Summer is a necessary break from the rigors of class. I work full time while I teach, but I welcome the time to reflect on my experiences from the academic year. The time away from class offers opportunities to grow as a designer. Here are a ten Summer projects for UX designers that I have tried over the years that have helped build my technical skills as well as processing and communication abilities.
Building your skills
1. Tackle your UX summer reading list
Now is the time where you can find yourself at the beach or by the lake. Use those hours to make a dent into the ever growing list of must-read UX design books.
Here are a couple of books I have been into recently.
Learn how Google Ventures does a five day sprint to test big ideas fast.
Creativity.inc by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull
Dissect how to nurture a creative culture through the story of Pixar.
Hungry for more? Here’s a post on essential books for design.
2. Take a coding course
Should we or shouldn’t we learn to code? This is one of the debates that will not end. I lean on the side, “designers should code (a little).” We will never be as proficient as our development counterparts, but we shouldl know how to better communicate with them.
Here is a tutorial that I have been going through.
This is a non-threatening but comprehensive tutorial on how to code your first Web app and publish it on the cloud. Tracey is a designer that understands our anxieties around code. Her pace is perfect.
3. Learn the business of UX
Last year, this post on Medium caused a ripple in the designer / developer World. Up until that point, the debate was narrowly focused on who should code and who should design. Joshua Taylor asked if we should also study business. This expanded the conversation from just building technical skills to strengthening our communication skills around the context of business needs. Designers can get their MBAs, but he also suggests starting with talking to the sales team.
4. Try out a new prototyping tool
Working on your designs and getting them to state where someone can try them out are two different things. During the past few years we have seen a huge growth in this area. With the number of choices and intense competition for our attention, their collective abilities to mimic an realistic experience have improved way beyond clicking through static screens.
One of my favorites for showing micro interactions and pulling in real data is Framer. I spent 30 days trying this tool out, and here is a my post about what I learned.
5. Design a passion project
Now that you have been building up your skills design, prototyping, code, and business, you can start looking at that passion project you shelved. You might not have to do it all by yourself, but hopefully you are inspired to reexamine it. Look at what you can do to strengthen it. What can you do to complete the story?
Learning to explore and play
6. Sketch more
When I started to get busier as a UX designer, I found that I was neglecting my need to draw. I felt that I had to do something to reboot this habit that was once natural. Here is a post on 30 days of sketching and the lessons I learned from rediscovering an old love.
7. Do experiments for the hell of it
Draw for 30 days? Great! Now, I was free to try new things. I took this exercise from Austin Kleon who stole this from Matt Madden. The point of the exercise is to create an image out of a tea stain on an index card.
I tried doing one tea drawing for 30 days. Here is a post on the lessons I learned from that experiment.
What happens when you take this creativity project to the conference stage? This year I taught the UX community in Melbourne how to draw with tea.
Not all of your experiments have to be visual based. Here are a few more 30 experiments I have done.
Contributing to your career
8. Make or redo your portfolio
If you are about to graduate or in between semesters, this is the time to look at your portfolio. If you do not have one, this is the time to start. Some aspiring designers wait until portfolio class to learn how to present their work in a portfolio. This is almost too late. They spend most of their time learning the craft of presenting their work while trying to elevate their student work to portfolio ready status.
I find that the ones who have already created a first draft portfolio, only need a little coaching to polish their work.
How do you get started? Check this post on gathering the right work.
How do you show your work? Check out this post for tips on layout and balancing images and content.
9. Participate in the greater design community
I wrote in the post, “How to Learn UX Design from the Beginning,” on the importance of getting yourself out into the community. This helps broaden your understanding beyond classroom theory. It also connects you with designers who have experience in this ever changing industry.
10. Build your own community
Sometimes you cannot find everything you need from the events available in your community. You still have the power to make it what you want. Dario Fidanza did exactly that with his work on Ideation League. As a student at ACC, he was learning the theory of UX design, but he also needed the experience. No need to wait for a future employer to give him that opportunity. Create a group that will go out and make them.