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How to decide what skill you should learn next

Ashley Gainer's Layout avatar

One of the great perks of being a creative professional is the opportunity to keep learning. Our technology-based field is changing constantly, so there’s no end to the things you can learn and skills you can acquire.

But with so many options, how do you decide what skill to learn next? What you need to do is answer a few questions, and then just get started!

What sounds exciting?

While there’s more to being successful than simply following your passion, doing the thing you’re most excited about can go a long way for your career. It’s where you’ll have the most energy, and therefore the greatest likelihood of staying engaged and truly mastering your new skill.

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So think about all the things you’d like to learn. If you’re motivated to learn and you have the freedom to make a choice, go for the one that’s most exciting. Even if it’s not the most strategically perfect choice, it could create some good momentum and get you much closer to learning the other (less exciting) things you need to learn.

What keeps getting in the way?

Think back over your most recent projects and your average workflow. What are the sticking points — the things that didn’t go well, or where you felt unsure of yourself? What do you not do well and need to do better? Is there a skill you’re missing that’s holding you back? Think about every aspect of what you do — client relationships, project management, timeline projections. What are your consistent trouble spots? The answers to all of these questions point directly to your next learning opportunity.

What’s at the next level?

Always stretch yourself. As you take on new projects, look for things that are just one or two clicks higher in difficulty or complexity. The alternative is plateauing — and getting really bored, really fast. Stretching is growing, and you need to be growing.

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Take a look around you and observe the designers who are just a couple of paces ahead of you, career-wise. What are they doing that you aren’t doing? Are there features on their site that you don’t know how to create yet? Do they have any certifications or skill sets that intersect with design (like coding, copywriting, or photography)? Are they now developing products and courses to generate additional income in addition to design?

Someone who’s more experienced and has worked in the field longer than you will have a better sense of what skills are valuable, and what are just “extra stuff to know” that won’t end up helping you out in the long run.

What does the job market say?

Look for job postings for web designers, or take a peek at some RFPs. What are the in-demand skills you don’t currently have? Are there design trends that you haven’t explored yet? Maybe you’ll even discover a new market to tap into.

Have you mastered all the fundamentals?

Any trade comes with its own set of skills that are considered fundamental. You probably have a good sense of where your strengths are in relation to the fundamental web design skill set, but where are your weak spots? What corner of web design have you not really explored yet? =While “studying the fundamentals” isn’t very exciting, they’re fundamentals for a reason, and you need to know them.

What’s in the future?

If you can develop the foresight, try to pick something that will become more valuable over time. Look to your long-term career and see what the next step should be toward having the booming, successful career you want. You need to develop the professional framework now, before you get there, because it’s awfully hard to build an infrastructure when you’re buried in high-pressure deadlines. If you aren’t sure what the future holds (or if you’re really just interested), find a recent grad and ask them what technologies they’re most excited about. This should give you a fresh perspective on what’s emerging on the scene and what could become a game-changer in the not-too-distant future.

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Final thoughts

When you’re trying to decide what skill to learn next, you may become paralyzed by the decision. There are countless options in any direction, and it’s easy to get caught up in the weight of whatever choice you’re making. Just remember: there’s no perfect answer. Any movement is better than no movement.

What new skill are you most excited to learn?

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Richard

    June 23, 2018

    I'm living proof that for some people, following their passion can be a big mistake.

    • Csun

      June 7, 2019

      can you explain more what happened and what was your passion??

  2. Richard

    June 23, 2018

    You ask, "What are your consistent trouble spots?"

    But some very successful people would say, "Concentrate on your strengths not your weaknesses."

    So which is it?

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