Things I’ve Learned in Design

June 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

  • The best a trend can be is a signpost. Eventually, you can’t keep up because trends trend away from the trend. Make your own trend.
  • I like to listen. Sometimes this brings enlightenment, sometimes toxic self-doubt.
  • The more I do visual design, the more I see the cold, unromantic math behind it. Align this, grid that. But, for something to be truly memorable, it needs a hook. A good hook is magic, can be found through process, but it can’t be taught.
  • The more I think about “Design Thinking”, the more I think it’s not “Thinking”, but rather “Process”. Thinking is a bit like happiness–you can’t aim for it, it’s the fruit of other labors.
  • The most perfectly designed thing is a blank sheet of paper. It communicates exactly what it is, nothing more can be taken away, anything can be added, and has been a part of every major movement in Western Civilization.
  • Making a design “feel” right rhetorically is 90% done before you even start. The remaining 10% can destroy that 90%, though.
  • There comes a point where you know the rules and break them willfully. So, don’t be offended if I ignore your feedback because I already knew what you’d say and didn’t care.
  • If you show your in-process work to others, they will only see a fixed result—concrete, not fluid. They will critique it as such. Be dead-on specific about what you want feedback on and ignore everything else said or done.
  • You will try to ignore what they say, but you won’t be able to. Have fun with that.
  • There’s a pea underneath your mattress and you can’t sleep a wink. Sound familiar? A designer is innately sensitive to the most minute of details—don’t let them drive you crazy. Learn to let go.
  • Go be analog. No computer, no cell phone, no nothing. Your thoughts, creativity, and insights are your capital. This takes time and reflection. You can’t do this being constantly interrupted.
  • If you manage your time well and ignore those interruptions, people won’t be angry—they’ll be jealous.
  • If you can’t work your way through a problem, it’s OK to close your eyes for 20 mins to let your brain filter the problem. It’s amazing what a little rest can do.
  • Let nothing distract you in your interactions except dire emergencies.
  • I’m convinced you can often get 80% of the design research value for 20% of the cost for 95% of your clients. Do that more of the time.
  • Just because something costs more money doesn’t mean it has more value. Donuts cost more than broccoli.
  • Respect is the hardest thing to earn and the easiest thing to lose. Integrity can pull you through.
  • Difficult clients make you better. Too difficult of clients can make you bitter.
  • Some people practice design. Some people schmooze design. Both have their place, but one of them sucks and the other doesn’t.
  • Thinking is not a deliverable. If you don’t give it a form, it never happened.
  • Design is not unlike songwriting. You listen to songs, get inspired, practice, and then write your own songs. It is impossible to escape influence. But, taking a song, changing the key, and playing it for a different audience doesn’t make it your song. Don’t act like it does.
  • With that, standing on the shoulders of giants doesn’t mean their shoulders are yours. Acknowledge what you’ve learned and from where.
  • Nobody knows what you left out unless it cripples the design. Even then, most won’t notice or care. They’ll just tell themselves a story.
  • The more refined your design, the more people will start picking on the smallest unrefined parts that you don’t care about yet.
  • Pull a string, unravel the sweater. Make sure it’s worth it.

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