Practice makes perfect. I know, it’s icliché, but it’s said for good reason. There is very little in life that comes naturally and even our favorite hobbies require hours of practice in order to enjoy them. The same rings true in design, especially for new designers. Most people don’t want to say it nor hear it, but practice is the most important thing you can do as a new designer. Making design practice a consistent part of your routine will take you further than you ever thought possible.
You see, most people prefer to focus on the sexy tactics like marketing, buying new resources, or booking coaching calls. If you’re a new entrepreneur you’ll likely have dipped your toe in the online education space and might feel overwhelmed by all of the things you need in order to be a successful small business owner. But when you focus on marketing you’re ultimately deflecting the responsibility off of yourself in a way. It’s saying “it’s not me, it’s my strategies” and removes any blame from the actual work.
No amount of marketing, business strategy, or new tactics will replace quality work. And what’s more, you won’t have the required content to use in a marketing strategy without consistent, good work — aka your designs. While all of those things definitely help you gain visibility, your design skills and experience comprise the solid foundation which everything else is built on.
Visibility will only take you so far. If your product or service isn’t great, people won’t buy it — end of story. And without sales, there’s no need for all the bells & whistles of an in-depth marketing plan. Everything is centered on your skills and the truth is that the only way to keep improving, is to keep practicing.
Practice was ingrained into our daily creative flow during my college days in art school. I kept a sketchbook and had to do at least 10 different sketches a week. I absolutely hated it at first because I felt pressured to constantly be practicing when I wasn’t inspired. But looking back, I think it’s one of the most important things that has made a better designer. I was always practicing, no matter what. Hanging out with friends.. I had my sketchbook. Watching TV… I had my sketchbook. Riding in the car… you guess it, I was sketching there too!
Before I knew it, it was my “normal” to always be sketching. I was constantly trying new things out and experimenting with my art. This college practice became a habit that I still carry with me into my design business and find crucial to my success — the idea of constantly improving one’s skill set.
But the thing is people often don’t want to put in the work and practice because it takes time. Time can feel fleeting when you’re trying to get a business off the ground and comparisonitis can latch on quickly; you look around and see everyone else producing incredible work and being booked and busy. You have the vision inside your head but it’s not fully translating. It’s easy to assume your business tactics are the problem when you could just need more dedicated design practice time. Great athletes or musicians don’t go into work, hoping they’ll master a skill. They practice, practice, practice until they nail it. And then can enter that sports arena or concert hall feeling confident that their dedication got them there — not just their talent.
It also takes being comfortable with making work that you aren’t super proud of. This video by Ira Glass called “The Gap” touches on this idea of a “creative gap” between your taste and your skillset. The video is a beautiful reminder that when we begin as creatives, the bridge between our taste and our abilities is big and daunting. This is where most people quit. Even though their ideas might be great in their head, the frustration of not being able to achieve it in real life leads them astray. They get muddled down by their skillset not yet matching their taste and throw in the towel.
Ira’s video encourages creatives to keep making work, even if it’s bad! It’s the only way to keep pushing forward until one day the stuff your making matches your expectations and the vision inside your brain. The tricky part is to keep practicing, even when it feels hard and you don’t like what you’re producing. From there comes a stronger skillset, new ideas, and fresh perspective that leads you to making work that you’re proud of and that attracts more of your ideal client.
Why do you love it? Think really critically about it and analyze it. What could be improved? Having these deeper questions with yourself about what kind of work you’re attracted to and how you would modify it is a smart place to start when practicing design.
Watch Youtube or Skillshare tutorials on specific skills in Illustrator you’ve been hoping to get great at. A fun way to practice this is to replicate the work that you love. Don’t claim it as your own, but attempting to re-make someone else’s work is a great way to practice. It will force you to take the time to realize what you like about it and what is specifically working well for it. You don’t need to show everything you make to the world. It’s straight-forward, but in the age of social media there can be a pleasure to showcase every project you tackle. Know that you can make stuff just for yourself, and likely learn a lot along the way!
Going off the last point, passion projects can be such a source of exploration and creativity. Commit to a passion project each quarter and treat it like a client project. Pick a skill that you want to learn or focus on and center your creative project around that. Maybe you’d like to play around with custom fonts or Illustration. Passion projects allow you to create without the pressure of a client’s desires, and that freedom can do wonders for your creativity and practice and ultimately help you develop your own personal style.
So if you are feeling frustrated right now with your work and wish that your skillset was better, know that your feelings are valid. I see you and I’ve been in your shoes. I often struggle with this too. It’s hard not to compare yourself to your colleagues and even harder to build the habit of consistent design practice.
While it requires dedication and some pep talks with yourself, I promise you it’s so worth it. Intentionally building time to practice your skills will pay off in more ways than a shiny new marketing strategy ever could. You’ll be amazed by how far you go once you start treating your design skills like an infinite journey of education and growth. You’ll feel extra proud knowing that your dedication and hard work alone led you there and the amazing clients you serve.