Back to basics: four simple ways to improve yourself as a designer

Mike Jongbloet

Feb 08 2017

Design v4

With so many new platforms, buzzwords, technologies and mediums in the digital industry, if you’re not thinking about what to learn next you’ll end up lagging behind.

If you want to stay relevant as a designer, you need to keep pushing forward and honing your design skills. Successful UX designers never stop learning. They continue to take classes, study the work of other designers and grow in their craft.

It’s a good time to plan ahead. The platforms, buzzwords and technologies might keep coming, but there are some skills which are timeless and that we can all continue to hone.


This is one I’ll be aiming to do. In the past couple of years I’ve built up a long reading list, but very rarely take the time to sit down and read.

Books don’t need to focus on the topic of design to be useful to your work. Reading helps you build knowledge and view your designs from a different perspective.

I’ve already kicked off the New Year by finishing one book from last year (Drive, Daniel Pink) and reading two fresh ones (thus matching my record for the entirety of last year) The Obstacle is The Way and Ego is The Enemy, both books by Ryan Holiday and both books I would strongly recommend.

On my reading list for this year are:


I’m not much of a writer, or at least that is what I tell myself when I’m trying to avoid writing blog posts. It’s not my strongest skill but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to improve.

I actually find writing helps embed learning. When I read a book, go to a conference or learn something new, writing it down forces me to think it through and focus on the topic. The knowledge seems to hold better in my mind.

When we want to adopt new habits and stick to them, starting small and building up is a sensible approach. Therefore, I am going to set myself a goal of writing at least two sentences a day.


I travel a fair bit for work. At the very minimum, I have an hour in the car each day and often I’ll be on trains/tubes/buses. I’ve found that rather than listening to music, terrible radio or trying to work in a less than ideal environment, listening to podcasts makes good use of this time. This is a habit I developed last year and will be continuing with this year.

It’s an easy way to access the knowledge of industry experts and take in new topics that you might otherwise have skipped. This helps increase your knowledge, show you different ways of thinking and open up new routes to explore in your design work. Generally lasting anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour, they require only a small commitment of your time.

I also listen to them for personal interests such as football, baseball and to learn interesting, random trivia!

Some of the podcasts I’ve been listening to are:

In addition to learning through listening, every single person should actively practise listening as a skill. It’s such an important skill and one that many people, without knowing, are terrible at. Next time you are speaking to someone stop what you’re doing, put down your phone, stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and just listen.


I’m not suggesting you make 2017 the year you finally become the next Picasso, but actively practising your drawing skills at a basic level will improve your design thinking.

For most of us, thinking starts in our mind and to communicate to others we have the options of talking, writing or drawing. Talking and writing are both difficult mediums in which to communicate a new idea, however combined with a good sketch, ideas can really come to life.

Sharpening your drawing skill set will make it easier for you to more accurately portray your great ideas. The great news is it doesn’t need to be complicated either; simple lines, shapes and shading will give you enough to communicate most ideas.

So next time you find yourself in a meeting where everyone is talking, jump up to the flip-chart or whiteboard and help yourself and others communicate through sketching.

Just do it

Whether you choose to follow the above ideas or come up with your own, my final piece of advice would be simply to make sure you do something. It’s far too easy in today’s world of constant communications, constant time pressure and busy work schedules, to forget that if you don’t level up yourself you’ll find yourself lagging behind.

Mike Jongbloet

About the author

Mike Jongbloet

Head of Design and UX