3 Back-to-School "Assignments" to Inspire Any Designer

August 19, 2016 Jessica DeJong

As summer draws to a close and a new school year starts, it’s time to brush up on the latest thinking in the world of web/interactive design.

With so many different sites and blogs out there, it can be difficult to know which sources are reputable and worthy of your time. Here are three assignments for you to get back up to speed on the world of web and interactive design. And if you were more of a cliff-notes or “is-there-a-movie-version?” type of student, don’t worry - I’ve got you covered, too.

Assignment #1: Reading List

There’s a lot of noise out there on the web, but these are three of my most-trusted sources that cut through the clutter and provide a wealth of high-quality information on a variety of design topics.

If you read no further in this blog post, take 10 seconds and sign up for this daily email. Sidebar curates the five best links related to Web and UX design each day. It’s a great mix of content including articles, inspirational new websites, tips, products/tools and more.

My Sidebar email arrives in my inbox each morning, and I religiously take 10 or 15 minutes to read each article while I sip my coffee. Consider this your web equivalent of Cliff Notes.  

Nielsen Norman
Nielsen Norman is a highly respected UX research organization and a great source of information when it comes to all things related to user experience. While they have a ton of content available on their website, I prefer to stay up-to-date with their weekly e-newsletter that includes the latest two articles. Interested? You can sign up for it here.

One (big) tip as you peruse their website: be sure to look at the dates of articles. Their site includes a catalog of their research findings dating back over 20 years. Web/UX best practices and user behaviors change often, so it’s important to keep in mind that their recommendations may not be the current thinking on a particular topic or best practice.

Also, beware of posts dated April 1. They are a fun read, though, so enjoy some of my favorites from their April Fool’s Day archives:

2016’s “Difficult Designs are Better”
2015’s “Banish the Hamburger Menu, Adopt Pizza Menus”
2013’s “Mobile Usability & Cats” *My personal favorite

A List Apart
This is a widely read, well-respected source of original content for the latest thinking on a variety of web-related topics including code, content, design and user experience. The articles on A List Apart tend to be longer, more thoughtful pieces on the state of the web compared to the bite-sized posts you’ll read on most other sites. They’re produced less frequently and are almost always worth your time to read in full.

Assignment #2: Get on Twitter

Twitter is a fantastic way to stay on top of web trends and best practices on a daily (or hourly) basis. It’s also a great forum to read and participate in real-time conversations on trending topics. Here are my recommendations for the best accounts to follow:

Brad Frost
Designer/developer, thought-leader, co-founder of Atomic Design theory, friend of One North (proof!)

Luke Wroblewski
Thought leader in the Web/UX space, author of the book “Mobile First”

Web/UI animation guru

Dan Mall
Web designer, thought-leader

Sara Soueidan
Front-end developer

Jared Spool
UX expert, Founder of User Interface Engineering (@UIE). Bonus: be on the lookout for his very entertaining tweets to United’s customer service.

Ethan Marcotte
Coined the term “Responsive Web Design”, also curates the great site & e-newsletter RWD (@RWD)

I find these accounts equal parts educational and entertaining. I also follow my favorite web/design/tech sources for the latest news; I personally find it easier to consume their content on my Twitter feed rather than manually going to each of their sites (TechCrunch, UX Mag, DesignTaxi, to name a few).

Assignment #3: Movie Time!

Were you the type of student who would rather watch the movie version of the book you were assigned to read over the summer? If so, these recommendations are for you. Sit back and enjoy these documentaries on a variety of design topics including typography, industrial design, urban design, photography, and street art. Bonus: all are available on Netflix.

Yes, this is a 2.5 hour documentary about a typeface, but I promise you it’s fascinating! Even my non-designer husband, who was forced to watch it, enjoyed it.  The filmmaker, Gary Hustwit, has several other docs worthy of any designer's time, including titles like Objectified and Urbanized.

Bill Cunningham NY
A fascinating documentary that follows endearing, bike-riding, NYTimes street fashion photographer Bill Cunningham.

Exit through the Gift Shop
A Banksy film about street artist Thierry Guetta that was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards. Adding to the intrigue around the film is the widespread belief that the entire thing is a hoax.

Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect & the Painter
A look at the iconic husband-and-wife duo Charles & Ray Eames.  

Extra Credit Assignment

Wow … that’s a lot.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the different sources of information out there? You’re not alone; it can seem like a full-time job to stay on top of this constantly changing industry. I’ll let you in on a little secret: there’s a “cheat sheet” for many of the news sources I’ve mentioned in this article.

Muzli is a Chrome extension that can serve as your one-stop-shop for much of the information I’ve listed in this blog post. Many of us on the creative team here at One North use Muzli to stay abreast of all the latest news and inspirational sites.

Once installed, you can set Muzli as your homepage, and you’ll automatically be presented with the latest content curated from a wide variety of sources (including Sidebar, Awwwards, Behance, TED, FastCo Design, TechCrunch, DesignerNews, etc.). You can personalize your homepage to the sources that are most relevant to you. And because you’ll see these posts each time you launch a new browser window, you can’t help but stay up-to-date.

Chrome extension Muzli


There are lots of ways to stay on top of the latest happenings in the design space. I’ve listed out my favorites, but these are by no means exhaustive. I encourage you to find the format that works best for you (E-newsletters? Twitter?), and carve out a few minutes each day to read something new. For more great ideas and articles, follow One North here on our blog and on Twitter @OneNorth.


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Jessica DeJong Creative Director

Jessica is One North’s Creative Director, collaborating with clients to deliver interactive solutions, including creative strategy, website design concepts and brand development. In addition to bringing an artsy edge to everything she makes at One North, she also specializes in procuring the best cat GIFs to spread around the office.

  • If I were a vegetable: I would be a bhut jolokia (ghost pepper) because it’s the closest vegetable I could find to HOT SAUCE.
  • Favorite color: Maize. 2nd favorite color: Blue.

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