Good Design Advice

Recently, a good friend of mine sent me an email asking for design advice. I was flattered that he reached out to me and then briefly thought about how to respond given the vastness of his inquiry. Before I knew it I had written a lengthy email filled with important nuggets from my personal design philosophy, useful links and an invitation to bounce ideas off of me at any time.


Tonight it occurred to me that along the way I have saved up quite a few pieces of advice for designers just starting out, with a few years of experience, or looking to push past a development plateau. Obviously, I linked him to Good F-cking Design Advice, obviously. Some of the suggestions below were in my email, some came to me after I had hit send. Here they are:

1. Have a concept before you start pushing pixels, you’ll work 3-times more quickly. This took me years to start doing regularly, and now it’s my process. I’m a pen and paper guy, that helps me get my plan together and allows for freedom of exploration. Not only sketching for layouts and logo comps, but creating timelines and mind maps for mini-documentaries.

2. Listen to feedback, consider it, then very possibly disregard it to follow your instinct. You have to trust your decisions. This is especially important for editors of any kind. Decisiveness isn’t natural for some, so hone it.

3. Your first idea isn’t always your best. Scrap or set aside your first draft and push through to find the possibly better 2nd or 3rd idea. Time will be the enemy of this pursuit. Stay up later.

4. Clearly communicating is your #1 goal, everything else is secondary to that. Keep it simple. Your job is done when there is nothing left to subtract.

5. Take your time and fight for your process, no matter how unorthodox or traditional, laborious or seemingly unnecessary (to non-creatives) it may seem. Being pressured into abandoning your process happens to a lot of us and your work will suffer.

6. Learn other disciplines, because they inform each other. Knowing as much as possible about what other specialists do will make you better at what you do. If you aspire to direct others you’d better understand what you ask of them.

7. Identify your weaknesses and fortify them like an athlete.

8. Find a mentor and find someone you can help. You’ll surprise yourself with what you know.

9. Observe. Ask questions. Explore your cultural and language-based biases. Using observation as a tool to improve cannot be understated.

10. Don’t ever be an aspiring anything. Do the damn thing. Don’t be intimidated by more established pros. Come from a place of humility and ask questions. You’ll be amazed the knowledge people will impart. Furthermore, many of the best are self taught. Be confident that you have the ability to reach the level of those you currently look up to.

11. Create personal work, it will remind you that you love what you do and that energy will spill over to work you’re less enthusiastic about.

12. Go back and look at old work to see how far you’ve come. Consider how you can shake up your routine to push past plateaus.

13. Donate your time to projects with promise or that include people you admire.

14. Create your ass off. Years ago me and some co-workers established Wednesday as create your ass off Wednesday, in reality, we created our asses off everyday, Wednesday was just the day we reminded each other that we meant business.

15. Write about design. The effect is similar to reading a well-articulated article about something you already knew. For some reason it feels like new information. Writing helps bring clarity to the things you’ve learned and cements them in your mind. Seek opinion of peers you respect.

16. Travel and take pictures.

17. READ.

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