Dalton Mitchell is a programming extraordinaire and former Designlab student. We sat down with Dalton to chat about his aspirations, artistry, and pursuits in design.

What originally drew you to design? What were your goals?

I think I’ve always been drawn to design, but I just didn’t know it was a thing. Since a child, I’ve always been very curious about how things worked and how I could make them better. I was also obsessed with art and music. I went to a trade school to study computer technology and fell in love with programming and web design because it was the closest chance I saw to be artistic and still have a “real” job.

My goals were to understand what makes good designers good. I’ve always felt my work was missing something, and I wanted find out what I could change to go from a guy who builds mediocre websites to making beautiful things like Kit Hinrichs or Maria Giudice or Jason Santa Maria or any of these amazing designers I would read about.

Had you pursued any design education before trying Designlab?

In college, all I got was a basic web design intro course and was never able to go back for my BA, so I tried teaching myself for all these years. I took online courses on Lynda.com, read all kinds of posts on Smashing Mag, Sitepoint and Tuts+. I bought a few books on using Macromedia (yes, I’m that old) and Adobe products; however, it never clicked, so I was always disappointed in my work.

How did you discover Designlab?

I found Designlab from the Crew website (pickcrew.com). I must have heard about Unsplash, their free stock photo site, and for every site I visit I always have to look back at the developers site and see what else they make. I think Designlab was one of their early projects, and I had just finished a couple months binging on Codecademy to brush up my programming. I thought the idea of a Codecademy for design was amazing, and I started doing the free lessons and even invited my wife to try them!

What about Designlab’s course drew you to it? Which aspect did you find most helpful?

I learn differently from the average person, so reading books and tutorials never helped me because I couldn’t connect the dots. For example, I couldn’t read just about the benefits of designing with grids; I have to layout some text and elements on a page, overlay a grid, and then realize how much better my eye can make sense of that page when I align the items to the grid. Once I get that basic concept, then I can go back and read all about the subject, but I usually have to understand the basics by trial and error.

Dalton worked on style guides in his exploration of color theory & typography.

I loved Designlab’s built-in editor because it forced me to think about “what and why” I was doing things rather than just understand how to use a tool, like Photoshop or Fireworks. The mentoring was also incredibly helpful because if something about my design didn’t “feel” right, I finally had the chance to ask someone why!

My mentor would provide feedback that I could compare with my thought process in making the design and then it would just click! This helped me not only to improve my current design but also learn some kind of important design concept that I hadn’t yet understood. 

What was your overall experience with Designlab? How did Designlab help you achieve your goals?

My overall experience was great! I can look back and see tangible improvement in my work after taking the course, and I finally build mockups and front-end designs that don’t completely disappoint me; if they do, I’m able to analyze and improve them.

It’s allowed me to write better code because I understand UX concepts better, I get to take on more design projects at work, and it has given me the confidence to start looking for greater opportunities with a company more focused on design.

I would love to work at a startup or a boutique design shop doing front-end or even print design, and now that career seems like a realistic goal.

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