Growing Up as a Designer

This summer I have had my first intern — it’s been wonderful, partially because it’s forced me to re-examine my decisions and thought process.

He would often ask, “How did you know to do [x]”? I thought to myself, “Isn’t it obvious?” but I remember that the whole point of being a novice is that very little is obvious.

In parallel, another designer was sharing his frustration on growing as a designer — that many designers when sharing their journey have a “I fell into it, and got better over time” story; very few share explicitly what they did to get better.

As I’ve reflected on the experience — it’s hard to respond to these kind of questions because what I’ve done to get better is not a simple answer either. After all — I call myself a learned creative; growing up I wasn’t a doodler or a fine artist. It’s not a single moment that lead me to know what to do, it’s the thousands of hours of soaking in design that lead me be able to discern what to do.

But — here’s a shot!

#1 — Understand and know like the back of your hand different UI patterns.

When do you use tabs? Accordions? Bottom drawer menus? Radio buttons vs. check boxes? Illustration? Photos? What types of metadata is in a blog post?

You have to be able to answer these kinds of questions. Pay attention to the web as you use it — what works? What doesn’t?

#2 — Make stuff and put it in front of people

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to watch others use your work. If you’re not doing that, you’re not being a user experience designer. You’re just making stuff.

Here are some ideas I’ve done for helping you practice design:

  • Partnering with a non-profit to design screens
  • Daily UI Challenge
  • course

#3 — Keep Learning

As I said earlier, I’ve soaked myself in design from a huge variety of sources.

Reading Books

This is my toughest list, because there’s so much I’ve absorbed it’s hard to say exactly what book has changed the way I work the most, but here’s a shot at it:

  • Articulating Design Decisions
  • The Non-Designer’s Design Book
  • Sprint
  • Humble Inquiry
  • Build Better Products
  • Gamestorming
  • Content Design
  • Just Enough Research
  • How to Make Sense of Any Mess
  • Orchestrating Experiences

Joined Designer Hangout

I joined when the community was quite a bit smaller, but it’s still a great place to hangout.


  • 99% Invisible
  • What is Wrong with UX?


  • UI22
  • Big Design

Following Experts

By niche, these are my favorite.

StrategyPaul Boag. He is super open, helpful, and practical. For a bit, he had a “ask me a question” section on his website where I sent in a question. I will never forget how he responded kindly and helpfully to me.

Content design, Sarah Richards & Abby Covert. Easily most of my work is not choosing UI’s — it’s working with content, and you can’t beat these ladies in helping you figure it out.

Intersection of engineering and designLaura Klein. Her many years of experience have helped keep me grounded in designing for real life.

Creativity– Kate Rutter. She’s inspired me to try paper more often, and I appreciate her heart for young designers.

User ResearchErika Hall. I always turn to her books and articles when I’ve got questions on research.

Visual DesignErik D. Kennedy. There are very few newsletters I always open immediately, and his is one of them. He’s been the one of my most helpful places for growing as a non-artist visual designer.

I’d love to hear about your journey in design — what have you found most helpful? What would you tell a young designer?

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, crocheting/knitting, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.

Digital Designer

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