How to Keep Challenging Yourself as a Designer

Posted on June 7, 2016 | Updated on June 13, 2023

Design work can be monotonous at times. Certain standards will by necessity require you to think inside the box at times. Some color palettes simply go better together than others. Some colors seem to be more attractive to readers, as well. However, you can continue challenging yourself as a designer and keep growing you skills and creativity.

Start a Daily Project

The average person spends about three hours a day browsing social media. What if you took some of that time away from social media and instead spent 15 to 20 minutes daily working on a new design or practicing your design skills?

Keep in mind that in 15 or 20 minutes you probably aren’t going to complete a design, and you don’t have to. The goal is simply to work on something new to keep your design skills honed. For example, if you’d like to get into a niche market, but you don’t have experience creating that type of design, go ahead and spend some time each day practicing. Other ideas are listed below, such as doing some work for a non-profit organization.

Start a Side Project

Do you spend all your time working on other people’s projects? If you’re like most designers, this means you don’t often work on things you love or you don’t have time to update your own website. However, your website in particular is a reflection to outsiders of your work as a designer.

A smart strategy is to spend a little time each day working on your own materials, from your website design to your business card to brochures and leave-behinds. Yes, it is important that you deliver excellent work to your clients, but it is also important that you present a professional face to the rest of the world so that you can attract new clients and keep your business moving forward.

Idea Starters

If you’re struggling to come up with ideas of things to spend your time on that will hone your skills, try out a few idea-starters and drills. For example, you can do a quick five-minute drill by taking any logo and redesigning it to make it better or more modern. You can use famous logos just for practice or you can use examples of designs you find online.

Obviously, this is just for practice. You will not do anything with these samples: They are simply for practice purposes and the copyright and trademarks are held with the companies they belong to. However, you can learn a lot from professional logo designs that are already established.

Replicate Designs You Find Inspiring

At the same time, if you come across a design that you find particularly inspiring, decide how you can replicate it while keeping your version unique. Does a web design use an interesting twist on background elements combined with transparent overlays? How can you add some of those features into your own designs?

If you see a design that you love but you don’t feel your skills are quite yet able to match that design, take the time to study — and take courses if needed — in order to figure out how you can replicate those elements and enhance your own design skills even further.

Take on Pro Bono Projects

Pro bono projects are not only a great way to keep your design skills sharp, but are also a nice way to give back to your local community. While you shouldn’t take on pro bono work simply for exposure, it can get your name out there and lead to new clients who believe in the same causes that you do.

Treat pro bono clients exactly the way you would a paying client. Make sure that the director of the organization loves the final design and that you are a person they would hire if they were in a position to pay for design work.

Hone a Complimentary Skill

Take the time to improve skills that compliment your design work. For example, you might take a photography class so you can take your own photographs instead of always buying stock photos. Perhaps you need to learn how to do some video footage to add into your infographics.

If you already have the skills you need, take an online course about how to market your service business. If you approach your design work like the business that it is, it should become clear what skills you need to develop to become the absolute best designer and business owner that you can.

Get Back to Basics

In addition to adding new skills and improving your designs, you’ll also want to remember the skills that got you to where you are today. Sometimes, as designers grow in their skill set and take on new projects and modernize their designs, they can forget the basics of where design came from.

From time to time, go back to the early days of your design work and boost those basic design elements, such as point, plane, form, space and texture. By combining excellence in basic elements and cutting-edge design abilities, your work will truly stand out from the crowd.

Featured image: Geoff Livingston

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About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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