Design is a process of practice

People have asked me a lot of things about my design career, but the usual ones are: how did you work full time while taking a full-time design course? And what was it like to transfer from a support associate to a product designer? I mean, let’s be real, y’all. I practice. A lot. I make time for it and then I make like Nike and just do it. Easier said than done, though.

Even though I’m fully entrenched in design work these days, I still make time to practice by running design critiques on the weekends with Designlab. For me, there’s nothing like being able to teach what you’ve learned and help others feel confident in their skills. Doing this reinforces what I’ve learned in the past day/week/month/what have you, and it helps to keep flexing that muscle.

Practicing on your own (or with mentors?!)

I realize that facilitating group critiques isn’t a common opportunity, but there are other ways to help maintain your lovely brain. A tool that I really love is Time-box yourself for an hour or two to simulate a design challenge (seriously, put a timer on where you can see it — it simulates the pressure well). Or, give yourself a different time limit and go all in. Here’s one of the random ones generated for me.

If you have a mentor and you don’t know what to ask them, ask them if they’d be willing to help you out by running a mock design challenge. Or if you’re working on a long-form project, you can ask them for feedback on how your design thinking, research, wires, mocks, prototypes, etc. are going based on one of these prompts.

Seriously — if you’re new to design, half the battle is knowing what to ask the people who are willing to help. I know that when I started, the most I could muster was, “Uh, so what is UX design?” and that got old fast. When you can start asking things like, “What do you think a PM would think of this?” or “What about the engineering feasibility?” or “How do you design for accessibility if it’s a low percentage of users?” — you’ll find that the answers you get are much more interesting.

So, try not to design in a bubble (read: reach out to others who are also practicing design and ask about working with them), call up a dozen prompts, and be sure to document your process as you go along. It’s harder than it sounds. A designer and mentor I highly respect, Arman Nobari, once told me, “Design is thinking made visual,” and I cannot tell you how much that advice has helped me improve and grow.

Go forth and design, my friends.

Product designer, puzzling over UX. Crocheting in between. Tea at all times.