Becoming Good At Designing

Everyone knows the purpose of design. Even if you haven't studied or practised it, you have some understanding of why design exists and why it is a force for good in our world of data, copy and information. Design makes these things visually pleasing. It's purpose is to present content in the best way possible for the viewer, and to make any interaction the most obvious, simple and efficient it can be.

The best design fulfils its purpose. And that's all it does. No secret sauce. No hidden, mystical short-cut to design utopia.

When you actually know the purpose of what you are creating, it is a lot easier to achieve the end result you want. I've found this to be the case while working on recent projects and I think it has helped me in completing the work to a much higher standard than I could have before. I'm asking: "Does that need to be there to help the design fulfil its purpose?" Then throwing anything out that isn't needed - a minimalist's dream, you could say.

You can see this approach quite clearly on my new site and new résumé. I've taken out all content that wasn't needed, cutting several long paragraphs down to just a few short ones. On the design side, I have made an effort to ensure that everything about the site puts a focus on the content: the background is soft and receding; where possible, the colours are entirely based on tints of the background colour to avoid distracting contrasts; the text fades out at the top, an attempt at making scrolling feel like a smoother experience; the type of the body is well spaced and light for readability; on small screens, some information is reduced to make the main message clearer. This is all in favour of fulfilling the site's purpose: to convey the content, to convey who I am.

The world of graphic design has been more about learning than it has about creating for me - and I know I still have a lot of learning to look forward to. But defining learning is tricky with such a practical art. Sure, you can know what trends in design are, the effect of colour in a piece, the intricacies of typography, but what I think really helps is looking at other people's work. By seeing what they do and trying to understand why you like their work, you will be able to develop a practical design sense. You will gain a feeling, an instinct, for good design.

The most beautiful thing about design is that it is everywhere. Everything has been designed. You can look wherever you want for inspiration and you will find it; because not only can others teach you what is good, they can also show you what doesn't work, what doesn't achieve the purpose of design. The world is your Petri dish.

Does that poster in your office look good? How would you improve it? Not just: "Yuck, Comic Sans." Think. What font would you use? By consciously asking yourself how you would approach the design challenges around you, you will be able to learn quickly. This is what I am trying my best to do. I am trying to learn from everything through critique.

In my humble opinion, being good may take a magic flair and unconditional talent. But becoming good simply takes time, practice, patience and learning. If you want to be good, just do it. Put in the hours. Look. Learn. Practise. Then you're there.


Reading time: 03:15 Written by Graham Macphee