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#4 — A designer self-directed learning guide

🧭 Create your personalized learning journey

Hey there, design friends!

It’s been a month since I started writing this newsletter, and I can’t believe how many of you have taken the time to subscribe, read what I wrote, and give me feedback. I’m incredibly thankful to have you with me on this journey.

Today, we’re discussing a requested subject: self-directed learning.

Happy reading,
Julie — @syswarren

Table of contents

  1. Resources and links

  2. A self-directed learning guide

  3. TL;DR

  4. Community spotlight

Resources and links
Learners’ links

📁 Fabric - Collect bookmarks, ideas, and files to build your personal search engine. This could be helpful in your learning journey.

🗓️ Week Planner - If you spend your time in Figma, use this planner to visualize upcoming events and deadlines… or plan your learning sessions.

🤓 Hack Design - This isn’t new, but since we’re talking about self-directed learning today, it’s good to share this amazing resource. It’s worth bookmarking it.

✅ 101 UI Checklist items - it’s free, it’s by the talented UI expert Matt D. Smith, and it’ll help you make your designs look even better.

And some books that I’d recommend to anyone wanting to learn or refresh their design skills and knowledge:

Are they making these books look ugly on purpose?! 😭

A self-directed learning guide

⏱️ Reading time: 4 min 15 sec

With new tools, concepts, and tech constantly changing design, it's essential to keep learning whether you've just started or have been working for years. Being a solo designer can make it tough to learn without other designers guiding you, but it’s not impossible.

If you're like me, you're trying to figure out what you should learn next. Learning can help improve your skills, gain confidence, and even reduce work-related stress… or get new skills to land a better job.

Self-directed is a way to keep learning throughout life and stay relevant in our competitive field. Plus, it allows you to customize your knowledge to fit your needs and shape your career exactly how you want.

So, where do we start?

I don't know what I don't know

Well, we start by figuring out what we don't know. And yes, it might sound tricky because how can you know what you don't know? So for this, I'm going to use a video game analogy.

I love video games, and if you're a bit of a gamer yourself, self-directed learning is — in some ways — very similar to playing a game.

First, you need to know your character's strengths, weaknesses, and inventory. This will help you understand where you stand and what you need to acquire to play the game.

Illustration of a designer, at her desk, at duskk

You, the designer in a video game

💡 Learn more about yourself

  • Conduct a self-assessment

  • Ask for feedback from your coworkers, or other designers

  • Create a skill graph to visualize your current abilities and future goals

A skill graph can be a valuable tool to help you focus on what you need to learn to get where you want to go. Here's an example of a skill graph for a solo designer.

A skill graph for a solo designer

An example skill graph for a solo designer

Once you've created yours (it doesn't have to be polished, a rough sketch is fine), you can start by outlining what you'd like to learn. To help with this, you can create a mind map — or ask AI to make one. As a designer, a mind map should be a familiar concept, and it'll help build your learning strategy.

💡 Define what you'd like to learn

  • Create a mind map for the topic you'd like to study

  • Highlight the topics you want to learn

  • Don't forget possibly outdated skills and knowledge

Play by your rules

If self-directed learning is like playing a video game, you need to set some rules to be good at it. It's probably something you won't do during your workday – although there's always the possibility of learning on the job. Self-directed learning will most likely be an activity you do in your free time.

💡 Create your own rules

  • Establish a routine and schedule regular learning times

  • Manage your energy

  • Focus on progress over performances

Your goal should be to create a long-lasting routine that enables you to continue learning. There's no point in learning everything "now" and never revisiting the subjects later, as they'll become outdated at some point anyway.

Create your game plan

Okay, now you have some rules for scheduling your learning sessions, your skill graph, and your mind map. Which subject should you tackle first?

It's up to you to decide. You're your own teacher here. When I have to choose, I ask myself two questions: "What do I need to learn for this upcoming project?" and "What sounds most interesting to me right now?"

Motivation is a powerful tool to better memorize your learning. Being able to apply newly acquired skills is incredibly important, too. So when deciding what to learn next, focus on motivation and possible applications.

💡 Decide what's next

  • Use your skill graph and mindmap to prioritize learning

  • Learn what's more interesting to you now to optimize memorization

  • Pick a subject that you'll be able to use soon

Once you've chosen a topic, it's time to gather some resources. And without noticing, this first step already teaches you about the subject.

💡 Build your inventory

  • Hunt for books, articles, and videos

  • Contact people who know about what you're trying to learn

  • List your resources in a file or a to-do list — it'll help you track your progress

Ask for recommendations from other designers to find good resources on a topic. Read reviews and check the author's credentials. Focus on free materials first, and if you want to dive deeper into a subject, consider paid courses or events.

Time to learn

Now that you've collected resources and you're motivated by a topic, it's time to engage in the learning process actively. Listening to hours of podcasts or watching videos passively might help you "know" some stuff, but to truly learn, you need to be an active learner.

💡 Engage in active learning

  • Take handwritten notes and paraphrase concepts to better memorize

  • Apply your learnings with exercises, tutorials, or projects

  • Discuss your learnings with others: Explaining something to someone is a good way to see if you've correctly understood and retained information.


What I've shared today are the rules I've created for myself for my own learning. They might work for you, or they won't. Nobody can tell you how to learn once you're outside a classic course or school program. You're the main character here. So it's up to you.

  • Learn more about yourself: do a self-assessment and create a skill graph to visualize your skills and future goals.

  • Set a routine and manage your energy: The key to successful learning is to be motivated and consistent.

  • Build your learning strategy: Create a mind map and highlight the topics you want to learn. Customize your learning experience.

  • Engage in active learning: Take notes, apply learnings through exercises or projects, and discuss concepts with others.

  • Progress over performances: Revisit and adjust when necessary to keep your learning goals aligned with your career aspirations.

Community spotlight

She comes recommended by not one, not two, but three different people! Her name is Grace Walker, and she’s an independent designer and Webflow developer from Canada. Last year, she created a Twitter-like portfolio, which I find incredibly cool to show your work in an informal way to reach a maximum of people.

Grace’s work

I’m keeping the recommendations I’ve received for future issues in this newsletter. If you’d like me to share your work here, let me know!

See you next week 😊

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