Christine Oskison had dreamed about a career change, but knew that pursuing another degree wasn’t realistic.  She completed online web development classes, but realized that, “While I enjoyed learning how to code, I was even more passionate about learning visual design.” Read on to hear about her experiences with using online learning to build a design portfolio and the assignment she’d have you complete to become a better designer.

What were your expectations for the course?

I was excited to find Designlab’s courses after seeing rave reviews on CourseReport. I enrolled in Design 101, which focuses on the visual elements of design such as color theory, layout, hierarchy, and typography.  I was looking to learn and practice design concepts.  

Designlab’s mentor-based approach is what really drew me to their courses.  For me, going back to receive a second college degree for design isn’t feasible.  With Designlab, I was able to have a professional designer offer feedback on my work and challenge me to improve my designs.  Designlab mentors provide both written comments on your projects on the Designlab site, and also talk with you via four 1:1 Skype sessions.  

Being able to practice the design concepts by completing several projects was very helpful.  It takes a great deal of practice to improve any skill, and Designlab provided a wide variety of projects to practice several different skills and concepts. When finished with the course, you receive a gorgeous virtual certificate and portfolio displaying your coursework.

This portfolio not only serves as a personal record of your work and progress, but also can be a helpful addition to a resume or cover letter when applying for design jobs.  

What were your previous experiences with online courses? How was Designlab different?

I’ve really enjoyed learning through several online courses, and each has contributed substantially to my understanding of design. But I really like the mentor-based approach of Designlab. When you are learning any new skill, it helps to have the guidance and feedback of someone more experienced than yourself. 

My mentor, Derek, was able to teach me how to improve my typography, colors and layout in ways that greatly improved my designs.  He helped me to identify issues with my designs and offered solutions to resolve them.  I also enjoyed being able to receive feedback from peers and other mentors as well.

What was your favorite project?

At first I wondered if I might drive my mentor crazy when I wanted to re-work my first project several times, but he was very gracious.  Our first assignment was a pre-assessment to get an idea of our skillset prior to beginning the course.  We were tasked with designing a landing page for a smoothie company.

The assignment was simply to design one version, using whatever skills we brought with us, and the mentors would then be able to tailor their guidance throughout the course based on areas we needed more work. I thoroughly enjoyed the concept of designing a smoothie company’s landing page, and I was eager to refine my initial piece to make it stronger and have the option of using it as a final portfolio piece.

I kept a few of the smoothie company designs in my final portfolio, but submitted over 10 iterations of this initial project.  I really enjoyed working on this piece, and was so thankful to have a mentor who was patient with my goals for it.

I also enjoyed working on my final project, which was to design an app or website. I chose to design a website for a coffee house.  In the process of designing the website mockup, I chose a color palette and created a Style Tile displaying color, typography and image samples.  Then I sketched my ideas for the site in pencil, created a wireframe, and finally drafted the mockup of the site.  

My mentor Derek’s feedback was so valuable in this process. I can really see the progress from my initial hand-drawn sketch to the drafts of the website and the final mockup.  

What surprised you the most about the course?

I really appreciated being able to see my peers’ submissions. Their creative solutions to the projects inspired me. I learned a great deal from my peers and from seeing their mentors’ feedback on their projects. This was a fun aspect of the course, and I hadn’t realized it would play such an important role in my own learning experience.

What was your experience with your mentor like?

I was able to interact with my mentor, Derek, on the Designlab site, as well as through email and our Skype sessions.  He responded to my many questions about the Designlab projects, what it’s like to be a professional designer, and differences in designing for print vs. web. My favorite aspects of Designlab are the projects and the mentor feedback and interaction.  

How have you integrated what you learned through the course into your career or personal interests? Any success stories?

Since recently completing the Design 101 course, I’m eager to take my next Designlab course.   My goal is to pursue a career in design, and I plan to use my Designlab portfolios on my resume and job applications.  I am confident the skills I’ve learned in Designlab will be a valuable part of my design career.

Do you have any advice for other students thinking about taking a Designlab course?

I’d highly recommend Designlab courses!  I’m planning to take the Branding & Identity Design course next.  The mentors, your peers, and the Designlab team are all incredibly helpful.   

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

One piece of advice for aspiring designers, given by my Designlab mentor and several designers I know: Find an example of design you really like, and try to recreate it.  By recreating designs, you will get practice using design tools and principles, which will help as you begin creating your own designs.  

Check out Christine’s portfolio of Designlab coursework, learn more about her professional background on LinkedIn and connect with her on Twitter

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Meghan Lazier

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