12 tips to progress faster as a student designer

12 Tips to progress faster at your design school - The design sketchbook - product and industrial design sketching tutorial blog


Erwan who is an upcoming student product designer, has just send me an email. He’s from France, 20 years old and will join soon the ISD Rubika design school at Valencienne (in France).

How to start in great condition and progress fast?

Hey Erwan,

Your question is pretty interesting as it’s a sign that you are proactive, which is one of the quality needed to succeed at a design school. I saw you will leave your hometown to study in an other city. Awesome! 🙂

To become a designer is a great journey. As you know, there is no magic wand that will make you become a great designer in a day. However there is solutions to reach your goal and rise your level much faster.

Let me share with you 12 Tips I discovered when I was student myself. I hope they will be helpful to you – as you can apply them from your first day at school.


Dream big.png

Your degree should not be your ultimate goal.

Imagine 2 fresh students having both zero skills studying at the same school for 3 to 5 years and both will be graduated. On paper, there is no difference. However, if you look closer: One will progress like a rocket, enjoy and get hired before his graduation day, while the other may still struggle with his portfolio.

Don’t dream of getting your degree. Dream of much bigger! Join a company you love even if it looks impossible, create your own design agency with your own philosophy, design for a better environment… Dare dreaming big. That’s the vision you should have even before starting your school!

Pause, and spend few minutes at thinking what makes you thrill! And imagine yourself in few years. 🙂 “Target the moon and you will reach one star, then maybe an other one. And so on.” You may wonder, how to know if your dream is big enough? I don’t know. But what I know is that if you dream does not intimidate you, it’s not big enough. 

Few readers from the blog from India tell me that their dream would be creating wheelchairs for disable people in their home country – so they can serve their country – the place they love and wanna take care of. Know why you are studying, and you will find strengh in it. Why? Because you are not doing it for yourself, but others. 


Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 23.19.32.pngFear is what will make you procrastinate and slow you down. Because of fear, some people stagnate for a day, a week or even for years. Fear is a natural feel you should not deny but learn how to tame it.

The key is: Even though you are scared to do something, just do it.

Think of a Diving pool. Some will jump and get it done, survive, redo and carry on getting better! They will realise it was not as tough as they though and progress. Some will laugh at their initial fear.
When others will just stay petrified looking at their knees shaking. Do you see what I mean? Sometime, it’s just good to stop thinking and dive.
Soon, your brain will associate Obstacles with Opportunity of progress. That’s how you will love taking new challenges.


Ugly Doll.png
Here is a common mistake from beginers. We admire great designers, we try to do the same, but after hours and days of practice trying to imitate them, we keep failing and give up!

Be proud of your ugly doodles! They are the one will help you get results.

If you wanna reach that level faster, you got to go through the fundamentals and take the habit of doodling first. Keep doodling! Keep failing! That’s a normal process. Sketching is like sculpture. It’s something you refine along the way.

4. Cut down your phone distraction

Phone zombie.png

A good way to increase your skills faster is to eleminate daily task and distraction that are not worth.

I would recommend you to stop watching TV, stop browsing your Facebook feed like a zombie and reach your email only once a day will do. Don’t play games and shut down your phone notification especially from social media (Keep only the important notification from people you care the most).

Don’t let your phone and apps dictate what you should do. 

I am not saying you should totally supress these distraction from your life. But remove them from your daily habits. You will become much more productive and focus on your passion.
For example, instead of looking at your phone in the subway, why not getting a pen and sketch things and people around you? Try to replace your “passive” time by creative time and remained connected with your environment.

5. Draw anything you love!

Love heart shadow passion.png
Any design student will be overwhealmed by the projects given at school.  Don’t get trapped into this following case: “Oh I draw enough for school, I am doing well for my homework – I don’t have to draw more.” False!
Keep drawing and even though you study Industrial design, learn from other fields such as fashion, architecture, plants, car, comics, manga, anatomy… ! You don’t have to become a specialist for each, but what you will gain will influence your style and will benefit you at becoming unique as a designer.

Start from what you enjoy the most.

There is an infinity of things to explore. And you may wonder: Where should you start? Simple. Start from what you enjoy the most. You like manga? Go study manga! It’s gonna help you in your product design too! You might surprise yourself, and also create things that nobody has ever done before.


Celia Calle Vertigo.png

Celia Calle – Vertigo

Browse and spot designers you feel inspired from. If they have a sketching style you admire, study them.

Steal their techniques and mix them up!

Once again, don’t hesitate to explore other fields of art. I personnaly enjoy Celia Calle who is a fashion Illustrator. She also did comics cover for Marvel. I admire her lines and worked on importing her feel into my product design sketches.

7. Feel stressed? Remember to have fun!

Celia Calle.png

Celia Calle illustration

You will meet stressful situation at school and you are gonna be affected. At these moment, remember to have fun! Step back, and remind yourself that become a designer is what makes you happy. Let me share with you a simple trick to help you relax:
  • Pause your work for few seconds
  • Adjust your body posture to be straight
  • Inhale deeeeeply from your nose and exhale slowwwwly from your mouth.
  • And smile. 🙂

Your brain is gonna be fulfilled of happy chemistry that will relax you instantaneously.


Quick map sketching fundamentals.png

A common mistake is to believe that your Design school will teach you whatever you need to perform. Each school’s philosophy and organisation is pretty much unique, but don’t exept to get everything you need whenever you need it. You might have multiple classes per week, you will have to juggle with all of them.
No system is perfect. From that stand point, don’t waste time at complainging but be grateful from what you have and keep doing your best to grab the info needed for your projects.

9. Compete with your classmate

Turbo snail race.png

Turbo snail race!

You will meet a lot of new friends, and will get affinity with some of them. Learn from who are better than yourself. Make sure you are not the “best” of your group.

Surround yourself with friends who love competition! And you will cheer you guys up, and always try to be the one to figure out things the first. Share your discoveries, and all of you will keep growing together. Don’t be ashame of asking: “Hey, how did you do that?”
Combine multiple brains instead of working with only yours!

 10. Visual communication

Fruit packaging.png

A great project deserves a great presentation to be appreciated as it whole value! When I was student, we realised that as Product designers, we had to study visual communication too. Our ideas had to be visually promoted.

Study people presentation and try to extract the best of them. Don’t hesitate to study magazines, brochures, posters, packaging… Study their composition, colours codes, fonts and spot what is working for them… so you can import them in your work.

11. Enjoy letting your ideas divagate.

Dream balloon moon.png

A good way to get result faster, has a lot with the time when you are not looking for answers. I mean using your imagination even if you have no specific goal for your projects.
For example, when I’m in bed closing my eyes before sleeping, I enjoy letting go my imagination. I make stories in my mind linking ideas together. 
At day time, I also like to play at guessing people’s story just by observing their outfit, body posture, face expression… old people’s face wrinkle could tell if they had a “smily life” or not.
This apply to people but also to object, architecture, monuments… Things have memory. Not far from my home town, there is old house having holes in the walls coming from the impact of bullets from World War II. When you see something, try to see what’s the hidden details from the past – having a “feel of a time line”. 

12. Think benefit, not technology

Starck quote.png

A common mistake is to take a new technology and start thinking what you could do with. It’s not wrong, but I could not say it’s right though. As  a designer, your priority is to create for people. They are your main source of inspiration. Ask yourself what problem you could solve, and how you can improve their life. Then only explore which technology best fit your objective.
I recommend you to watch designer’s interviews you can find on Youtube. Work on improving your designer mindset. This is what will drive you at always getting better. I have a special admiration for Philippe Starck and Patrick Jouin.

 That’s all what come in my mind now. And I am pretty sure that a designer is so much more than that! If you have any tips that can help improve faster, please tell us in the comments!
See you for the next article and tutorial!
Take care.
Erwan ISD Rubika Valacenciennes question designer produit.jpg

Erwan’s email in French, as I am too.

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About The Author


If the sketching methods I’ve acquired aid me in my life and in my career, I believe that they can also help you to learn, and help you with your projects. Whether Design is a job or a hobby it doesn’t matter, so long as you do what is important to you.


  • Akbar

    Reply Reply August 19, 2016

    Whoaa this is very helpful for me. Been studying for 3 years yet still hard for me to understand how to progress my skills faster. I can understand your method easily, like “Oh, so that’s what should I do!”

    Looking forward to next tips and guides, I still need to learn more.

    And again, thank you 🙂

    • Chou-Tac

      Reply Reply August 19, 2016

      My pleasure Akbar!

      Glad you found the article practical 🙂

      See you soon!



  • Erwan

    Reply Reply August 10, 2016

    Hey Chou Tac,

    Thanks a lot for your answer, it’will really help me !

    You allow me to understand how to fight my fears and to progress for
    achieve my dreams.

    Thanks again


    • Chou-Tac

      Reply Reply August 10, 2016

      My pleasure Erwan!

      Let’s keep in touch and let me know how things going at ISD Rubika :).

  • Denis

    Reply Reply August 8, 2016

    I really like how you dig to find essentialistic approach in what you learn/work/do. This is how i’m living to. This 12 is really working tips. All of them are must have for everyone not only rookies 🙂 Good one 🙂

    • Chou-Tac

      Reply Reply August 8, 2016

      Hey thanks Denis!

      I am glad we have common mindset and see that this is what still drive us everyday. 🙂

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