Everyone wants to best the best at what they do. I don’t ever remember hearing anyone say “My goal in life is to be mediocre at best in my industry.” Why? The reason is that with prowess, greatness and expertise comes higher income, more opportunities and a sense of accomplishment. The difficulty with mastery comes from finding the approach that actually works for you. Let’s explore different methods of becoming the best designer.
The 10,000 Hour Rule
If you haven’t heard of Malcom Gladwell, he’s the guy behind this theory. The basic idea is that in order to become a master at something, you must practice it for 10000 hours. Just to put that into perspective, if you didn’t have to sleep, and could practice a skill 24 hours per day, it would take 416.66 days straight to master it. If you stuck with practicing something for 8 hours per day, 7 days per week, which is more realistic, but still unlikely, I would take 1250 days, or roughly 3.5 years to become a master. I don’t know about you, but that is a commitment I don’t think many could stick with.
Why the 10,000 Hour Rule Doesn’t Work
Several studies have shown that practice alone doesn’t make you a master. Even 10000 hours of practice won’t necessarily make you a master. The reason is that there are other factors that attribute to our improvement at a particular skill.
You always think you’re the best, until someone else comes along and says otherwise. Think back to your days in school, when you were in art class. You might have thought your sketches were perfect, until the teacher critiqued your work. What happened when your teacher pointed out your flaws? It’s likely you got better, because you learned from your mistakes and improved. The best way to achieve this is by running user tests. And constantly testing your designs and learn how to be open your designs to critique. It’s very hard to drop your ego and listen to criticism on a design you put so much time into. Once you learn how to listen you could find gold mines with user feedback and learn how to take what’s useful and what’s not.
When we remove ego, we’re left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes — but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gas-lighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous. Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy
It’s Not About Just Practice, But How You Learn
The 10,000 hour rule could never apply to everyone. Every human being is different, and every human being learns differently. Tim Ferriss is a perfect example of this, because he believes you can master a skill in 6 months, based on determining how you learn. His theory is that the quality of learning is more important than the quantity. In a nutshell, if you learn from the best, you can replicate their success.
A good way to do this is to go on Dribble or Behance and look for great design work. Try copying their work to see if you can recreate it. This helps you to understand how a great design is built, and you learn how to piece things together. Dribbble actually has a feature, called the Rebound, where you copy someone’s work, try to improve upon it and credit back the author.
Breaking Down Skills into Subsets
Imagine wanting to be the best at design. That’s a tall order, because there’s so much that goes into great design. Even if you focus on one area, that area can be made of up several different parts. Think of UX design, UI design, icon design, logo design, etc. To understand logo design, you’d need to understand good typography, and have a great understanding of icon design as well. For UI design, icons play an important role. Combine that with color theory, alignment, spacing, and more, to create a cohesive UI. UX involves all of that, and understanding human behavior, especially when interacting with UI elements. For example, over time you’d learn the minimal size for a tap area for a touch screen. You’d also learn not to put them too close together. Breaking UX down into sub-skills, like icon design and UI into general design theory will enable you to master all of the essential parts that make up the whole.
Recreate Great Work Verbatim
If you want to be the best, emulate the best. While some might argue that you are simply copying someone else’s work, you can actually learn a lot from deconstructing and reverse engineering great design work. You learn how to approach a design, and you learn how to do things faster. You also begin to develop your methods for doing things that make you more efficient.
Could you challenge yourself to recreate these simple profile variation screens?
Or how about this simple calendar app screen?
Or how about something more simpler to implement?
Before the development of online course offerings, you used to have to go down to your local book store and buy a 400 page book and spend a month pouring through it. Your success in learning the subject, even on a basic level depended on how well the book was written, and whether or not any important information was omitted.
Now, you can hop on any online course site, like Skillshare or Udemy, pay $15 and take video courses, where people who have already mastered a skill sit down and show you step by step how to do something. You can learn anything from UX, UI, icon design and beyond. The sky really is the limit, and applying the skills to practice projects throughout the course allows you to hit the ground running. You can learn new professional tools like Sketch in no time. There are free courses online like this one from Udemy, or these free LinkedIn Courses on UX.
Here are some more awesome courses and books that I recommend to give you a short cut in learning design:
- Hack Design
- Don’t Make Me Think. By Steve Krug
- The Design of Everyday Things. By Don Norman.
Redesigning Big Sites
Many designers dream of redesigning major websites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, or even Craigslist. If practice makes perfect, or at least it’s a step in that direction, the practical application of your skills to improve an existing website is a great way to refine and hone your skills. You’ll learn quickly what works in certain situations and certain UX/Design ideas you thought would work actually fall apart when trying to apply them to a working situation. Here are some gorgeous examples of re-designs of other big sites. These type of projects are fun to do since you have all the elements you need to add to the design (calls to action, flow etc), you just need to simplify them, focus and remove current UI obstacles based on things that bother you as a user.
Twitter Redesign — This example redesigns the twitter dashboard to make everything easily accessible.
Facebook — This example takes Facebook’s growing sense of cramming everything where it can, and makes everything more digestible. This design emphasizes the brand and makes better use of the available space.
Craigslist — Everyone says that Craigslist looks outdated. Designers are constantly re-imagining and redesigning Craigslist. This concept is focused on narrowing the results to find exactly what you’re looking for, and in the right price range.
This one is huge and is opening a lot of eyes. The principle is that you teach others as you are learning. It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. You can’t teach or explain something to someone else if you don’t understand it yourself. This forces you into piecing together what you need to know to be able to share it with others. It makes perfect sense that this is more effective than passive learning.
Methods for teaching others:
- Start your own blog or write posts on Medium. Posts on UX, such as this one, share learning experiences with their audience. Following the same idea, you can share what you learn from a conference, a mentor, or a personal discovery.
- Start a Facebook Group or Google+ Community.
- Join a mastermind group, such as a UX Facebook Group, where everyone feeds off of each others’ knowledge, and where you can get feedback on your work.
- Tutor others on the subject such as on YouTube or Udemy. Other designers are always looking for free ways to educate themselves, and prefer online courses over reading books. Create simple videos, covered quick topics. Designers will watch your videos if they are created in digestible chunks.
- Create an online course based on what you’ve learned.
- Hold discussions in LinkedIn Groups. You can start a discussion and receive answers, help, and feedback directly from UX & UI professionals.
Being the best at something doesn’t take a life long commitment. If you focus on what is important, you learn from the right people, and you break things down to make them easier to master, you’ll cut your learning curve into a fraction of the time invested. While 10,000 hours may not be necessary, practice, a commitment and a strategy for learning effectively can go a long way.
Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of — that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves. Ryan Holiday, Ego Is the Enemy