Why I’m learning design

I’m currently pivoting from web development to web design (though I’ll probably stay more on the development side). It isn’t something that I ever thought I would do, though I’m glad that I am. As promised in an earlier post, here are the reasons behind this decision.

1. I have to study something.

I always need to be learning. I find it interesting to learn new things, but this is pragmatism as well: my web development job is a temporary contract. I’m content in my current position, but I had a few months off already this year due to the pandemic. Leveling up my skills in any area is something I can do to prepare for whatever next year might bring.

2. My brain has changed.

In early 2020 my “leveling-up” quest led me to enroll in Launch School, an online coding school that provides a mastery path to web development and software engineering. I programmed in Ruby, learning a step-by-step approach to problem solving that enabled me to solve difficult coding problems. I also studied networking and databases. I enjoyed it, I was good at it, and I hoped to finish the entire course by the end of 2020.

Then in April 2020 I had Covid-19 for 3 weeks. Despite it being a relatively mild case, it’s December and I still haven’t fully recovered. While I was laid off from work I progressed in Launch School for a while, but studying came at the cost of my health. I relapsed over and over again into a variety of “long-covid” symptoms, the worst of which were fatigue and body aches. So I was never able to get back into the flow of studying like I wanted.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my body has changed. My brain chemistry may have been fundamentally altered, and I can’t solve intense coding challenges like I used to. Even if I reach a solution, I feel my brain descending into a fog and my body temperature rising. Rather than keep fighting for this one thing, it’s time to explore other options. I’m able to go for walks, the body aches have receded, and I can focus enough to read books again. I feel lucky to have regained that much, even if I can’t do CodeWars anymore.

3. I’m obsessed with beauty.

As I began to look for another area to explore, I ran across a book by The School of Life called A Job to Love. It contains pages of exercises to figure out what makes work enjoyable, often connecting it to childhood experiences. As I went through them, I discovered that I had a strong inclination towards beautiful places and things. Of the “12 Pleasure Points of Work”, “Beauty” is the highest for me personally. By a lot.

Along the way, I was able to put together what I enjoyed so much about being a professional piano vocalist for 10 years. I don’t miss that lifestyle. I don’t miss the travel or the job insecurity (and that was before the pandemic!). But I do miss the creativity and self-expression. Working that into my professional life now can only be a good thing for me.

Here’s a relevant video from School of Life:

4. I’ve been doing it without realizing.

When I first started learning to code, I took my rudimentary HTML and CSS skills to a code meetup in Nashville. I quickly became the designer for our group projects. At the time I sort of fell into it because I didn’t know any JavaScript yet. But it was more important to me than to anyone else what the project looked like, and I took it seriously. It felt so natural to me that I didn’t notice that I had found meaningful and enjoyable work.

Before that, I did the cover art for my singer-songwriter albums, styled my WordPress websites, and designed social media (all the way back to MySpace). It was part of being a musician, and not something I paid very much attention to.

I guess it took looking at my life objectively to realize what could have been obvious all along: I enjoy design. So I’m giving myself the opportunity to learn some theory and gain a real understanding, just as I once did with music theory.

If you’re learning graphic or web design, take a moment to let me know why in the comments!

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