Learn More by Watching

by Tom Kenny (@tkenny)

I hadn’t played football for about six months which was enough time for me to be “rusty” the next time I played. I can’t even remember why I hadn’t played for so long but during that time I watched more football I had ever watched in any six month period before. Somehow it was one of the best football matches I had played for about a year prior to my six months of not playing.

I immersed myself into the world of watching the world’s best footballers and became better at playing football while not actually playing. It sounds crazy but that’s exactly what happened.

Ever since then, I realised the value of learning more by watching. I can actively not do something but watch someone else do it and still be good at it, if not better, months down the line. That means if I learn more by watching when I’m actually working on something (not at the same time of course), I can learn so much more effectively than I ever have before. It has been a huge eye opener.

Enough football talk, let’s get back to design.

How it Helped Me Design a Logo

Take this video of Aaron Draplin designing a logo for example:


Just like watching football, you’re watching one of the best logo designers in the world at the top of their game. I haven’t designed a logo for a while (web design as a whole is my main focus) but I know that with this expert teaching, I can go into the next logo design with much more confidence than I would have and indeed I did.

I’m currently travelling the world with my wife and she has started writing a blog but it’s only on a wordpress.com domain with a simple theme (I’ll be linking to is as a case study in few weeks here on Inspect Element when the website is designed and live). I decided her writing and photos deserve something better so I’m in the process of designing her a logo and a website.

I haven’t designed a logo for maybe a year or two but I was able to sit down with my wife (she’s the boss at all times, not just when she was a client here ;) and design something we were both very happy with.

Read more about the logo design for my wife’s blog on dribbble

Read more about the logo design for my wife’s blog on dribbble

Just like I thought I would be rusty at football because I hadn’t played for a long time, I thought designing a logo wouldn’t come easy to me this time because I hadn’t created one for a year or two. Thanks to learning by watching (and Aaron’s expert advice) I was able to do them to the best of my ability (actually better because it took less time than usual), despite being a while since I last designed one.

Learning CSS Quickly by Watching

I learnt CSS by watching Andy Clarke and Molly Holzschlag’s fantastic CSS for Designers video tutorials. They’re a bit dated now but at a time when I was intimidated by learning any code at all, they helped me learn CSS in the fastest way possible, so I could get a website up and running to apply for a new job.

Now I can build every site I design (at least the front-end, sometimes the back-end too) which has made me more valuable. I know for a fact I once landed a full-time job because I knew how to design and build, including creating WordPress themes.

How to Learn More by Watching

Dedicate an amount of time to watch more about design. I recommend at least starting with an hour a week or a couple of videos to get into the habit of doing this and choose a particular day. Choose one that works best for you, put it on your calendar (with a reminder) and make a commitment to do it. Build the habit of watching to learn.

Watch this fascinating video of BJ Fogg teaching habit change to understand how to build habits. Yep, learn by watching! He explains how you need motivation, ability and a trigger to happen at the same time. For example, the reminder in your calendar is the trigger to get you to watch something, motivation is the desire to learn more and the ability is creating time to watch more. You’ll get what I mean if you watch the video.

Take Notes!

Don’t just watch something and then get on with your day. You’ll remember much more if you take notes and the better notes you take, the easier you’ll remember.

Even better, if you can, is to write an article, even if you don’t publish it, you’ll remember more and you’ll have something to refer back to which will be quicker to read than watching a long video.

Yet another instance of how writing can help designers.


Most people come away from design conferences feeling very inspired. You’ve just been watching some of the best designers talk. Ok, you haven’t been watching them work as such, but you probably have acquired insight into how they work.

If you don’t know where to start, I have some recommendations for you. Almost all of these are from conferences.

  • Designing for Credibility – This is actually aimed at business owners who don’t know too much about design but it is still fantastic to watch to pick on a few things here as designers, specifically on the subject of credibility.
  • On Web Typography – Jason Santa Maria delivers an expert view on how to use typography on the web, filled with fantastic examples.
  • The Shape of Design – Frank Chimero says “through storytelling, we can seduce people to do really wonderful things and if you seduce them, you don’t need to conquer them”.
  • Design for Humans – Mike Kus takes you through a journey of how visual design can improve web design by redesigning an old version of Innocent’s web page. This kind of work reminds me of how well Orangina brought their unique brand to the web.
  • How to Charge What You’re Worth – Ramit Sethi teaches how craft alone isn’t going to get us work with the best clients. He delves into the psychology of how clients think and how you can use that to genuinely help them, without being dishonest. Lots of great insights here. I first saw this video a while ago and I just watched it again three times because it’s so good (and so I could make some notes).

99u have a great collection of conference videos covering many different topics. None of them are web design focused but there is plenty of advice you can apply to yourself and the work you do, such as Ramit’s video above.

During my research for this article, I found a couple of websites with a good selection of videos for web designers called Vinery and another called Besquare. They both don’t seem to have been updated for a while so don’t come back expecting new videos but there is still enough there to keep you learning for a while.

There are also other places to learn by watching such as Treehouse, who offer in-depth courses on various topics including web design (by the way, that link gives you 50% off your first month after the free 14 day trial period).

Learn More by Watching the Best

One other thing you can learn from the best that I haven’t mentioned, and I want to quickly touch upon, is storytelling. Watch the videos above by BJ Fogg and Ramit Sethi and see how effortlessly they give their speeches. They know their story inside out. Imagine showing your design work with the kind of conviction and confidence they exude.

Learning is one of the best skills you can have in the fast moving industry of web design and watching the best at work is one of the most effective ways to improve.

Design Inspiration from the World's Best Designers

Learn why the best designers make the decisions they do to design successful websites people love in this FREE eBook with 3 in-depth case studies. I’ve spent hours studying what makes these websites amazing, so you can use what works and focus on your design work. Subscribe now to get it immediately.

100% privacy. No spam. Completely free!

by Tom Kenny

I’m a freelance web designer and front-end developer with over 7 years of experience designing for the web. Follow me on Twitter here.