- Create useful (and usable) work.
- Adhere to simplicity.
- Embrace constraints.
- Be brief (brevity is powerful).
- Seek influence outside your medium.
- Practice storytelling.
- Design your life.
- Now, break the rules.
Hopefully this week’s design article doesn’t seem like a cop-out. I swear it’s not, but not only is it late (again), it also contains no actual design examples.
‘No’ lists put a box around me, but goals give me a lot of room to move and grow.
I’ve been thinking lately about what drives me in my work—both design, and in a broader sense, creating. Design is one particular act of creating. I do a lot of design, but I also have to plan, maintain a broader vision in a project, develop software, write code, etc.
So, I came up with 9 working directives for my work. I say, “working” because they might change as I think about them more. I decided to write them as directives (or guidelines) because I think it’s more powerful to give myself goals, rather than a list of don’ts. ‘No’ lists put a box around me, but goals give me a lot of room to move and grow.
1. Create useful (and usable) work.
An artist’s job is to pursue beauty. A designer’s job is to create work that is useful and highly usable.
This one may seem fairly straight-forward, but I feel like it gets lost to designers, often. An artist’s job is to pursue beauty. A designer’s job is to create work that is useful and highly usable. A lot of people (including, sometimes, ourselves) confuse designers with artists. At times we are one-in-the-same, but when working in our role as designers, our foremost goal is not to pursue beauty.
Designers solve problems. We might be trying to communicate something, teach, assist, guide, etc. We certainly can (and should) make our work beautiful, but that shouldn’t be the main goal.
2. Adhere to simplicity.
What can you take away? No, seriously. The next time you design something, when you think you’re almost finished, find something that doesn’t need to be there. In relation to #1, simplicity is usually more usable.
3. Embrace constraints.
Budgets will never be enough. You will never be given enough time. In a way, nothing would get done without some of the constraints that most projects already have, so embrace them.
Constraints also make us think differently.
Constraints also make us think differently. Try putting a different or new constraint on a project or process in a way that you never have before. Put a time limit on your first round of ideas. Try concepting only on paper, where before you might have jumped directly to the computer and its infinite possibilities.
Not even the best designers got to where they are in a vacuum. Many of us make a habit out of constantly educating ourselves, but do we also make a habit of teaching? It doesn’t have to be formally, it could be as simple as sharing some of your techniques and workflow with your peers.
5. Be brief (brevity is powerful).
I envy those that can say more
Whether or not it seems like it, I am working hard at this one. I envy those that can say more with less. But we shouldn’t only seek brevity in our copy or communications. I think it is also powerful to be able to look at what a client needs and find a way to achieve the result they want with less: less work on your part, less of a budget on there’s.
6. Seek influence outside your medium.
…get away from the computer…
I do some of my best web design after finding some inspiration in print design. Often I get great logo ideas from studying the shapes of physical objects. Make an effort to appreciate good design in areas you don’t work in directly. In particular—get away from the computer for a bit.
7. Practice storytelling.
I am nowhere near as good at this as I want to be, yet. Storytelling is powerful. As human beings, we spend much of our energy doing it. Design of all kinds, branding, communications, etc. is all about creating and telling stories.
8. Design your life.
“I don’t have too many clients or the wrong mix of clients.”
This one comes directly from one of my favorite quotes by designer Haley Johnson: “Someone once told me to design my life, that was the best advice I ever got. Having a beautiful view is designing my life. Have a commute that’s a walk down the block. Choosing not to work in a glass cube with a view of a brick wall. It’s being closer to nature… Breathing fresh air. Sleeping well. Playing well… I don’t have too many clients or the wrong mix of clients. Because I can work at a pace I’m comfortable with, I can excel at what I do. I love what I’m doing.”
9. Now, break the rules.
What gets us paid is knowing how and when it’s appropriate to break the rules.
Er, directives. Whatever. Anyone can know the rules of design (or any profession, for that matter). What gets us paid is knowing how and when it’s appropriate to break them, try something new, or different.