Look Around and Notice All the Things
I have been designing and creating things for as long as I can remember. Whether it was drawings on paper or on the walls of my bedroom (sorry mom, and thanks for not making me paint over it), building forts in the woods, or constructing the next best bicycle ramp, I was always designing before I even knew what that meant.
Fast forward to grown up me. I’m still creating things and designing but I’m earning a living doing it. Reflecting back on my years as a child, design school student and professional, I’ve noticed a common thread that runs through: The practice of observation. To be a successful designer you need to be able to really look at things, figure out why they are the way they are and draw inspiration from what you see.
If It’s Broken, Fix It
I will never forget the moment I wanted to be a designer for a living. I was at the grocery store walking down the aisles and mindlessly looking at the various products for something to eat. My eyes scanned across a package of Chips Ahoy cookies and I froze. I didn’t get lured in by the delicious chocolate chip goodness. I wasn’t blown away by a beautiful design or great product photo. Rather, I was stunned that something that was designed by a professional seemed so wrong. The spaces between the letters just seemed off, there was too much space between some letters and not enough between others (I later learned in school that this is called kerning or letter spacing). It was at that moment that I realized that everything we see in the world is designed by somebody and, unfortunately, some of it isn’t so good.
As a student one of the best lessons I learned wasn’t even in school, it was in the grocery store. From the moment I encountered the poorly designed Chips Ahoy package, I began redesigning things. If I saw a logo that was wrong, I’d redraw it. If a piece of furniture or architecture had something that didn’t look right, I’d take a picture of it and then draw over it correcting what was off to me. This exercise unlocked the power of observation and creation in me and has been an invaluable tool in my career.
Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal
Steve Jobs said that. Or was it Banksy? Actually, the internet says that Pablo Picasso said that. The point is that there is nothing new under the sun. Everything we create is based on something else. Observing what has been done and creating something new and better from that is what makes a designer great. Whether it’s seeing a beautiful form in architecture that inspires a website design, or the color of the leaves on a tree in the fall leading to a color scheme for your new logo, we should use what we see to create something new.
As designers we need to keep looking at things with purpose. By studying the way that others do things in every design discipline we can build our visual lexicon in order to better make designs that are beautiful and make our world better than it was when we found it.