Published on 18 Apr 2021.
Reading time: 2 min.
It’s easier to have a better eye for design than it is to be a good designer.
This principle, in general, applies to every craft, skill or hobby you can think of. When starting anything new there’s a steep learning curve. The first part of that curve involves becoming acquainted with and then immersed in that hobby. You start with learning how to recognise what makes something ‘good’ before being able to match that level of ‘good.’ This is why the start of any new hobby, whether you’re an interface designer or a spoon carver or a calligrapher or a carpenter, is so frustrating.
You learn what good looks like before you’re able to attain it.
Developing a well-honed design eye is a critical skill for designers to have. Your design work is limited by how good your design eye is.
Your design eye can be better (and almost always is better) than your work is, but your work can never be better than your eye.
There are three ways to develop your design eye:
Firstly, study designs. Look at thousands of examples. Immerse yourself in your chosen subsection of design. Stray further than the frontpage of Dribbble and Behance. Seek out the experts in your niche, and find what the experts rate highly, and then find more of it. Learn to recognise what good is by looking at a huge amount of good and bad.
I regularly check Typewolf’s Site of the Day just to see a ton of exciting new typography pairings and website design - and to understand more about my own personal taste.
Honing your design eye also involves honing your own personal taste. The best design you do will correlate with what you enjoy and appreciate aesthetically - so learning what that is early will be a huge help.
Secondly, study design. Study design as theory. Study critical commentary. Listen to design podcasts. Start or contribute to a discussion group. Set up design reviews or crit sections. Read case studies that break down the reasons for why a designer has chosen to do something in a particular way. Seek out the most obsessed people you know on the topic, and ask them for their recommended reading.
Some of my recent design theory book purchases: Design as Art, Design as an Attitude, Design is a Job and Just Enough Research.
Theory often gets criticised as being too far away from practical applications, and I’ll be the first to admit that academic ‘design books’ can often fall into the trap of being theory for theory’s sake. But there’s a long history to design, and the best books of actual value tend to stick around for a long time for a reason.
Lastly: design. Practice by doing.
This one is optional. Even if you don’t participate in the doing, your design eye can develop through the first two ways. Most great movie critics don’t make movies. Most football coaches aren’t the best at playing football.
But if you do have the inclination, learning to make great design goes hand in hand with developing your eye.
Thanks for reading!
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