A Freelancer’s Guide to Keeping Up with Design Industry Developments

by Fabio Muniz

I remember, back in school, having teachers who would emphasize to their students that education shouldn’t stop after graduation. They’d say, again and again, that a good portion of their own time was spent not just improving their skills, but also keeping up with discussions about cutting edge topics in their industries and following closely what the experts were doing.

They were absolutely right to stress this important life long point to their students.

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As a designer—or as any professional, really—you should spent a portion of your time not just improving your skills but also following experts in your field, constantly learning about new tools, processes, trends and news in the industry and also networking. When you work full-time inside an organization, having coworkers will make that process a bit easier but what should you do when you are a full-time freelancer?

Throughout the years I’ve learned to dedicate a portion of my time not just to absorb knowledge, but also to digest news in an efficient way, discover first hand what is going on in the industry, and to follow and connect with experts.

I will share this process with you today.

Blogs

One of the most efficient ways of keeping up with your industry (and actually improving your skills) is by following blogs and publications. They will publish posts that dive into complex subjects and also cover the news. But how to keep track of them? See below.

RSS

I remember when was 12 or 13, getting home from school and manually opening up several tech websites that I followed regularly. I remembered which ones to read, and made sure I remembered which was the last post published in the previous day so I could resume from there. Consuming content that way was not optimal, but it was part of my routine.

You will inevitably have to follow certain publications and blogs that talk about what’s happening in your industry. The only way is to actually read them on a regular basis and make reading a part of your routine. Try to incorporate a few minutes every day to reading blogs and publications that are relevant to you.

Having and following an RSS feed is one way of doing that.

Here are some of the design blogs, websites and publications I have on my personal RSS feed:

If you are wondering which RSS app you should be using, my recommendation is Feedly. It works extremely well for me, and it gives you access to a number of useful features such as social sharing or saving to services like Evernote.

However, if you end up going beyond having just a few blogs in your feed, things can get very complicated. A lot of them publish a high volume of content on a constant basis – and most of it, unfortunately, isn’t extremely high-quality. Filtering through everything can be a pain so you might want to opt for tools/networks that can curate them for you.

Email

I mentioned previously that a downside to keeping an RSS feed was that most blogs and publications push out a lot of content, most of which wouldn’t make it onto your reading list. In other words, filtering is a challenge but signing up for emails can be a way around it.

Some blogs and publications curate their weekly posts and send out only the very best via email. Individuals or companies often have their own newsletters where they curate the best content that was published through the week or in some instances, the month.

Subscribing to the best email newsletters is a fantastic way to receive curated, and occasionally exclusive, content direct to your inbox helping you to keep up to date with news and what’s going on in your industry.

Of course, you should be careful not to subscribe to too many newsletters. There’s little point in receiving a ton of newsletters that you’ll end up saving to a forgotten folder or even deleting altogether. There’s no problem starting off with a high volume of subscriptions, because then you can filter down to the ones you feel you actually get the most value out of.

I’ll share below some of my favorite design-focused newsletters.

Twitter

You should be on Twitter, period.

Even if you are not very fond of participating in discussions or indeed starting your own, you should at least be lurking around, following the right people.

Twitter is where top experts in your field hang out. They won’t just share great content lifted from the thought pieces they are reading, conferences they will be speaking at or attending, giving considerations on current topics – but will also be interacting and take part in discussions with other experts.

If you are comfortable with interacting, it’s an amazing way to network with peers and connect with new people. Going a little deeper, Twitter is also an amazing place to build your personal brand.

But, enough selling Twitter

As a designer, who should you be following over there? Below are some designers I follow and think you should pay attention to. Of course, if you are into a specific discipline (such as Content Strategy), you should do a quick Google Search for professionals worth following in that field.

These are the people I love following on Twitter:

  • Tobias van Schneider – @vanschneider German Designer & Maker in NYC. Tweets are 63% sarcasm. Founder of @semplicelabs Former Design Lead @Spotify
  • Ryan Freitas – @ryanchrisDirector of Product Design @Uber. Co-founder of @aboutdotme. If you’re gonna scream, scream with me.
  • Chris Messina – @chrismessinaDeveloper Experience Lead at @Uber. Friend to startups, inventor of the hashtag, former Googler and proud participant in the open source/open web communities.
  • Ran Segall – @ransegallThinking & design can solve most problems. Co-Founder & Product of The nuSchool.
  • Will Evans – @semanticwill –Chief Design Officer, Design Thinker-in-Residence @NYUStern, CxO Advisor, Designing Purposeful Work, Founder LeanUXNYC, Systems Change Writ Large. Scary Large
  • Luke Wroblewski – @lukew – Humanizing technology. Founded: Polar (Google acquired) Bagcheck (Twitter acquired) Wrote: Mobile First, Web Form Design, Site Seeing. Worked: Yahoo, eBay, NCSA

Nuzzel, Medium and Pocket

Nuzzel, Medium and Pocket are three essential platforms. Nuzzel will list what your Twitter network is currently reading. If you follow relevant people in your industry, it becomes an amazing resource. Pocket will allow you to save interesting articles to read later but more than that, will recommend you relevant pieces based on what your network is currently reading, and allow both you and the people you follow to recommend articles. (On the matter of saving to read later, also check out Send to Kindle. It allows you to send articles from the web straight to your Kindle. I prefer the experience of reading on my Kindle instead of web/mobile, so it is one of the extensions I use the most).

Medium—which I probably don’t have to introduce—is slowly becoming the go-to place for people to publish their thoughts. Many designers I know (as well as top players in the industry) use the platform to share new posts. You should be there too, keeping an eye out for new pieces, both from your network and from people outside it.

Quora

Quora is a bit of an obvious mention as a lot of experienced professionals hang out over there and they answer all kinds of questions (you can ask yours too). It’s great not just to actually have your questions answered but to see what other people are asking, what’s trending and to help you to expand your knowledge on a specific subject.

Snapchat

Snapchat isn’t so much of an obvious choice – and until a few months ago, I wouldn’t have included it in this list – but recently, many people have been starting to push out high-quality content in the platform. For instance, Mark Suster (@msuster) talks about Venture Capital, and it’s really good. I personally don’t follow a lot of designers who do the same, but you should – just as I will – keep an eye out if your favorite designers start spending more time over there.

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Linkedin, Facebook, Slack Groups, Meetups and Conferences!

What should you do if you want to participate in discussions about what’s going on in your industry? Or if you want to network with other professionals, get recommendations about articles, blog posts, or which event conferences you should attend?

One fantastic way is to participate in a real, physical community and now, in 2016, it’s easier than ever to do that. You should check out Meetup.com find Meetups that happen in your area and start attending them. More than that, you should look for Linkedin, Facebook and Slack Groups and join them too. Introduce yourself, get to know the members and incorporate regularly checking in and participating in discussions into your routine. There are only benefits to be had such as what I mentioned previously (network with other professionals, get recommendations about articles, blog posts, or event conferences you should attend), and you can also learn about job openings or for example, get critiques on your designs.

But be careful not to join too many groups and end up feeling overwhelmed and so not participating in any. This happened to me. To minimise the possibility of this happening, find a small number of groups (it can be just one or two) that you will really be able to be active in and collaborate with.

Want to have a peek into what groups I’m in?

Slack

I absolutely love Slack groups. They are dynamic, the people are incredibly open to connecting and communication and discussions there happen very fast. I’ll be including groups not necessarily 100% focused on Design, but that have interesting #Design channels.

LinkedIn

Meetup

It wouldn’t be very useful sharing mine here – since the very nature of meetups is being local and focused in your city. Mine are São Paulo, ATX and NY-focused 😉 If you are still curious, you can see a list here.

Facebook

Unfortunately most groups I’m in are, again, very regional or speak Portuguese only but they might be worth sharing anyway: Dead User Society (This one is in Portuguese), UX Beginner (Pay it back! If you have experience, they encourage you to help out new professionals), Behance Brazil.

Conferences

Lastly, conferences. You should definitely pay attention to the ones that happen in your area and possibly even consider traveling to attend certain conferences that interest you. Keep in mind though that, unlike the groups I mentioned and (most) meetups, they are not free and tickets can stretch into the hundreds and thousands of dollars.

Attending a conference requires preparation, an understanding of why you are there and what you want to get from it. It’s a whole subject in itself, so make sure to do some research before attending your first one.

If you want to see a list of the top (UX) design conferences you should attend, take a look here.

Podcasts

Podcasts will cover almost any topic you can think of ranging from comedy to UX design. As a designer, you should try to listen to a few key ones. They serve as an amazing way to learn about new subjects, keep up with the industry and will often bring you closer to the designers you usually just read content from and overall, they are a great way to spend your downtime. Instead of listening to that pop song for the 1000th time, play a podcast instead. You’ll thank yourself later.

 

What are the ones that you, a designer, should be listening to? I have a few favorites:

 

 

Also take a look at this list.

Finally

To wrap up, I must reiterate how important it is to have a process. Pick the tools and media from which you get the most value and find a way to habitually get back to them as a part of your routine.

 

You’ll see the benefits in no time!.

Fabio Muniz is a Product Designer who contracts for TestLodge, an online test case management tool that allows QA teams to manage their software testing efforts with ease. You can contact Fabio and learn more about his work at fabio.design.


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Learn more about building client relationships as a freelance designer in the online course, How to Start Your Own Freelance Business, from HOW Design University. 

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