I should preface this by saying I think Daily UI is a neat concept, and I commend the team behind it. They’ve done an excellent job of getting people excited about design challenges and building their portfolio. Daily UI provides eager newcomers with the mindset that becoming a designer is a step by step journey that requires learning something new every day. In that regard, it has done a lot for the community.
That said, there are some critical flaws with merely doing a daily UI challenge and believing it will make you a well-rounded, or even worse, a qualified designer.
In this post, I discuss why daily UI doesn’t teach you a whole lot that applies to a real product design profession and what you can do instead.
Over the years, I’ve developed my design skills primarily through my interest and passion for the field. I didn’t set out to be a designer when I first started; I designed for fun on the side until ultimately, it turned into my career.
Most designers that I see applying for product design positions aren’t showing their genuine passion for design in their portfolio. They’re not presenting their artistic style through work that they’ve created on their own accord.
Beginners are often unsure of what to work on, or they assume they need client work or a job to build their portfolio. I’m here to tell you that those may help, but they are certainly not necessary.
If you’re a beginner that thinks the daily UI challenge will help your portfolio stand out, then you’d also be mistaken. Not only are you not setting yourself apart from the countless other designers doing the challenge, but you’re also building a narrow skillset by doing so.
Daily UI may help you advance your UI skills (typography, hierarchy, color, layout, etc.), but it will not aid you in developing the underlying design skills involved in creating a real product.
When you’re doing a daily UI challenge (most of the time), you’re re-skinning an existing screen that could be found anywhere on the web. Having things like signup, checkout, landing page, calculator, app icon, user profile, settings, and so on in your portfolio is fine. Still, it doesn’t demonstrate that you understand product design at the holistic level.
When designers begin daily UI, often, what I see is that they create a landing page for a fake company and then an app icon for another entirely different, also fake company.
This inconsistency in designs can shape the designers thinking in terms of happy paths and doesn’t give them a proficient understanding of the underlying concepts involved in developing an entire product.
What I call a “happy path” is a design that doesn’t take into account all the necessary states for it to be fully functioning. It has a single path that works, and that’s it.
When all you’ve designed is one screen of a made-up product, then you haven’t taken into account the user journey, the overall product identity, the user experience, the product goal, and so on.
All you’ve accounted for is the UI design. This is fine if all you strive to be is a single disciplined designer — but why do this when you could be developing other skills in tandem?
Work on side projects instead.
As opposed to daily UI, with a side project, you’re not designing a landing page one day, then a calculator then next (days 3 and 4). You’re building a product that, whether it gets developed or not, you’ll need to take into account all the states necessary to complete the experience.
Side projects force you to focus less on making it look perfect and more on making it complete. With side projects, you’re building a product, not making a single screenshot. But, don’t worry, it can still look beautiful for your Dribbble account.
I never understood why a designer would want to build a bunch of unrelated screens and components for the challenge when they can all be connected with the same product.
Building a side project can be immensely more productive for your development as a designer because it teaches you to think in regards to a real product. It displays that you’ve done the work to create a user journey, and you’re not allowing there to be gaps in the experience.
I recommend using a tool like Invision or Adobe XD to create a prototype that can be wired together. Building a clickable prototype forces you to think of what you’re creating as an actual product and not just screens on their own.
Most screens or components don’t have a still, singular state. Products have various states that can change the display or experience of an interface, for example — hover, active, empty, error, warning, success, disabled, active, or pending states — to name a few.
When you design an actual product, you’ll need to account for what the screen looks like when the user hasn’t added any content to it yet — the empty state. Or what happens when the user makes a submission to your beautiful form, but they’ve mistyped their email?
Side projects train you to build out the not-so-happy-paths too.
When you’re building a side project, you’ll need to take more of these considerations into account to complete the user flow. You’ll create an actual product, not just something that looks pretty in your portfolio.
I’m a huge proponent for side projects. Whether you have plans for your project to be developed or not, you should still design it as though it will be. And who knows, maybe one day it will.
Having side projects in your portfolio is another way to help you stand out in the crowded world of designers. You’ll develop the skills that other designers who aren’t focusing on the entire product experience are skipping.
I’ve always pushed myself to come up with ideas for products and design them out as much as possible. I’ve created a bunch of products that have never left a Sketch file on my computer.
Having a side project not only shows that you have initiative and can create a product on your own accord — but it also displays your authentic design style. It showcases a creation that came out of your creative exploration, with no one else’s fingers in it.
Client projects or any paid project by default will have several cooks in the kitchen. There are opinions and input from other designers, strategists, stakeholders, etc. that are contributing to the outcome. You may have designed a portion, but how many of those ideas or decisions were indeed yours?
A side project shows a more authentic side to the designer’s portfolio — it shows that they’ve invested in mastering their craft. They provide a greater understanding of the designer’s creative process and how they execute design decisions.
Daily UI, to me, seems like an excuse to make daily uploads to Dribbble rather than allowing an idea to marinate in your creative mind and fully develop into something.
It gives an excuse to take shortcuts in the design process and make a happy-path rather than considering how a user would interact with this product if it existed.
If you’re looking to enhance your portfolio game, give yourself the time to invest in a side project.
I have interviewed several design candidates at my company, Skookum , and my favorite question is always, “Have you or are you working on any side projects?” Candidates who can answer this question with an example instantly stand out amongst the others.
Come up with a product idea then create the main screens, landing page, sign up flow, email newsletter, account settings, password reset page, and so on for the product.
Doing this will teach you to consider the past and future of the product’s lifecycle into your design decisions. Thinking and designing in this way is sure to help you advance more quickly as a designer and set your portfolio apart from the masses.