When you’re new to design, it’s a challenge to know what to learn first, and how much reading up to do on each topic. In this article, we explain the thinking behind our short course curriculum, and also give specific tips on how to make the most of the 1-on-1 mentoring and project work, each of which is a crucial part of our learning model.

What is a Designlab short course?

Designlab short courses are each 4 weeks long, and focus on a different area of design. Our most popular course, Design 101, covers the basics of visual design, and uses examples and projects from web design in particular. Other courses include Branding, Typography, Interaction Design, UX Research & Strategy, and UI Design.

[You can get a deep dive into our platform and the Design 101 curriculum in this post.]

All these courses share a common structure and educational approach. Each one includes a curriculum curated from books, articles, and quality online resources. But we only see about 10% of the value of a short course coming from this curated curriculum.

The other 90% of course value comes from completing a series of of hands-on projects, and from being paired up with a professional designer, who provides mentoring through 1-on-1 video calls, as well as written feedback on all project submissions. By completing a range of projects, and iterating on those projects in response to expert feedback, students can gain new skills quickly and learn what it means to apply them to realistic design briefs.

Read on to find out 5 ways you can maximize your learning and personal growth on a Designlab short course!

1. Get the right tools for the course

Before the course begins, get your hands on your choice of design software. We recommend using Figma or Sketch. You could use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, but it’s a bit slower to pick these up if you’re a beginner. We offer free email courses in Figma, Sketch and Photoshop to help you master the basics.

As well as these computer-based tools, you’ll also need a physical notepad for drawing sketches and taking notes. We recommend a notepad with a dotted grid—the dots are enough to guide your sketching when desired, but also less intrusive than a grid formed of full lines.

Finally, plan your work ahead. Each short course requires around 10 hours of work a week, so plan when you’ll be able to devote time to the coursework. And don’t forget to put the mentor sessions in your calendar once you’ve agreed a time!

2. Turn the curated curriculum to your advantage

Whether it’s in high school, at an Ivy League college, or online, all course-based education involves reading and studying material that you could in principle find yourself on the web or in a library. However, part of the value that these educators offer is to have curated that content for you, into a format that facilitates your learning, within a given timeframe, and at an appropriate level of difficulty.

Our short courses include both in-house materials and high-quality curriculum that has been selected, adapted, and sequenced by our team of expert educators, mentors, and designers. Our aim is that these resources will allow you to get to the heart of what you need to learn and quickly and efficiently as possible.

Each of our short courses comes with a curriculum that puts you on a logical and manageable trajectory through design fundamentals. You can turn this to your advantage by engaging thoroughly with these materials, taking detailed bullet points on each topic, and noting any questions or areas of difficulty for discussion with your mentor later.

3. Maximize the time you have with your mentor

The core of our educational model at Designlab is pairing each student 1-on-1 with a professional designer, who works with the students as their mentor for the duration of the course. When you sign up to one of your short courses, you are buying 4 hours of your mentor’s time for 1-on-1 video calls, as well as their written feedback on all your project submissions.

To get the most out of the time your have with your mentor, it’s important to fully prepare for each call. Think in advance about questions you’d like to ask about the curriculum, make sure you have project work submitted and ready to discuss, and note down any broader queries you have about working in the design industry, or what your options are to continue your design learning after the end of the course. Our mentors are there to help you, but you also need to put in the effort to get the best results.

We have rigorous processes for assessing new mentors and monitoring mentor performance. However, if for any reason you feel like your mentor experience isn’t working out, head to our Help Center and we can switch you to another mentor if necessary.

4. Get involved in the community

Each short course has its own discussion board, where you can ask questions of mentors and fellow students. This can be especially helpful on UX-related short courses, in order to share ideas and recruit participants for testing.

The platform also has an “Explore” feature, which allows you to get inspiration by browsing other student submissions, and even dive into the mentor comments to get ideas on how to develop and iterate your own work.

5. Iterate on projects repeatedly in response to feedback

Applying your new learning in a project is one thing. But getting feedback from your mentor and fellow students on that work, then going through 2 or 3 cycles of iteration to develop and improve each project, will significantly add to what you learn. Doing so will also consolidate your new knowledge, and help you to convert it into practical skills that you can continue to use and develop once the course is over.

By iterating on each project, you will improve more quickly—and you might even be able to include the end product in a design portfolio. Because the Designlab platform saves all your previous versions, you can also look back through all of your uploads and see how your work has developed, not just through a single project, but from the beginning to the end of the course. You might be surprised at how far you’ve come!

Check out this article to read more about why we believe projects help you to learn design.

If you’re taking one of our short courses soon, we hope this short guide has offered some insight into how you can stay on track, and get the most value from the investment you’ve made in your skills. If you’ve not yet signed up, why not check out what’s on offer?

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