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You can't get worse by practising

Every skill you try to learn has a learning curve to it. Sometimes that curve is small, and sometimes it’s very long. And in some cases, that learning curve is never-ending. Such as with design skills. 

The title of this episode is Progress Over Perfection. That’s because perfection is an unattainable goal, which is a good thing. Think about it. What if you designed the most fantastic logo or website, one that every single designer in the world acknowledged as being perfect. How would you follow that up? How can you improve on perfection? You can’t. And that’s a good thing. It’s what keeps us creative. 

If you attained perfection, there would be no more motivation to carry on because everything after that point would be a step-down. That’s why I choose the title Progress Over Perfection. Because perfection is unattainable, your goal should be to make progress instead by continually improving your design skills. You do that by practising. There will never be a time in your life when you don’t need to improve your design skills.

Even famed designers such as Michael Bierut from Pentagram or Kate Moross from Studio Moross continue to practice their skills. Carolyn Davidson designed the Nike swoosh when she was a student at Portland State University. It’s one of the most recognisable brands on the planet. But do you think Carolyn stopped learning or trying to improve her skills after that success? The answer is no.

These designers, as well as every other designer around the world, continue to improve their design skills by practising their craft. And by practising, I mean doing things over and over again with the intent of becoming better. It’s a long road. I’ve been in this business for 30 years and the skill level I want to be at as a designer is still far beyond the horizon. That’s why I continue to practice my craft every day.

Have you ever watched an Aaron Draplin teaching logo design? He doesn’t merely pick up a pencil or his mouse and design an amazing logo. No, he tests out idea after idea, discarding some and expanding on others. He keeps doing this 50, 100, 200 times until he begins to narrow down the ideas to one concrete logo design. Even then, that final logo design may get discarded for something completely different.

That is practising. Call it brainstorming or brain-dumping or experimenting or whatever you will; it’s still practising.

When my daughter was a young teenager, she played on a competitive soccer team. One day, they had one of the women from Canada’s Women’s National Team help them out at practice. She was one of the players from the 2012 Olympic bronze medal team.

She told my daughter’s team that if you want to get good at soccer, you need to touch the ball over and over. Not kick it, or dribble it or bounce it on your knee, although those do help. Just keep moving it with your feet over and over and over again, and you will become a better soccer player.

Every time a soccer player touches the ball, the ball reacts. They touch the ball with their foot one way the ball behaves in a certain way. They touch the ball another way, and it responds differently. Every time the ball reacts to their touch, they are learning what to expect. After doing it a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand times, they will come to know exactly what to expect from the ball.

That is called practising. It’s not as glamorous as practising penalty or corner kicks. Or as fun as dribbling the ball through an obstacle course of orange cones but it’s practising nonetheless. And the more they do it, the better they will be on the soccer pitch because that practice will help them understand how the ball reacts to their touch.

To stay at the top of their game, they need to continue practising. Amazing players such as Renaldo or Messi or Canada's Christina Sinclair don’t stop practising just because they’re at the top of their game. If anything, they need to practice even harder than before.

The same goes for design. 

Every doodle you make, every sketch you make, every ill-conceived design concept you come up with, every logo, poster, banner, or website that gets rejected by a client should be considered as practice in the journey to make you a better designer.

Every design you make will help you better understand how certain elements interact with each other, how things align, how colour combinations work or don’t work, how fonts complement each other. What things create flow and what things break it. Every design you make is practice to become a better designer.

There are no fast solutions. There are no books, tutorials, online courses or school programs that will magically make you a great designer. The only way to become a great designer is by learning new skills and practising those skills over and over and over again. This goes for both new and veteran designers. We all need to keep practising. The better you get at design, the more you’ll understand the importance of practising. Remember, Progress over Perfection.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re design skills are not improving as fast as you would like them to. Or the critiques you receive from your designs are harsher than you expected. Renaldo didn’t become a superstar of soccer overnight. He spent years and years honing his talents. Practising every chance he got. If you do the same, if you devote your time to practising your design skills, there’s no reason you can’t become a superstar of the design world.

You can’t get worse by practising.

How much time do you spend practising your design skills?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Victor

You mentioned before how it's good to get to know designers in the community so you can hire or pass work on to them. Do you think it would be a good idea to introduce myself to studios in my community as a freelancer? My thought was that if I could do this with freelancers in the community, why not studios?

To find out what I told Victor you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Squoosh.app

Squoosh.app is a website that allows you to drag and drop images you want to optimise for web use. The image appears in a full browser window with a slider in the middle. Your uploaded image is on the left and the optimised image on the right. You drag the slider left and right to compare the two images. Options allow you to resize the image as well as reduce the colour pallet. You can also adjust the type of compression and quality of the image until you are satisfied and are ready to download your newly optimised image. 

I don’t know how they do it, but I’ve been able to take optimised images out of Photoshop and cut their filesize in half without any noticeable degradation of the image. Check it out; I'm sure you'll find the site useful.

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Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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