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2018-09-24

What I learned in my first month as a UI Designer: A letter to my former self

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Art from the University of Oxford, I packed my bags and moved to London to work as a User Interface Designer at Tangent.
One month in, and many lessons later, I’ve written to share a few tips I wish I knew during my time as a student.
Dear former self,
You’re doing great, but here’s some advice to help you do even better: So, put down the Mango Diet Coke and listen in.
1. Enjoy the journey - explore, iterate, start from scratch
Getting the project finished is great, but so is learning as much as possible from the amazing people surrounding you. Appreciate small victories and let yourself be happy when you implement meaningful changes along the way! This is what truly made me fall in love with UI design.
2. Inspiration is everywhere
Being aware of what’s happening around the world leads to more informed design decisions. So keep your eyes open and steal like an artist. And remember, while Dribbble, Behance and Muzli can house amazing inspiration, don’t neglect wider sources like the art scene. Who says a Piet Mondrian painting can’t be the reference point for an animation? Try to find passive ways of staying inspired like the Dribbble New Tab Plugin or surrounding yourself with as many design books and artwork as you can.
3. Live by the 80% rule
There will always be more things to learn, so the temptation to continuously refine a project is enormous. But with the pressure of impending deadlines also a key factor, learning when to stop is just as important as feeding your creative curiosity. If you’re satisfied with 80% of the outcome then perhaps it’s time to stop and move on to another project.
4. When speed is of the essence, stick to what you know
Principle is an amazing tool, but sometimes it’s better to revert to good old After Effects for more control over your motion design. One of the amazing things about being a designer is that there are always several ways to create something. Adventuring into the wonderful world of After Effects Scripts was an eye-opening experience, automating tasks and allowing me to focus on improving the design without worrying about the technicalities.
After Effects
5. Less is more
You might think that transitions are everything because you just spent 3 hours on this multi-layered slider, but at the end of the day you’re probably not creating a Pixar movie, so don’t go overboard. As tempting as it may be to go nuts with Bezier curves sometimes less is more and the product will benefit from some visual curatorial efforts.
6. Design patterns are called ‘patterns’ for a reason
Your users are accustomed to doing things a certain way, so it’s often best to stick to habituated design patterns instead of trying to reinvent the wheel each time. Try to “templatise” as much as possible in order to speed up your workflow.
7. Think like a developer; design like an artist
People often underestimate the value of exploration phases, where you gather a bunch of screenshots and experiment as much as possible based on that amazing project you saw three days ago. However, as important as it may be to create snazzy designs and try out the latest design trends, remember to think in terms of components rather than pages. Not only will this save you time, but ultimately it benefits the user journey and it makes life easier for the developers working on the same project.
8. Cure yourself from the Last-last-most-recent-newest-ver.sketch syndrome
Label elements accordingly in your Sketch file and adhere to naming conventions familiar to developers before rushing to export to Zeplin. And ALWAYS and I mean ALWAYS keep a tidy folder structure. Honestly, navigating through Last-last-most-recent-newest-ver can be a nightmare so do yourself a favour and create a solid repository for a speedier navigation whilst designing.
Versioning
9. Last but not least, keep living the dream
Being a designer is the best. Be thankful for what you've got, you brat!
Good luck, Future you

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