Sometimes it's difficult to find time for learning and situations for experimentation. After all, too much experimentation can ruin a client's site and you may get yourself into jobs that are over your head if you're too aggressive.
Fortunately, there are endless ways that you can experiment in order to benefit from the learning experience, and many of them will not even have the potential to harm a client's project. In this post we'll look at some excellent ways that you can build your skills safely.
1. Have your own sites
You can do a certain amount of experimentation with your own portfolio site (that's probably why you see so many creative portfolios), but you shouldn't stop there. Many designers, myself included, have a few other websites that are as much for experimentation as anything. Running your own sites can be a fun learning experience and you can do whatever you want and learn whatever you choose to pursue.
2. Follow tutorials
We're fortunate as designers that there is an abundance of information online about our profession (or hobby), and there are countless tutorial sites that can provide limitless learning opportunities. Take some time each week to work your way through one tutorial that will teach you something new. The guys at Eden have you covered with 3 great tutorials sites to start with: PSDTUTS, NETTUTS, and VECTORTUTS.
3. Create your own tutorials
If you're ambitious you can take on the task of creating your own tutorials for other designers. Most likely you'll learn some new things yourself along the way. Try to challenge yourself to create something better or in a different way than you have done before.
4. Create free WordPress themes
There are thousands of free WordPress themes out there, and many of them started as an experimentation of the designer. Developing your own theme can be a great learning process, and you can even help others out by distributing the end result for free. WordPress design is a great skill to master right now as it's becoming more and more popular by the day it seems. A high percentage of the inquiries I receive for design services are for custom WordPress themes, and I don't even target this type of business. Well-skilled WordPress designers have plenty of potential business.
5. Create a premium WordPress theme
If your skills are more advanced and the idea of creating a free theme doesn't appeal to you, why not work on building and selling a premium theme (of course, you can sell it here at Templamatic). By creating a theme for sale rather than for free you'll need to create something that's better than the free themes that are available, and that can be another excellent learning experience.
6. Create HTML/CSS templates
If you're not interested in WordPress or if you would just rather work on other skills, there's also a need for both free and premium HTML and CSS templates (again, you can sell them at Templamatic). You may be able to use the templates you create for future clients, or you can just give them away to the design community. Either way, you can stretch your skills and try new things to your heart's content.
7. Design wallpaper
If it's graphic design skills that you want to improve, working on creating unique wallpaper can provide great practice. Again, you can give away your work or just keep it for your own use. Wallpaper is pretty popular online, and if you offer it up for free you may be surprised at the kind of traffic you can get from it.
8. Create your own icons
Even more graphic design skills can be developed by taking on the challenge of designing your own custom icons. There's no shortage of free icons available, but sometimes you can't find exactly what you're looking for. This can be a great opportunity to enhance your skills and to get the icon that you really need. Much like wallpaper, free icon collections can draw a lot of visitors to your site if you're willing to give them away..
9. Volunteer for a non-profit
If you're looking to build some specific skills and gain general web design experience, you can always find non-profit organizations that are in need of free or low-cost design services. This may or may not be a good option for you depending on where you are at in your career. If you're just getting your foot in the door and working on building a portfolio, it may be a positive experience.
What's Your Experience?
How do you like to experiment and improve your skills?