17 May, 2022

Top 3 Mistakes holding you back from becoming a great product designer

Table of contents


Denislav Jeliazkov
Founder @uilearn

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After spending 11 years in the industry and building 100+ products for clients and companies I’ve worked with – I did notice that people who are just starting out their journey as product designers are focusing on the wrong stuff and this is really holding them back.

See if you recognize them.

Passive study

🛑 What people think:

“If I just follow this course and read some of these books, or if I just go to art school for 4 years, then I’ll be able to easily design beautiful and intuitive UI.”

The truth:

Recent cognitive science shows us that basically, you don’t learn anything until you do it yourself. Simply watching videos, taking notes and maybe copying a bit of what the teacher is doing on the screen does not work. This is not how we learn.


What should you do?

Passively consuming UI courses consisting of dozens of hours of design theory and tutorials is a great way to waste your time and a lousy way to actually improve your design skills. Yet this is still how most UI is taught.

Most students approach learning UI design like this: They start going through the course, taking notes and passively copying what the teacher does on the screen. Then, after spending weeks (if not months) of study to go through the full course, they’ve finally finished it, and feel confident to take on anything.

Then they start working on their first real project and …they still find themselves staring at a blank screen. Almost just as confused as before. Not knowing where to begin. And still unable to design an interface without copying someone else.

And that’s because they haven’t been taught UI design in the right way: By focusing on actively integrating the foundational principles of UI design through the right kind of deliberate practice assignments and then receiving personal feedback and guidance from your teacher along the way.

Because I’d never want my students to experience that same kind of false confidence, I decided to build a different course, centered around learning-by-doing, instead of not-learning-by-watching.


Focusing on trends and fads instead of fundamentals

🛑 What people think:

“If I can just learn how to design like this popular designer on Dribbble, then I can get all the jobs and recognition I’m after.”

The truth:

Just like Instagram likes is a bad metric for great photography, Dribbble is not the gold standard of design. And by focusing on trying to mimic your favorite UI designer, at best you’ll only become a second-rate copycat. You shouldn’t strive to be someone else, you’ll never be as good as them. You should strive to be yourself and develop your own workflow and style.


What should you do?

The truth is that (almost) every great UI designer has a deep knowledge of the foundational principles of UI design.

And they have paired that knowledge with their own, unique style. And to get there they didn’t focus on design hacks, fads or trends.

Those will only get you so far. Because if you focus on trends you can only become a trend follower. But if you focus on the fundamentals you can become a trendsetter.

Trying to do it on your own

🛑 What people think:

“I don’t need help, I can figure this out myself. Mentors are overrated.”

The truth:

The truth is you can do it all by yourself, in a way. I’ve done so. But it’s taken me years to get there. And it was hard work. And there was way less competition back then. And even though I’ve learned most of it by myself, even I was mentored by other designers I met through my work.


What should you do?

A good mentor can fast-track your skills and your career and shave off years of your learning curve. They’ve already been through the journey. They can tell you where to focus on, and what pitfalls to avoid.

Why try to figure it all out yourself if someone else has already done all the hard work of putting together a curriculum specifically designed to get you to where you want to be as quickly as possible?

The best in any industry have all benefited from coaches and mentors that guided them along the way.


So what do you actually need to become a good designer?

✅ A deep understanding of the foundational principles of UI design, so you can design any interface you can think of by yourself (without having to rely on copying someone else’s design)

✅ A focus on learning the systems and frameworks that drive master UI designers: Too many courses just focus on learning you some software tools and having you copycat the teacher’s screens, which don’t develop your independent, creative thinking capabilities.

✅ An experienced mentor or coach to give your personal feedback, point you in the right direction, and fast-track your skill development, thereby saving you months (if not years) of fumbling around.

✅ Learn how to approach the process of designing interfaces in a streamlined and strategic manner, and then tweaking it to your own way of working

✅ Devising your own unique design workflow: Yes there are best practices, but ultimately everyone works in their own way, so you need to come up with something that works best for you.

✅ Learn by doing: Consistent, deliberate design practice of analyzing and designing real world applications from scratch

✅ Learn the soft skills of design and understand why it’s essential for landing bigger jobs and delivering high-quality work

✅ A community of peers that you can rely on when you’re stuck with something or just need some extra motivation


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