Words for Winners: Studying design in a 3-week cycle

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In the previous Words for Winners, we uncovered marketing tips to ensure you build lasting relationships with your clients.

So you’ve built your clientele, now what? To become a truly respected and noteworthy designer, you have to constantly push your skills and practice design. In this final part, you will learn how to do just that with a 3-week cycle focusing on the technical, visual and conceptual side of design.

Let’s see how the learning cycle works.

The mistake 99% designers make

The number one mistake most designers make is overly focusing on the technical side with design tutorials. There is nothing inherently wrong with tutorials – in fact, they are an essential part of your design education.

However, they deal very little with other important aspects such as your sense of style or your ability to generate breakthrough design ideas — it’s important to balance your learning routine.

Week 1: The explorer

When people say “he is a talented designer,” they are usually referring to a designer with a great sense of style and aesthetics making his work look pretty. Good looking design always comes from a deep understanding of design principles.

Set aside one week to explore and figure out why good design looks… well, good.  This involves learning about graphic design principles, noticing them in the work you admire and consciously applying the knowledge to your work.

There is a reason this website looks eye pleasing.  It’s color harmony, balance, composition and repetition work well.

For example, when you learn about principle of balance, start looking for balance in every graphic design piece you see. Try to understand how it was used and why. Is the specific form of balance intentional or would a different form work better? When you get back to the project you’re working on, focus on applying what you learned about balance.

To get you started with learning the basics, read these excellent articles:

For the best results, focus on just one topic at a time and remember – you have to actively apply what you read in order to make this knowledge stick.

Week 2: The technician

No amount of design theory can compensate for the lack of technical skills – after all, you need to be able to create what you come up with.

This is why your second week should focus on improving your technical skills and knowledge of programs like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign.

Creating illustrations like these requires a lot of technical know-how. Following a step-by-step tutorial is the best way to approach this problem.

Yes, tutorials are the best way to do this but don’t forget it’s not just about knowing how to DO something – it’s also knowing how to use tools faster and more efficiently. Don’t skip articles explaining important shortcuts such as our cheat sheet series.

Here are some great (and free) online resources to build your technical skills:

  • DesignFestival – a great place for tutorials
  • Abduzeedo Tutorials – a growing base of excellent design tutorials, some of them covering rising image editing applications such as Pixelmator
  • Lynda – thousands of video tutorials for Adobe applications but there is a charge

Week 3: The storyteller

Understanding graphic design theory and being very proficient at using design programs will put you in the top 10% of graphic designers in the world. If you can settle with that, you can skip the third week.

However, if you want to create ideas that tell a story and make a true connection with people, you have to learn how to create convincing design concepts.

There is a big difference between this poster and a simple sign saying “Stop smoking.” It’s storytelling.

A convincing concept is an idea that doesn’t just look good but also makes a point and leaves a lasting impression. Print advertisements and movie posters are great examples because their job is to communicate a memorable idea as quickly as possible.

If you want to be able to do the same, you should devote the third week to studying strong design concepts created by top creative directors in worldwide advertising agencies. This is best done by following blogs such as Ads of The World or I Believe In Advertising but feel free to do your own research.

Why 3-week learning cycle works?

By following a 3-week learning cycle, you will develop all necessary design skills, not just technical know-how which most tutorials focus on.

Because each week is focused on a specific aspect of design (theory, technical proficiency or concept creation), you have enough time to explore a topic in-depth without being overwhelmed or bored which makes it a great way of learning.

Go ahead and try it, and make sure to let us know how it works for you!

Check out the complete Words for Winners series:

  1. Build talent and inspiration
  2. Select the right contests
  3. 5 contest winning strategies
  4. 4 marketing tips to boost your design business

How do you advance your skills? Share in the comments.

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Peter Vukovic is a seasoned designer & creative director with 10 years of experience in worldwide advertising agency. He is a proud member of the 99designs community. http://99designs.com/people/pvukovich