How to become an elite designer in any discipline

As professional designers attempt to make more sense of their art-form, they apply new philosophies to the concept of design, making gurufied statements like “Design is Communication” or “It’s Visual Story Telling”.

These statements lead to new buzz words such as “digital design” and “UX” as well as “designing spaces” and “creating experiences”.

In all honesty I quite like these new words and the ideology behind them. These words push the discipline of professional design forward and create new services to sell, but this is also an example of how the overuse of new language might be turning the profession of design into piffle and poppycock.

These buzzwords are marketing words used to label, glamourise and refine design and designers. It’s used to segregate design and loses focus on what a good designer actually is.

Good design is not graphic design, design communication, story-telling, digital design, UX or a creator of space.  These are all labels used to identify specific areas of design but do not define what good design is.

Good design utilises design principles and design briefs.  It meets objectives and obtains goals by solving problems but you know what?  All of that is also just a load of buzz words and hubbub.

Having run my own design studio for over 10 years I have my own practice, principles and philosophy of good design and some of it does mirror much of the babble above but just the other day I was inspired to simplify it and figure out just what makes good designer without the tradition of pretentious principles or mesmerising marketing words.

Here are the 6 practices that will always lead to a magnificent piece of design work and make you an elite designer whether you’re an interior designer, graphic designer, digital designer or landscape designer.

1. Research

Research is the epitome of great design because, in reality, we don’t have instant eureka moments where lightbulbs flash above our head and magical ideas are formed.

Ideas are formed from memories, experiences or education that we encounter at some point in time. Maybe it was something you saw, read, met or heard.  Maybe it was something you felt emotionally or touched.  Or maybe it was just something you skimmed over or even disliked but that something was stored in your brain consciously or subconsciously for later use and it when it becomes useful to remember it, it becomes research.

Combining that specific research with another, maybe even two, three or dozens of other experiences that you’ve had generates an idea or process of thinking that reveals a final idea that you may want to pursue further.

As opposed to passive research based on past experiences you can also expand your brains database by actively researching new specific information.  In the end, all research leads to inspiration, ideas and the creation of something new in one way or another.

A good designer will research to explore ideas and more importantly scrap ideas to leave only strong results. 

Without research no idea, good or bad is ever created so great design can’t exist without research.

2. The Fibonacci Scale

The Fibonacci scale is a mathematical formula first discovered in the Sanskrit (ancient Hindu texts) in about 200BC.  The formula revealed a universal pattern of growth and design that occurs in nature.

Fully explored and nurtured by Leonardo Fibonacci in the 1100s, Leonardo was able to devise the formula and visually display this pattern through everything that we experience. It has been labelled as the Golden Ratio.

From the length of our limbs in proportion to our body, to the formation and number of petals on a flower, the Fibonacci scale shows the same pattern emerging all around us.  The formula itself lends itself to visual adaptations to form a pattern or grid which is proven to be favourable to the human brain.

Since its creation, the Fibonacci scale has been used to design and build anything and everything from toilets to the Taj Mahal.

Whilst the discipline of professional design may be seen as creative or even chaotic it’s actually far from it because good design is logic with an objective, even if the final piece looks chaotic.  It’s more than likely that you can hold the visual Fibonacci scale up to any great piece of design and find its presence within.

That to me is why the Fibonacci scale is an important factor for great design.  It applies logic and substance to design without the use of any personal or creative input.  It can be used to set up a design, reorganise it or finish it with greater context.  It’s like a template for a great design that’s fixed yet holds the key to fluid creativity.

If you practice design, practice great design with the Fibonacci Scale.

3. Balance

There are dozens of design principles that professional designers practice.  They include contrast, movement, alignment and emphasis to name a few and each is used to layout and coordinate a design so it makes an impact but to me the most important principle is balance.

In my opinion balance is what every other design principle is trying to achieve with a design.

There’s the literal meaning of balance ie. Does the design tip over? Is it un-balanced?.  But there’s a more expansive view of balance where it can regulate every other design principle to ensure it’s working as it should.

Underdoing, overdoing or not executing a design principle correctly can and will cause an in-balance in design.

This in-balance could be measured with logic and tools but a great designer just has a gut instinct for balancing objects on a canvas.

Balance (or even imbalance) creates great design.

4. Is it Entertaining

Every single thing you do, you do for a reason. 

The reason is that you either want to be informed, entertained or you want to solve a problem.  You’re looking to be influenced by someone or something to get the desired results.

Eg.  Brushing Your teeth

  • You see a great looking toothpaste tube and pick it up (you’ve ben entertained)
  • You read it (you’ve been informed)
  • You buy it  (to solve your problem of bad teeth)

The same works with websites and web pages.

Eg. You want to read the latest news so you visit a news website and:

  • The site looks terrible, with no videos, no pretty interface and eligible text formatting (It’s unentertaining)
  • Because of that you don’t read anything and switch over to a new site (you stay uninformed)
  • You’ve left the site without being informed or entertained or solving your problem. (You’ve been uninfluenced or influenced negatively)

If it informs and educates then that’s great but it won’t have a big influence on you unless it’s in some way entertaining.  That’s what makes it memorable.

You can entertain with design to

  • Build credibility
  • Draw users in
  • Keep them there
  • Send them away influenced

That’s basically why blogs, Youtube vids and social media have got so big.  It’s informative, influential and entertaining.

Great design doesn’t just inform, it entertains and influences.

5.Psychology

Great design is all about psychology.  From master marketer Edward Bernays to design engineer Dyson.  Every great creative thinker or designer should use psychology as a part of their design strategy.

Psychology warrants the designer with the capability to play into the viewer’s minds by conveying emotion and building rapport with the user in any way that the designer wants.  Everything from branding to art-working and colour to typography is done with psychology in mind to influence the end viewer.

With the use of psychology in a design you can build credibility, a following and even become best friends with the user without ever meeting them.  The Psychology of great design:

  • Enables sales and changes minds
  • Makes impact and influences
  • Builds expectations and even dreams

Great design is not created by a designer its created by the people who experience that design and the psychology of the design is what impacts them the most.

Read more about psychology in design through our 101 Tips for Better Branding which contains a whole chapter on it.

6. Logic

Quite possibly the most important principle in my list is logic because it encompasses all other principles.

Design is a creative discipline but the key word there is discipline.  Most people think that designers just draw pretty pictures that come into their head.  They don’t know about the research, education and processes we undertake to create one single graphic let alone a whole project or even a piece of art.

All great design is based on logic.  A process of working or a thought that provides evidence as to what and how any final piece of design should look and work.  It reinforces the art of solving a problem.

  • Research is finding logic for an idea.
  • The Fibonacci scale provides logic for layout and creation so an idea remains professional and relative.
  • Balance makes the design function, logically
  • Psychology uses logic to impact the end viewer.

Without logic a design means nothing, it has no depth which then begs the question as to why it exist.

Logic makes Great Design.

Conclusion

Skill, talent and even tools all play a huge part in producing great design but as you can see from the above, great design is much more than artistic flair, it’s about ideas and how well a designer can make their idea one and the same as the end user in order for it to be a great piece of design.



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