I'm a computer engineer on a small development team that specializes in designing mobile apps. We're all coders, and we're starting to realize that we need at least one or two qualified designers on our team to help draft and create our user interfaces, icons, etc.

In order to avoid hiring additional employees, my company offered to pay for formal graphic design training/classes. I was selected as the main candidate because I have a more artistic background than my coworkers, however I have limited graphic design experience. I've used Photoshop for several years on little hobby projects, but I have almost no experience with Illustrator and Fireworks (or any other vector graphics editors).

Assuming I have the potential to be a good UI designer (let me know if this is a flawed assumption), what is the best way for the company to spend its money? Should it invest in a formal training program? Should I enroll in courses? Should the company just buy me a book and let me teach myself?

Also, the company stated that it is willing to send me to "the best of the best", so I'm assuming cost isn't an issue as long as its cheaper than hiring new employees. So what is the best of the best?

In a nutshell: I'm a programmer. My company wants me to be a graphic designer, too. Assuming I meet the creative requirements, what's the most effective way to achieve this?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • 2
    You do realize that design is as specialized as coding, right? There's no course that's going to teach you effectively in a short period of time. You might learn some theory but implementing and becoming fluent takes several months at a minimum. Honestly, the money is better spent on someone with at least 2 years of training. The most effective way for you to become a designer as well is a two year Associates degree. Being "artistic" and being a designer don't always go hand in hand.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 7:55
  • I completely disagree with Scott on this one
    – Ryan
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 12:28
  • @Scott I'm working with a small startup, which is why they're so hesitant to hire a dedicated designer. Ideally, we would add a qualified designer once the company grows a bit. Right now, though, I don't think we have enough design work to require a full-time designer. I would probably end up putting in ~20 hr/week on design and ~20 hr/week on development. Given the circumstances, does this sound more reasonable?
    – Blake
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 19:38
  • 1
    @Blake... look at it this way... how effective would you be with that schedule if you were just learning programming? A novice is a novice. There's nothing wrong with that, but it's important to set expectation levels accordingly. You aren't going to get a high-level, polished, UI design from someone just starting. A better alternative may be to freelance the UI design to someone experienced.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 20:29
  • 3
    It makes more sense for the company to simply hire a part-time designer or contract a designer/studio for the work they need; they don't need to put a designer on the payroll. If it were actually cheaper to train a new designer rather than hire a professional, then don't you think all studios/companies would do this? And why stop at designers, just train the receptionist in programming/accounting/etc. Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


Blake - Bravo to you for being willing to expand upon your current role!

If you think that this is something that interests you, why not give it a shot? I do say that with a word of caution, I have worked with a lot of people who think that designing is easy, they just need the right programs. But not everyone is a designer and not everyone has an eye for design. But you know your talents, so take that with a grain of salt.

First of all, you need the programs, Adobe Creative Suite is the obvious way to go. Since you already have experience working with Photoshop, you'll find that digging in deeper to all the program offers can really transform your designs.

Illustrator however, is a beast. Working with vector is completely different than what most people assume. It will take time to learn and much more time to master, but it certainly can be done and is an essential tool for icon/logo design - so it can't be dismissed.

My suggestions: 1. Tell your company that you would like two to three weeks to tread the design waters before you commit to this as an added job responsibility. In that time, search out tutorials online (ex. Google Photoshop tutorials, Illustrator tutorials...), and get familiar with the programs.

  1. Buy a subscription to lynda.com...I go there to expand my skills in many different areas. Opt for the higher level of subscription since it also provides example files that you can download and work off of. It's not expensive but there are many different "courses" for the Adobe suite programs.

After doing that you'll have a better idea if this is something you want to do and then you can recommend a "best-of-the-best" training to your bosses. And in this case, I would recommend a course at your local university as it is hands on, you can be around other creatives and there is a knowledgeable instructor to help with any issues you may encounter. But this will be time intensive, which is why I first recommend the two options above.

Best of luck!

  • Thanks for the input! Conveniently, I already have a Lynda.com subscription. Any videos in particular you would recommend? Or should I just dive in?
    – Blake
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 3:49
  • Photoshop CS5 Essential Training - if you have the time watch the whole thing, but really I would recommend starting with Chapter 8. What CS are you working with? Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 20:57

Is it a flawed assumption? One can't say that until you try, some take to it and some don't.

What's the best way to spend the money? I would say the best thing is for them to provide you with required software whatever you end up choosing to use for designing and give you at least 2 or 3 hrs a day while at work to design things. Some days you might want to take a break and design in small spurts trying to draw quick little things. Other days you might get really into an idea for a picture and spend a larger portion of your day all at once doing a design. Graphic Design is a trade just like auto mechanic, programmer, tailor, plumber, electrician.... we learn by doing. Just sit down and start making icons and interfaces and show them on forums asking for people to be very critical and then go back and do it again and again and again.

A course will teach you some basics and put the tools in your hands, if you have the dedication to do that on your own there's no reason to go to a training program especially when there's no required certification for graphic design. I think of it as an auto mechanic but even better because our field requires even less financial restraints. Something needs to be worked on on your car so you do just that or you hire someone to do it. You wouldn't say, "hey my lights don't start I should take a class on auto mechanics." You would probably say, "Let me open up this hood and see if I change the bulbs they'll work again." You have nothing to lose by trying first and if you fail then I would suggest hiring someone else over going through any sort of courses on design.

  • There is, of course, no harm in trying. But to think that everyone and their brother who owns or pirated Photoshop can be designer is simply a mistake. Your analogies are ludicrous. You wouldn't think "Oh, someone's suing me. I can be my own lawyer." Or "Hey my appendix hurts.. where'd I leave that butter knife." The misconception that design is nothing more than making pretty pictures generally comes from the untrained or apathetic.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 20:33
  • 1. I didn't compare it to a surgeon or lawyer at all.
    – Ryan
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 20:58
  • 2. I didn't say he could be could succeed or imply that I "think that everyone and their brother who owns or pirated Photoshop can be a designer". I did say it doesn't hurt to try. The reason I compare it to automechanic, programmer or plumber and not a surgeon is because a surgeon there is very big risk that if you make a mistake it can get much much worse. There is a "harm in trying". With graphic design there isn't. (sorry didn't mean to make that first comment on its own and its telling me after 5 minutes I can't fix it)
    – Ryan
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 21:04
  • If you think there's no risk that bad design can make things much, much, worse, you are mistaken. Good design could be the difference between a profitable venture and a failed venture.
    – Scott
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 21:17
  • I'm not telling him to launch with bad design. I told him to show it to other designers for critique and go from there. Just like I wouldn't suggest if fixing your car doesn't go well to then take a road trip. That doesn't make sense and was never said.
    – Ryan
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 21:19

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