Robert Bowen June 22nd, 2011

How to Grow as a Designer or Developer

For many of us in the design and development communities, when we first begin down this path, we tend to go in hungry searches for knowledge and like a sponge we soak up all we can find. However, at times we can come to a plateau where we comfortably set up our virtual camp and we work from this place.

Our quest for knowledge somewhat settles as does our thirst as we become distracted by trying to make our mark and establish ourselves in the community. We do this so that we might find a steady source of income through our skills that we have nurtured and grown to this point. And it is through this time consuming process that the growth of our skillsets ends up on the proverbial back burner.

This is not a blanket pandemic, but it does happen, and it is in these times that we need the subtle reminder that we should always be moving forward, reaching for that next plateau. Even when we feel as though time for such things is not available, we must make time. Otherwise that excuse will continue to crop up each time we feel the pangs of guilt over our growth stagnation, and our learning process will stay on the back burner indefinitely. So we have to be sure that we actively pursue these opportunities for growth whenever and wherever we can. First, to do so, however, we have to address the roadblock that is in the way preventing our progress.

Fighting Complacency

Life has a tendency of getting in our way from time to time, but generally the problem that we are dealing with when we find ourselves comfortably resting on our laurels is one of complacency. For whatever reason we have become satisfied with the level that we are at, and are no longer feeling that drive that used to fuel our quest for knowledge, and that passion to conquer every challenge that the design or development landscape had to throw at us. And it is this space that we need to get our heads back into so that we can get the wheels turning once more. Below are a few of the problem areas to keep an eye on when you find yourself in the learning lurch.

Time Management

As already mentioned, one of the main excuses we fall back on when we become complacent, is one of a lack of available time. Which does not mean that we should just resign ourselves to the fact that our progress is done, it just means that we have to better learn how to manage our time. If our schedule will not allow for any learning opportunities, then frankly, we need a new schedule. There are going to be places that we can find to fit in these knowledge seeking exploits, we just have to look harder at the division of our time and labor in order to make it happen.

You want to manage your time effectively or before you realize, it will have all slipped away. Image by Sachin Sandhu

Before we start rearranging our schedules though, we can first look for areas that can be easily cut down to make room for this needed opening. Whether it is a matter of cutting things short, small things like brainstorming sessions or big things like sleep, there might be areas of our daily/weekly schedules that we can squeeze some time free from to shift over for growth and learning experiences. If we cannot find any time to shave away, then we have to look at what can be rearranged to work them in. However we approach it, if time is not on our side and keeping us from moving forward, then we have to work to change that.

Ego Check

Sometimes the complacent nature that keeps us grounded on this virtual plateau is brought on, not by a lack of time, but more by a surplus of ego. We get to the point where we think we have mastered our field, and there is nowhere left for us to go. We believe we have reached the top level, the peak, and that there is no higher place that we can get to from here. And at that point, we just give up even trying. Our search is over. But that is a horrible disservice that we are doing to ourselves and our skills, for there is always more to learn. Especially in these dynamic of fields.

And even if we are at the top of our game, then the only way that we can ensure that we stay there is to keep fine tuning our skills through practice and repetition. Just like a muscle, if we do not give our skills a regular workout, then they will not maintain their strength. We will begin to forget the little things that once took our work to the next level if we let our egos get in the way and keep us from putting them into practice every now and again. At first, we become rusty. Then we just become forgetful, and we begin slipping. So we need to keep our ego in check otherwise it could become a liability to any future forward progress in our fields.

Perspective Adjustment

Another way that we can try to combat this complacency that keeps us from continuing to grow in the design or development field is to give our perspective somewhat of a refresh. Could be the rut we have dug ourselves into stems from the way we view the work we are doing on a daily basis. It has lost some of its appeal and excitement for us as we have settled into a comfortable work routine. Designing or developing has become a regular job and that label may have tarnished the way we look at it. So we have to try and bring some of that original excitement back into the picture.


Sometimes we just need to come at things from a different perspective and see how they unfold from there. Image by

This can be a self correcting problem of sorts. Usually the reason that we no longer see the excitement in our jobs is because that they have gotten stagnant themselves. We find ourselves doing the same sort of task time and again, until it becomes monotonous. So once we set out to learn once more, and new doors open in the design or dev world, then things are going to get back to that exciting place again.

Getting that fire going can take a perspective flip. So try and see the work differently. Do not look at this continued knowledge quest as some sort of schooling, but more as leveling your character or anything fun like that. Whatever flips the script on your view of the path ahead for you is what you need to do to move forward.

It’s Time for Growth

So what can we do once we have taken care of the complacency issues? What are the most effective ways forward? Well that depends. More than likely there is no one recipe for success. So we have to look at a variety of approaches to get our learn on. Below are several ways that one can get started on immediately to continue on the path for professional growth and expansion of their design/development skillsets.


One of the first things that we can do to ensure that we are still learning and growing in our field, is to experiment. Naturally, the more repetitive our daily work becomes, the less it is challenging us or daring us to step outside of our comfort zones to try something new. If we are experimenting with new styles or techniques, programs or tools, whatever the case may be, then we are guaranteed to be learning something and pushing our skills to new heights. Connect with your inner scientist and begin branching out from your established routine to try something that you have not within your field.

There is a subtle science to design and developing, so why not experiment and try something something new. Image Credit

When you experiment, do not be afraid to reach outside your area of expertise and try new areas of the field that would normally avoid playing in. This is not to suggest that you in any way begin altering the course you are on or change your specialty. Just that you reach into places that you often don’t. Especially those that intimidate or fluster you. Those should be some of the first places that you turn.

Also remember that keeping personal projects often helps because in these projects we tend to feel freer to take chances and try new things. This challenge will keep you from being able to grow complacent as you will never be settled, but rather always in motion.

To Sum Up:

  • Challenge yourself in and outside your field of focus within the design or development arenas.
  • Keep forcing yourself to try something new (styles, techniques, apps, etc…)
  • Reach outside your comfort zone to expand on your base of knowledge to find new opportunities to learn.
  • Keep up personal projects to keep the work in your field fun and allow for taking risks your professional work doesn’t afford.

Study Work You Admire

Another way to grow as a designer or developer, and ensure that you do not stagnate upon the plateau where you landed is to study the work of those you admire who came before you in the field. This is a proven way to keep yourself inspired to progress and learn more. Besides the concepts work so well together anyway. Studying and learning go hand in hand, so why not apply it here as well. The internet makes this studying endeavor an easily achievable chore. One that can also help to further our appreciation for our fields. Which never hurts at keeping complacency at bay.

Now when we say study other works, this is means more than simply checking them out and admiring the quality they hold. This is an in-depth examination of the techniques and styles that were implemented in some of our favorite designs. Or a deeper look into the code that powers and feeds some of our favorite applications, sites, etc…

You can also turn to the online galleries and showcases for a plethora of work to browse through if you need to track down some subjects for your studies. And so that you can get an idea of how to dissect the work you can look at forums and feedback sites for others breaking down pieces and highlighting what you can focus on.

To Sum Up:

  • Focus on studying the implementation of techniques and styles, or studying the code behind the scenes.
  • Look into online galleries and showcases for work to dissect.
  • Check into forums and feedback sites to find work and what to key in on as you break down the work for learning purposes.

Keep Up With Your Field

Especially in the design and development worlds, the landscape changes with a fair amount of rapidity, so keeping up with all of the changes can be a daunting task, but it is one of the most sure fire ways to grow in your field. When you are following along with the way the field is developing, then by default you will develop in suit. That is providing that you are actively working to learn the ins and outs of the new developments and are not just watching from the sidelines. You need to be in the game, so to speak.

We cannot just be passively waiting on the sidelines, we need to be engaged in our community to stay ahead of the game. Image by Westside Shooter

Most industries have trade magazines that closely monitor and report on the trends and shifts that shape and steer said industries. The fields of development and design are no exception this rule. This is a great place to begin your search for any of these game changing happenings, and most of them are conveniently available online.

Beyond the trades, there are social media and the blogosphere among others that can also help you find out what is happening in the field that is to be the shape of things to come. No matter the method you choose, if you want to grow into your field and continue to learn, then strive to keep up with your industry.

To Sum Up:

  • Follow along with the trade magazines and dedicated sites/blogs of your field.
  • Use social media to track the trends and game changers popping up in your chosen field.

Seek Feedback from Others in Your Field

A further way that you can ensure that you are always on the path of learning is by reaching out to those in your field whom you trust and admire for feedback on your projects and pieces. When we become complacent or simply just ignore our growth, a mindset can take over wherein we believe that we do not need to get any sort of critiques for improving our work. Honest and insightful feedback can be a desi/dev godsend and can do a lot to not only improve our work, but our own processes or techniques. So always being open to and looking for critiques can really help to keep us growing and improving.

Once again, the internet does really facilitate this feedback outreach. There are numerous sites dedicated to this area of the design and development communities, where you can submit your work to be critiqued by the other users of the site. Not only that, but through social media networking, professional relationships are fostered which can help in this area as well. You connect with others in your field who are willing and able to provide you with the insightful feedback you are looking for. Generally, all you have to do is ask. Never be afraid to do so, and always take the feedback in the spirit and tone in which you requested it, not always the way in which it was intended. This will hopefully help remove any of the harsh edge that could accompany some of the less than constructive feedback that may come your way.

To Sum Up:

  • Use forums and dedicated sites or services to get feedback from throughout the community.
  • Foster relationships with others in your field via social media and ask them for critiques.
  • Take the feedback in the spirit with which it was requested, not necessarily the way it was intended.

Collaborate with Others

Another way that we can continuously push ourselves along in this quest for knowledge and professional growth is to collaborate on projects with others of a compatible nature. Now when saying compatible, this is more about finding those who will push you to challenge yourself, and through this collaborative effort they will effectively bring out the best in you. Finding a person to fit this bill is not always the easiest to do, but they are certainly out there. And to be fair, and keep things balanced, you want to be sure that you are going to return the favor and be the same type of partner.

This is another area where you not only want to challenge yourself, but you also want to reach outside your comfort zone or area of expertise in order to get the most out of these collaborations. This way you get to push yourself to venture further than you might get to in your normal professional projects.

Seek out an unusual partner for someone in your field, an unexpected pairing, in order to find new and interesting directions to take your work. This can also help to challenge you to find exciting new ways to work. Presenting your work in ways you had never considered or thought of before the collaborations began. This can then bleed over into your other work, continuously keeping your thinking fresh and outside of the box.

To Sum Up:

  • Collaborate with those you know will push you further in your quest for knowledge.
  • Don’t feel like you have to stay within your field for your pool of potential collaborators.
  • Be the kind of partner you wish to be paired up with, to keep the partnership fair and in balance.

Be Active in the Community

The final area that we will discuss for ensuring that you are always moving forward as a designer or developer, we have already touched on a bit in more indirect ways, and that is to be an active member of the community. This alone can not only help to ensure that we continue to grow professionally, but it can also provide us with an outlet for growing our business too. The design and development communities are such diverse and dynamic collectives that there is so much growth you can gain just by being a part of it.

The online communities are an extremely creative outlet that we can usually plug right into. Mark Sebastion

By maintaining a blog of your own, or writing for others who do, you have a unique opportunity to give back to the community that helped you, while also keeping you informed and well researched as you put together your posts. Beyond that, you can also contribute to the discussions being carried out in the comment sections of said sites. Another way that you can be an active member of the community is through the various social media channels. Either through sharing helpful information or posts you can enrich the community experience for others. As the community grows and is shaped through such interactions and connectivity, so are its participants.

To Sum Up:

  • Run a blog or contribute to one so that you can enrich the community via this outlet.
  • Contribute to the discussion being had across the blogosphere when and where you can.
  • Use social media to share and contribute useful information to the community at large.

In the End…

There are several ways that we can ensure that we remain excited and intrigued by the vast fields that we operate in so that we maintain our desire for professional growth. No matter which approach you take, the important thing is that you keep this passion driving you each step of the way so that we never allow ourselves to level off. What do you find helps in keeping you on the path for growth? What do you think leads to this complacent place where we discontinue our pursuit for knowledge?


Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.


  1. nice article robert. i think being active in the community generally leads on to all other points you raised. you inevitably look at other designers work and meet/talk with other people. through being active you become inspired and complacency tends to go away as you realise there’s always something new to learn.

    1. Thanks, Evan. I think you are right. There can be a sort of domino effect from the involvement in the community…if it is done correctly that is. Some people’s idea of community involvement does not always add up to growth (or even active participation for that matter, lol).

  2. Fabulous article. Excellent “booster” shot for those
    Of us in midlife, sandwhiched between demands of
    family, work, career and (lastly, sadly) self. Somedays it is
    easier to resign myself to doing everything; at
    the end of the day I have accomplished nothing. The
    next day I seem to start from scratch; painfully
    avoiding that which I hate to do.

    There is value to scrubbing floors — it must be done– but must it be done by me? And if, so, how often can I get away with not doing this hated chore? Are we not created to look out to the heavens at night as the ancients did and shout “bravo!” ?or enjoy the warmth of summer daylight on our skin? Creative souls have discovered the sweet surge of pride or love or happiness is multiplied onlyif it is expressed and shared, no? How cool that the greatest artistic and scientific ideas can be shared so easily in our era! But for me to share what I have known? Positively Frightening. But it will keep me up at night if I don’t. Your words inspire, and I will pass them on! By living life, we discover, taste, digest what is meaningful. Then we (with luck!) develop our brightest thought, our most stunning design, our most passionate crescendo, our most breath-taking visual, our best wine.
    The tools, the ingedients are all of he above: time, practiice, collaboration, encouragement. And as for the unscrubbed floors, raising our kids, and caring for our parents, it still takes a village –which we must step out the front door and join — every day that we have the gift of breath within us. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. These are all great advices. I’ve found myself doing exactly all if not most of these over the past three years. In building my design portfolio, working with clients and collaborating with other designers or photographers to achieve one goal. Great Artwork! Great post.

  4. One of the best articles I have red lately, maybe because I found a few answers conserning myself very closely. Thank you – it was very useful.

  5. Great article, I agree with just about every point on here. Will definitely recommend this article to my colleagues.

  6. Great article.

    I think that collaborating with others (as you suggested) is a brilliant way to push yourself and extend your knowledge.

    Especially in the web development world where there is often more than one solution to each problem. Being able to discuss this with peers should help extend your knowledge as they may come up with solutions/methods you never thought/knew about.

    Working together leads to sharing ideas and new discoveries. If you just work by yourself you will only learn about new methods you personally discover.

  7. Great read Robert, thank you very much.
    Almost all the article talks about my daily life, right to the point.

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