9 great resources for keeping your skills fresh

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November 10, 2011
continuing educationWhether you are self-taught, fresh out of school, or a design veteran, continuing education has invaluable long-term effects on your ability to stay competitive and business savvy. The immediate benefits are also abundant. Emerging techniques you learn today can be applied to a client project tomorrow for added value, or to set your work apart from the mainstream. There was never a point at which successful designers have learned enough. The secret to being cutting edge is to stay sharp. Aside from your local library or book store, and in lieu of returning to college full-time, the internet offers you an infinite number of outlets and resources for learning. With so many blogs, e-books and forums offering knowledge on hundreds of design-related topics, determining quality and choosing sources can quickly become overwhelming and time consuming. Below are 9 of the best resources I have uncovered and used to keep my own skills fresh, chosen for their high content quality, element of interest, value and relevancy.

1. Sessions College for Professional Design

Sessions College offers a collection of high quality certificate and degree programs aimed at professionals who wish to learn something new or refresh their credentials. Each course is designed to provide new and creative ways to use modern techniques in design, coding and multimedia. Fees are reasonable, and the school offers an easy payment schedule and assistance for securing private loans for those who need them.

2. Lynda.com

The video courses offered through Lynda.com cover a wide range of subjects, from Development to Photography. Courses are carefully tailored to help professionals learn new topics in a short amount of time, and are a perfect way to evolve your work by expanding your knowledge to include complimentary skills such as Photography or Animation. Lynda.com is a pricier option at $25 per month, but may make up for the money you will lose by letting your talents wane.

3. O'Reilly

O'Reilly is an academic standard when it comes to instructional text, and their library sports titles covering every technical subject imaginable. They also sponsor the School of Technology, which offers extensive online courses and certificate programs, covering modern programming languages. Unlike formal online university programs, the School of Technology courses earn you credits at a fraction of the cost and are accessible anytime. Training courses are excellent for learning specific topics quickly, but the cost adds up. If money is tight, the best solution is to buy a book. Several titles are available for free download from the O'Reilly library, found by entering "free" into the search bar.

4. jQuery

The power of jQuery is quickly becoming a staple in web design, and understanding its basic function and implementation is important, even if you are not a developer. The jQuery website is more than just a repository. Its tutorial seciton is an excellent solution for learning specific techniques and plugin usage. Each tutorial is written by key contributors to the jQuery project, many of which are also authors, teachers or industry pioneers.

5. W3C Schools

Building from standards set by the Worldwide Web Consortium, W3CSchools always has a complete overview on updates in web coding before they are fully supported by browsers. Keeping on top of content as it is published to this site guarantees you will have a strong understanding of the discipline and techniques required to implement it in your designs far before the rest of the web catches up. W3C Schools even offers certification for the benefit of skeptical employers.

6. Free University Courses

You can pay for premium education, or you can get it free. If you are like most designers, free is always a better option. Academic Earth is a compendium of top university resources, seminars and lectures on a variety of topics, including business, art and writing. Berkeley and MIT also offer a huge selection of open courses, video lectures and materials to help you supplement your technical skills.

7. Conferences

They aren't the most cost-effective or quick ways to learn a new skill, but the contact-building capabilities of conferences and seminars far outweigh the perceived inconvenience of leaving your computer and many of them offer convincing whitepapers aimed at convincing your employer to fit the bill. Thousands of experts from around the globe gather to exchange expertise and ideas in areas you may not think to pursue as a designer, such as copyright law, business ethics, user experience and agile development. Smashing Magazine hosts a thorough list of conferences on their blog here and cover everywhere from New York to New Zealand. Conference websites often host videos of past talks, allowing you to gain key insights without having to attend. To keep on top of internet topics outside of design, check out upcoming technical conferences at O'Reilly.

8. Challenge Yourself

Learning a new trick in CSS or mastering HTML5 is not the only way to keep your skills sharp. Your creativity muscle needs new ways to flex itself that go beyond web standards. Use sites like the 100-Day Drawing Challenge and Show & Tell's 30 Day Challenge to keep your artistic aptitude high and strive for unique and interesting perspectives through physical sketching. If Photography or Digital Art is more your thing, consider JPG Magazine, DP Challenge or Dominance War to help keep that spark lit, and keep an eye on Duuel, a new website aimed at challenging pairs of designers to innovate in specific areas of design.

9. Community

Your instinct may tell you to stay away from others of your kind for survival, but this is counterproductive and counter-intuitive where the spirit of web design is considered. Sites like Forrst, DesignersCouch and Dribbble give you the opportunity to experiment in an open arena, ask questions or share your expertise. Your peers and colleagues offer the best resource for learning new techniques, discovering new tools and gaining valuable feedback, so don't be afraid to use it. Where are your favorite places online to continue their design education? Let us know in the comments!

Vail Joy

Written exclusively for Webdesigner Depot by Vail Joy. She is a freelance designer and tech blogger with a deep interest in all things web-related. She also enjoys writing for WIX, the free website builder.

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