your content in a way that mimic how our eyes usually look at interfaces.

      I still have plenty to learn in this area and already have a list of books that are on my list so thank you for adding yet another ;)

      0 points
  • Abhijeet WankhadeAbhijeet Wankhade, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    You asking for help shows how badly you want to be good. You are on a right path my friend.

    5 points
  • Ryan MurphyRyan Murphy, almost 6 years ago

    Ignore the dribbble popular page, a lot of that shit never had a client at the end of it.

    Easy as pie to design fancy UI's when you don't have to worry about users, clients and everything in between.

    You're a proper designer now.

    5 points
    • Cosmin NegoitaCosmin Negoita, almost 6 years ago

      Ryan is right, doing pretty things when you don't have a real brief is easy. Checking Dribbble for some inspiration is not bad, but don't rely too much on that, cause most of the times clients don't look for something beautiful and if they do, they don't really know what that means. So instead of focusing on making things pretty, make them work.

      When you work for a client, make sure you understand his business and his problems. If you understand that, you'll be able to create an effective design and in the end prettify it. Just keep in mind that design is subjective, so what designers on Dribbble find awesome, non-designers might be "meh".

      Good luck!

      0 points
    • , almost 6 years ago

      Thanks, I do have an unhealthy focus on the aesthetic but I'm learning more about UX at the moment so hopefully I'll have a paradigm shift in my thought processes sooner rather than later.

      0 points
  • Charlie McCullochCharlie McCulloch, almost 6 years ago

    Once you realise that absolutely everyone is making it up as they go along, while learning from their mistakes, then it gets much easier. It's a strange paradox of the creative personality type that this fear of not being good enough drives you to be much better, and believe me, it is universal. It's just that some people don't admit it.

    2 points
    • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

      We're all learning, some are just further along than others. Fear of not being good enough has definitely drove me to improve so in my case so a bit introspection every now and then is harmless.

      0 points
  • Martin Tsiu, almost 6 years ago

    I begin to design abt 5 month ago.But it seemed that i was lost.

    https://dribbble.com/MartinRGB

    2 points
    • Karolis MalceviciusKarolis Malcevicius, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

      Really? Your AE and illustration skills looks awesome man! I just followed you on dribbble!

      Could you tell us more about your learning process? From where you started? What sources are best for learning AE?

      0 points
      • Martin Tsiu, almost 6 years ago

        I begin motion practice from using Quartz Composer.

        At first ,I tried to imitate popular shots on Dribbble.By using QC,I finished about 20 project.I discovered that:Interactive is more important than motion effects in UI Field.Noodling Tools Can make your logic better in motion design.It took me 2 months to learn QC.

        At that time,I was an editor.But I knew I love design,I should be a designer.A Motion Designer must have solid After Effects skill.I didn't know much about AE that time,but for my desire,I must learn AE.I began to learn AE by watching Mt.Mograph's tutorials.It took me abt 1 months' learing before I became a motion designer.And now, I keep on learning After Effects.

        Then I was hired by a company which now is making Android ROM Design.I love learning & design.And learning becomes my habit.Though sometimes I felt tired and wanna play,but most of my times used on design.I totally have no basis on design(I was majored in Electronic in university),as you can see,my color、layout couldn't be worse.There is a long way to go

        0 points
    • Chris KnutsonChris Knutson, almost 6 years ago

      Yes, please tell me how you are this good at 5 mos! Good work.

      0 points
      • Martin Tsiu, almost 6 years ago

        keep learning everyday...I began hateing my girlfriend & anything else that would disturb me after I became a designer.

        0 points
    • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

      A natural talent + hardwork + 5 months learning = MartinRGB aka Mr Awesome

      0 points
  • , almost 6 years ago

    Thanks for the replies guys and gals. I'm going to come back to this thread regularly because it's full of such great advice.

    I guess I am a "real" UI designer after all ;-)

    1 point
  • Jim SilvermanJim Silverman, almost 6 years ago

    put less emphasis on dribbble and find happiness.

    1 point
    • , almost 6 years ago

      But every time I get a new follower on Dribbble my happiness increases. It's a vicious cycle :)

      1 point
  • Helen . Helen . , almost 6 years ago

    Aye Marcus,

    Alot of designers are not willing to admit this but most of us (if not all) usually get inspired by things we come across. This is further solidified by the phrase " Imitation is the greatest form of flattery".

    If you're pretty much idea ripping down to the very core of a design and just pasting a text over it and calling it yours, then that's a problem but just like Jordan mentioned, you do have solid works on your dribbble account and taking the extra time and having the self-discipline to stick to keeping yourself updated on the trends and reads says alot about you.

    As far as education go, it's very easy to feel like you're not good enough and always compare yourself to someone who graduated with a degree/diploma in Design.

    This is what I've went through. I am completely self-taught and never went to College/University for Design and all my knowledge of designing with Photoshop and UI/UX was taken up by my determination to learn it. As for where I'm now, I just finished working at a well-known Agency that work with the Media Corporations in Toronto and I am now the UI/UX Lead of a Fitness App.

    So chin up my friend, keep at it and you will do great.

    1 point
    • Thomas LoizeauThomas Loizeau, almost 6 years ago

      Agreed with this statement.

      I would add that you should read the book Steal Like an Artist which describe perfectly why it's ok to get inspired by others in order to do great work.

      0 points
      • , almost 6 years ago

        I've read that, it was a good read and gave me a license to find inspiration :)

        I've been meaning to read his 2nd book.

        0 points
    • , almost 6 years ago

      Thanks Helen, yours is an inspirational story and I hope to take a similar path if possible.

      As far as inspiration goes I'll see a nice way a design has contrasted different text weights I'll see if it works in my design or be inspired by a beautiful use of imagery or colour. I could never replicate elements in their entirety and drop them into my design. Besides I think the whole piece would look like a mishmash of clashing styles.

      I've read countless times that to keep moving forward you need to be in a constant state of learning. I never really enjoyed higher education and I chose to study IT because I thought it would something that would pay well. This is completely different because I enjoy learning this stuff and to make a career out of it would be a dream come true. I've never had a true idea of what I want to do with my life career-wise but now I do.

      0 points
  • Will C, almost 6 years ago

    Great Going!

    0 points
  • billie bensonbillie benson, almost 6 years ago

    Woow, thats really looks nice, even more than my coworkers work!

    0 points
  • Louis-André LabadieLouis-André Labadie, almost 6 years ago

    Impostor syndrome happens to all of us. Most of the time, success happens for a reason.

    Here are a few notes for you:

    • Your critical sense will be ahead of your skills for a lot of time. Don't let it bum you.

    • Your critical sense will be unaware of so many things, especially in hindsight. Don't let it bum you.

    • Many designers who have the same level of experience as you, but have an academic design background will be ahead of you for a while even if you progress fast. Listen to what they have to say, because a lot of what they know comes from an experienced teacher. Experienced designers can take a few minutes and show you things that take ten years to learn on your own.

    • Dribbble can show you beautiful design. Actual people can show you useful design. Don't let one overshadow the other.

    0 points
    • , almost 6 years ago

      Your points are so right. I think I can only go so far from learning via book and tutorials. I've read many many times that people learn so much when they get their first full-time role. They get to be around seasoned professionals and learn things in a short while that might of never came about if they'd always worked on their own or even just realise a shortfall in their particular skill-set.

      With regard to the critical sense I think it constantly changes as you learn new things so in that respect your skills might never catch with your critical sense. If that's the case you'll be in a perpetual state of improvement and that can only be positive.

      0 points
  • Andrius PetraviciusAndrius Petravicius, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    I would have considered making such post anonymously, not a great confession for potential clients to find about you, lol.

    Besides that I think your work is pretty good. Though as Vinay suggested I think you should start reading and learning more about UX and you'll understand that UI isn't just about pixel pushing and making things look pretty. There should be thought and planning put into design.

    0 points
    • , almost 6 years ago

      Oh well, it's a bit late now isn't it :)

      Yeah it's what I'm working on at the moment, I'm reading Steve Krugs book currently and it's good stuff. I think I'll probably have to read it a few times for all the information to sink in.

      0 points
  • Phil Pickering, almost 6 years ago

    Hey Marcus,

    Great question and completely empathise with you as I'm pretty much in the same boat as you :)

    A few people have knocked Dribbble in some of the other comments, but I've found it to be very useful for learning about Sketch and UI design in general.

    I will download .sketch files, then recreate them by reverse-engineering the original file, learning how to use Sketch along the way. More importantly, I try and look at each setting and ask 'Why did the original designer choose this setting? What was their thought process behind it? What if I change the setting? If I omit it, what does the design look like? Does it take away or add to the design? What gives this piece of work the 'something special' that makes it stand out?'

    For example, early on I discovered how closely related line spacing and text size are - and not to use the default line spacing if you want really readable type. Also, how multiple shadows can be built up to give really nice effects that are unachievable with just a single shadow.

    BTW I'm also in Leicester :)

    0 points
    • , almost 6 years ago

      Great to hear from you Phil and a fellow Leicestonian.

      I've always liked the look of these programs like they have at Thinkful and other places but the sticking point has always been the price so if and when I start to do better financially I might think about taking a course or two.

      I love your reverse engineering idea, I've done something similar in the past but just replicated a jpg/png of a design. I'm gonna check out a few sketch files and work out how some people have done what they've done, not sure how I never thought of this.

      It's true what you say about how such little things can make a big difference like line-spacing. Sketch is really an amazing program and I believe it helped accelerate my learning.

      I just checked your Twitter and noticed your learning coding too, we're basically on the exact same path. Maybe we should keep in touch and send each other useful resources we find along the way? I'll DM you on Twitter.

      0 points
  • Bevan StephensBevan Stephens, almost 6 years ago

    'Real UI' designers would say thanks for some free advice sent over email :-)

    Seriously though, on the surface your work looks exceptional for someone who only has 7 months experience. But without knowing the project briefs and constraints it's impossible to give an proper critique. Which is exactly the problem with sites like Dribbble.

    If you haven't studied design (as I didn't), you will suffer from imposter syndrome. There's no way around that, it will go away with time.

    There's is no such thing as a real 'UI designer' some are just more experience than others. Asking for approval from other designers might make you feel better temporarily, but it's your users that you should be trying to impress. That's the only real measure of success.

    0 points
    • , almost 6 years ago

      Thanks Bevan, I've replied your email (only 20 days late lol).

      I appreciate the kind comments about my work, I've been basically unemployed the whole time so I'm able to immerse myself fully into learning and I'm sure that's helped out a great deal.

      The imposter syndrome will be around for a while I'm sure, the more work I get the faster it will disappear or so I hope.

      0 points
  • simplemx fatsimplemx fat, almost 6 years ago

    As a programmer,I want to learn UI Design,but always lost in the dark.As a beginner, what books and articles will you recommend?thx

    0 points
  • Mitch De CastroMitch De Castro, almost 6 years ago (edited almost 6 years ago )

    I'm a newbie myself but being a design student, I can speak a bit in regards to having a graphic design background.

    The funny thing is: design is all about moving text and shapes around to make things beautiful. That's pretty much the practice in a nutshell and that's what makes this industry so cool. It's just a bunch of folks moving shapes around on a screen until it looks right but that ends up mattering a whole lot more because it serves the purpose of communication—which is a key point of design.

    As for being disheartened about your work, I think its safe to say that this is normal. However, you shouldn't be comparing yourself to other designers (especially from Dribbble.) Instead, you should compare your current self to your previous self because how much you have improved is what matters.

    0 points
    • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

      Thanks, that's a really great way to look at things. I have improved plenty compared how I was a few months ago. My taste for design is pretty high so if I can get my skill level to the same level as my taste I think I'll be pretty much golden.

      I think a true signifier of my abilities will be if/when I get an actual full-time job offer, right now it just seems like a hobby that pays out every now and then.

      1 point
      • Derryl CarterDerryl Carter, almost 6 years ago

        Just be careful about that "job" part -- or they'll turn you into a developer like me :-0

        0 points
        • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

          Dude you work at Apple, I'd happily become a developer to work there :)

          Besides I want to learn the coding side of things, I've just started actually.

          0 points
          • Derryl CarterDerryl Carter, almost 6 years ago

            Sounds like you've got enough curiosity and drive to make it happen.

            Just keep practicing (all the time), and be wary of the internet... Sometimes it can be helpful (as you've seen with this post) but, as others have said, it's also a bit of an echo chamber that can distract you from actually improving your skills.

            You don't need a degree to succeed. I do have a degree. It's one of those wishy-washy interdisciplinary degrees that mixes science and cultural studies together. It was fun to earn, but it's certainly not responsible for any of the design + development opportunities I've enjoyed.

            1 point
            • Marcus H, almost 6 years ago

              Thanks, I was 6 months into an IT degree last xmas and quit because it was boring and wholly uninspiring. I stumbled across design and web design and rest is history.

              So glad I quit otherwise I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now.

              0 points