Kinda sketchy.


When I was in high school (before Macs were omnipresent with creatives), I was constantly doodling. In very class, I was drawing as much as taking notes (and somehow I still graduated!). From class to class, study hall to study hall, my trusty sketchbooks always made their way with me. They call it sketch noting now… back then it was borderline slacker behavior.

Fast forward a few years and I’m in college, still doodling. Though now it’s the beginning of my career in the design world. Learning the handskills, about composition, color theory… all towards building my understanding of how “commercial art” (as it was called then) works. All the time drawing, figuring things out, scratching through the bad and moving on to the next.

Sketching has always been something I love, but it wasn’t until my first serious design gig what it became apparent… this skill is the lifeblood of how I think. It lets me run through several ideas before wasting time in a layout app, which also saves me from investing hours or days into bad foundations.

Here’s something else that an art director once taught me: If you always start your work on the Mac, you’ll likely see the same solutions a lot.

Said another way: a blank piece of paper and a pen is a wonderful starting point. It makes you think. It makes you start over. A lot. Again and again. Crumple it up and move on. No layer sets to crutch on. No typeface du jour to be influenced by. Theres time for that… just focus on what’s important first: the idea.

I’d like to encourage you to get a sketch book… and fill it up. Put all your crazy ideas in it. Draw them out. Have fun. Let your brain play. Then, and only then, move it to the layout apps of your choice.

Some faves:

What’s good design?

A lot of young designers get trapped by thinking that if “everyone” is doing something, then it must be good design.

Hmm. Really?

It’s easy to get confused by trends if all you do is scrub through Instagram. “Meme this, meme that.” Popular filters, incessant pics of the same thing. It’s simple, hence why it’s so prevalent. (I speak from experience… I have a young designer in my household.)

Social media is the playground of trends. Sometimes, trends can be well designed, but more often, their much more like a “campaign”… quickly thought of, quickly produced. Not intended for lasting communication… they simply apply style and move on. Again, not a bad thing, but, not what you might call “lasting, thought-provoking design.”

Doing great work takes time. It takes reps. It takes talent. It takes being able to look well beyond the first thing you do. You need to have a willingness to dig deeper that “style” and really solve a problem. You see, style is what something looks like. Design is what something does.

Design is thinking made visual. -Saul Bass

If you think about it, that’s exactly right. Design is meant to do something… to inform, to motivate, to communicate. Design solves problems, and a designer’s job is to think, solve, then create.

I’d like to encourage you… look beyond your immediate solutions, ask what your design piece needs to do. Then, once you understand the purpose, you can start designing the solution!

That doesn’t suck.

So, the designers I work with have kept a short list of quotes from each of us  in the office. Often times my critique offering is “well, that doesn’t suck.”

Okay, admittedly, that might not sound like high praise… don’t be too quick to judge. There’s a story behind the phrase…

When I was a younger, I suffered from the same affliction many young designers suffer from: an over-inflated sense of self worth. That’s not to say that having confidence in one’s own abilities is a bad thing… far from it. But, let’s be honest… experience often brings wisdom, and I did not yet have that. Please, don’t hear me saying that I have it now either… but, years of experience does bring a few time-proven perspectives.

So, here on the job, our leader in the Arts team had a saying that struck me as hard the first time I heard it: “Every idea is born with a noose around it’s neck.”

Wow. Okay. Let that sink in for a minute.

There’s a ton of wisdom there… another way to interpret that idea is (my translation): Your first idea probably sucks. So, that being said, once an idea gets to the point of  being viable, it doesn’t suck.

Congratulations! That doesn’t suck!

A brand new day.

An admission: I’ve wanted to re-start writing for a while now.

I love Disney, movies, technology & grilling… but there’s a ton of that already on the Webernet. So what to write about? Well, I’ve been in the design world for a while now (since 1988 actually), maybe there’s some stories I can share that will help someone.

So, here goes.