Tuesday, May 02, 2006
Every once in a while, I receive an email from someone entering the design field who is looking for a little advice. Being in the advertising industry, most of my contributions to society actually antagonize humanity as a whole — so I figure it's well worth trying to save my soul by helping my fellow man. Of course... they'd be using that helpful knowledge to destroy their own souls. Hmmm... I'm not even done my first paragraph and I've already got good grounds to abandon this article.
So I'll put it this way: if you're interested in some tips on starting out as a designer, read on. If you're like me, and you're hoping to get this year's Don Carlos Humanitarian Award (fingers-crossed!!!!), then go read... oh... this.
So... still with me? Well, here's four suggestions for the beginning designer to take to heart:
For better or for worse, we are constantly surrounded by design. Carefully-crafted advertisements plaster the majority of structures. Every store creates some sort of identity in their signage. Television, Film, Magazines, Books, and Newspapers all have to pass through a designer's hands somewhere along the line. Start seeing the design everywhere around you. See it, and take notice of what fonts they choose, how they put text over the imagery, how they spaced (or didn't space) the information out. But most of all, figure out what that ad, or that sign, or that logo is trying to say to you; then take notice of how the designer chose to deliver that message. Once you start turning yourself on, and seeing the design around you — you won't be able to turn it off. And then you'll be learning on autopilot.
I was constantly designing when I left school, if not for my work, then for myself. I made fake album covers for fake bands, redesigned brochures I found lying around just to see if I could do something better, and always kept a personal website. Design is really about learning "solutions" to "problems" — designing in a new medium teaches you both the problems and the solutions at the same time. Redesigning something someone else created might reveal the problems they experienced in designing, and forces you to learn the lessons they may have learned.
Design is almost always about working with type. Learn font shapes and font names, and concentrate on the details of how to use type, because the details are what separate the professional designer from the amateur. When working on a piece, it's not uncommon to spend 3/4 of your time on the small, typographic details that aren't even noticeable to most people. But that's what good typography is... it's invisible. No one notices it, because they're too busy reading it. That's how it SHOULD be. And be patient — an eye for type builds up over 2-3 years of constant practice. It'll come, you just have to keep at it.
One thing I can definitely suggest you do to start your education on type is read these three books (I've listed them in order of difficulty):
The last most important thing to remember about design, is that you need to have a reason for every aesthetic choice you make. Every line you place, every font you choose, every picture you include — there needs to be a good reason for why you put it there. Especially since someone might ask you why you made that decision.
Design has one sole purpose: to communicate a message. If you're choosing fonts and imagery that don't support that message, and you're using them just because they look cool, then you're making a mistake. You want your designs to be as simple as possible — so tight that every element on the page is necessary, and to remove one would make the rest of the design collapse. Again, this skill comes in time, and you learn it through experience.... so be patient.