Ricky Synnot

Get better at design – places and things I use to learn

May 31, 2013

Learning design for the web is a tricky thing, its not as simple as a step by step development tutorial. There are awesome tutes out there for process things (like PSD Tuts and Smashing Mag), but in actual intermediate to advanced design thinking, I found few resources available.

Rather than write an article about the awesome tools that I use to make my design work, I thought Id approach the topic from a different angle.

This is a list of great resources I use – sometimes on a daily basis – to learn about design, to get better about design thinking and problem solving. I use these things to prepare myself for the design process, they help make my imagination a reality.

Pretty much every day I’ll listen to a podcast – its a fantastic conversational way to learn. Sure, you’re not actually in the conversation for real, but its such a familliar way to learn, its easy. At the moment Im Loving Shop Talk Show by Chris Coyier of CSS Tricks and Dave Rupert of Paravell Inc. Great weekly speakers and a nice split between actual design talk, and some front end coding that doesn’t go to deep.

Other podcasts on my iPhone are By Design – a much broader take on design in Australia hosted by Fenella Kernebone of the ABC, The Web Ahead by the amazing Jen Simmons, On The Grid a more graphic and advertising related podcast by Matt McInnerney, Andy Mangold and Dan Auer. Love Triple RRR in Melbourne’s Byte Into It podcast about all things computing, IT and user focussed design, and I also have 99% Invisible, Monocle Design and This American Life for good measure.

This site cops a lot of flack from designers, developers and clients alike, but the value it brings to the design community is unquestionable. It helps designers strive to be their best, and showcases a great up-to-the-minute survey of the best trending industry practices. Sure, some may use this as a place to steal ideas and copy, but as I’ve written before, a trained designer in a disciplined research and discovery phase can take great value from a glance across super-relevant solutions and clippings of designs that have solved similar problems before them. Its a great resource, that Dribbble.

Designspiration and Haw-Lin
Great site with a great contributor base adding great work all the time. Great. Lots of freshness here.
Designspiration. M O O D is a little more abstract, a definite side step from traditional web design inspiration, but I find the faces and forms found here are really captivating. Its a really nice exercise just to take time out of the day and ‘read’ through the photos.

Design Blogs via RSS
At the moment Im using Reeder App to catch up on the following design blogs. In no major order are Mark Boulton, A List Apart, Happy Studio, Simple Bits, The Island Continent, Cognition by Happy Cog, the Typekit blog, Jeffrey Zedman, StuntBox, Smashing Magazine, UI Parade, Van Schnieder’s blog, isdn, Subtraction.com, TypeEverything, alexlikesdesign, Bokardo, CSS Tricks, Designer News, One Minute Wonders, Behance and The Great Discontent. I follow a whole bunch of tech blogs, but that’s just to keep abreast of news.

Twitter and Kippt
Great for links and seeing new products and sites launched online, these two are a great source of inspiration and information. Its an excellent way to see the finished product of other professionals, and the work is often introduced via a blog or tweet which provides important context.

View my feed on Kippt; some of my fave follows on my twitter are Ben Schwartz, Khoi Vinh, Josh Clarke, John Allsopp, Frank Chimero, Scott Belsky and Erik Spiekermann.

Lots of ’em. Currently Im reading Design is a Job by Mike Montiero. Grid Systems by Joseph Muller Brockmann. Its a classic graphic and typographic design book, but it totally underpins so much of the web design work I do today. Conversations with Students by Paul Rand is really inspiring – in a sense its like a written podcast, a discussion as above that you read though. Also by Michael Beirut 79 Short Essays on Design is a great read, centered around his times with Massimo Vignelli. Oh, and The Story of Art is an essential read for anyone who’s responsible for stylistic decisions on a daily basis – it provides so much foundation and grounding.

So they’re the main go-to resources I use each day to challenge my design. I really like the approach Rosetta Stone take when teaching languages – an wholly immersive approach with sights, sounds and smell. While I’ve tried to spend one lunchtime per week ‘levelling up’, I’ve found that concentrated periods (a day or two) of all-out-learning and thinking, while exhausting, have far more resonance and yield a deeper understanding of the learning.

If you’re a designer, what resources and tools do you use? What approach to learning feels best for you?