I love the saying “there’s always room for improvement.” I think that’s true of just about anything in life (except, I suppose if you get an A+ on a school paper, but then again, there’s always extra credit!). This is especially true for designers, who are always perfecting their own unique craft. I’ve culled some tips and pointers from some great designers, both print and web, like Jakob Nielson.
1. Know what you want to specialize in. Whether it’s illustration, web design, ad design, logos or anything else you can think of, you can further your career by declaring yourself an expert in something. Even during this downtime in the economy, where being a “jack-of-all-trades” might be more appealing in your job search, the economy will bounce back. So, even if you can’t get paid to do what you are best at and want to specialize in, practice it on your own time. Keep your skills sharp so you can market yourself as an expert.
2. Know your software shortcuts. Whether you spend most of your time using Photoshop, InDesign, Creative Suite or whatever, learn all the shortcuts you can. This can save you a lot of time in the long run.
Also, if there’s a feature you haven’t used before, use it on your own practice designs. Many designers get stuck in a rut, using the same brushes or the same types of effects. Get to know your software’s capabilities so your style can grow.
3. Buy lots of design books. Books featuring differing types of art can help inspire you. Studying these books and the pieces featured in them can bring insight or spark a new creative idea. You can also learn the strengths and weaknesses of each type of art. Here’s a link to get you started: http://desktoppub.about.com/od/creativityexercises/tp/ideabooks.htm
4. Ask for critique and feedback. I put in critique here because many designers mention either “critique” or “feedback” while learning. Oftentimes when people ask for feedback they get nice, positive responses. Asking for critiques instead can let the reviewer show you your areas of weakness. You can either ask for it on your Web site or you can post pieces to free listing and posting sites. Be sure you give some critique and feedback in return. HOW has some forums in which you can post your work for feedback.
5. Do some tutorials, but don’t depend on them. Tutorials are a great way to learn a new technique or to maintain your skills, but don’t rely on them for your style. You have to do some things without a template to learn your own design style.
The most common piece of advice: practice. Practice drawing, practice new techniques, practice mixing colors…try to do something new at least once a month, and then practice it for the rest of the month. If you don’t like it, drop it. But if you do like it, you’ve just added another technique to your arsenal.