How to improve with deliberate practice

Ask Budi is series where I answer questions I often get from other designers about my process and work. This is a scalable way for me to share my answer rather than answering the questions individually.

Greetings Budi,

You seems mastered a lot of things (UI, UX, Icon, Lettering and Illustration) and each of them have an awesome and well-structured process. I heard you never had a formal educational background. How do you learn?


I love this question because this gives me an excuse to share my strategy of deliberate practice.

Wait, what do you mean by deliberate practice?

It’s a term where you consciously learn something with a purpose of improvement. Over the 7 years, I’ve constantly improved my skill using this method. I’m excited to share this for the first time, I’ll keep this high-level and hopefully you can apply this method to improve the skill you desire.

So, here’s a quick glance on the cycle of my deliberate practice

Disclaimer: This is my simplified version of deliberate practice cycle

Break down the cycle

From my experience, most people fail to “deliberate practice” because they keep in the “learn” mode forever. This will make them never feel improved and ended up losing motivation.

Therefore, I normally time-box my learning period and break them down purposefully. Here’s how I normally break down my practice period.

F= Fundamental, E= Execution, R= Reflection

I normally take 1 year and break them apart into different segments with different goals. By the way, you could adjust the time range as needed.

In summary, it looks like so:

  • Fundamental round for 2 months
  • Execution round for 3 months
  • Reflection round for 1 month
  • Execution round for 4 months
  • Reflection & Fundamental round for 2 months

Fundamental 2 months

As anything in this world, you have to start with the fundamental. I’m a firm believer if you have a strong fundamental, you’ll be able to grow way easier.

Here’s what I normally focus on:

  • Learn the history of the subject.
    It’s important to understand the history and
  • Learn from online source.
    Online source is great to get you off the ground with some basics and fundamental. You can find online tutorial on Lynda, Skillshare, or Udacity just to name a few.
  • Read book and literature.
    Nowadays, I really like reading book or literature because it’s a purer form of information, online tutorial and videos are great — but they are mostly simplified and distorted with someone’s else opinion or personal taste.
  • Practice daily.
    Set a time in a day, and make this a habit for you to train your skill, either that’s watching video or reading a book or just try it out.

Here’s what I do to keep motivated:

  • Find the “professionals” to look up to. This will keep me inspired by their awesome work.
  • Just try out, no matter how bad I am
  • Copy those “professionals”, but do not publish!

Even though this first 2 month looks like a boring period, you shouldn’t skip it, this is a very crucial moment in your deliberate practice. Oh, don’t throw anything you make at this point (yes, no matter how bad it is). Keep reading, you’ll know why later.

Execution 3 months

After 2 months of learning and get familiar with the subject. Now is the time to execute all the knowledge from the learning.

This way, I can escape from the “learn” mode I mentioned earlier. It’s very important to execute and start applying the learning. Don’t get me wrong, I still refer back to the book or video I watch if necessary, but it’s shouldn’t be longer a daily routine anymore.

A couple of options you can do for this round:

  • Create side-project
  • Help your friend or family
  • Apply it to your day-to-day work (if applicable)

For me, this is where I normally make or plan my own side-project. Side project is a perfect playground for you to experiment with the knowledge you have at this point because it’s risk-free.

What’s important in this step?

  • I normally take notes of things I struggle with. This is where I being conscious of my weaknesses

Reflection 1 month

Normally, I like to give myself 1 month to do an introspection on what I’ve accomplished and also give me a little room to re-charge after 5 months of intense learning and executing. At this point, what you need to do is to do self-critique.

Observe what you have and ask these questions

  • What I wish I’ve known before?
  • What things I like and don’t like about my work?
  • Am I using my time wisely?
  • Will anyone hire me for this?

Use those questions as a voice-board to improve your skill and mindset. This is a subtle thing, but you will notice later that you will carry this unconsciously

“You’ll find an aha moment which what people call a sudden breakthrough moment”

Execution 4 months

After give the first stab on the fundamental, accomplished small steps and know what I want to improve. It’s a time for another execution, I normally improve the side-project I did before.

I usually repeat the same step as before and face a “frustration phase” at this point — where I feel not improving and get any better. Don’t worry if you feel the same, that’s normal.

It’s important to keep it together no matter how frustrated you are, you’ll find an “aha” moment which what people call a “sudden breakthrough” moment — it’s a weird moment — where all of the sudden, your brain will see things clearer and everything make more sense.

Look back & Repeat 2 months

After this long process, you should look back to your work and re-learn the fundamental to make them stronger.

One thing that normally happens is you will hate your old work. That’s fine! That means you are progressing, you now have a better eye and skill. Isn’t that awesome?!

I keep repeating this process over and over. This method can be applied to many different things, it improves my craft skill even when I tried new area, like lettering or illustrations.

Ugh, but Budi, that’s a long process!

Well, it is. No matter what era we live in, the process to mastering something is never been easy.

I’m pretty sure you must have said “you’re so talented!” to somebody once in your life. The truth is, there’s a long and tedious process to be “good” at something. Then, it’s the matter of work experience and how do you approach your skill with various principles and philosophies.

Good luck!
I hope this helps!

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5 replies to “Deliberate practice

  1. Thanks for sharing your process, Budi! That’s impressive how you committed to your learning-timeline ✨. I’d like to push myself to do so..

    Well I was wondering, during your deliberate practice, did you only focus on learning at 1 subject and literally not ‘touching’ any other subject, or you multitasked?

    Thank you.

    • Hi,

      Glad you like it!
      I’d recommend so, focus on one subject at the time is more far better if you can do it.
      However, I normally do this learning on the side of my day-to-day work. So basically, I still do my daily work and learn or improve on 1 subject.


  2. Hai Budi,

    Terima kasih telah sharing, ini artikel yang sangat bermanfaat bagi saya, very inspiring.
    Sebagai Designer yang belajar otodidak, saya sangat termotivasi.

    Izin meninggalkan jejak agar nantinya bisa mengikuti jejak mas Budi.

    Akhbar Ibnu Shalih

  3. Hi Budi, glad I followed your wife on Instagram and found this about you! I think it’s amazing you can learn about graphic design by yourself , without going to design school. Like it’s really eye-opening and interesting.
    May I know, since when do you realize you like graphic design and why did you go to economic school instead? Would you like to share, how do you find your passion? Because I am currently struggle with that.
    Regarding your deliberate practice I think that’s great method. I got an idea which I think would be great if you could share your detailed plan of learning as well, which others could use as a guide for learning about design! For example you could divide the plan into 3 levels and give suitable challenge for side-projects. Here’s an example I can think of:
    – Beginner
    F1: Basic Photoshop Skill
    E1: Create a simple poster for Spaghetti Festival!
    R1: Go ask yourself these questions!
    E1.1: Now, make a better poster for Spaghetti Festival!
    R & F1.1: How did you do? Let’s review & here’s some tips
    – Intermediate
    – Advance

    Thank you so much for sharing, Budi. 😀

    • Hello Stella!
      I’m glad this is useful!

      Regarding finding your passion,
      I think the best advice I can give you now is to explore and try different things that you’re interested.
      By doing so, you can see which subject you like and enjoy doing the most. You might know that you find your passion when you feel you’re enjoying it a lot and have lots of energy to get better on it.

      Thanks for stopping by, good luck!
      This actually give me an idea for another article. Thank you!

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