The Good Things are in the Books

Who’d go to a library these days?

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Hello everyone. Today I want to talk about researching for design inspiration. It’s probably because I’m getting older and I itching to “lecture“ people if I’ve got the chance. I’m doing this not because I think I’m better than you, instead, it’s the other way around. I just want to tell anyone who’s reading to avoid the mistakes I’ve made. Here I share my views on looking for references and inspiration offline.

Exchanging opinions

This is a reply to a post A Warning for New Designers: Avoid Dribbble written by Bradley Taunt.

Learning Design

I’m not going to repeat what Bradley said. He described it very well on how bad it would be if a designer only looked for inspiration on Dribbble. It’s cool to refresh your taste or draw some inspiration from time to time. But using those layouts as reference to a project you’re working on—that’s call “stealing”. And the worst part is that you’re still doing it wrong.

The Easy Way

Following the trends will only make your design look similar to one of the shots on Dribbble. I’m in no position to say they’re bad. But they all lacking the touch and personality of the designer. In my opinion, they’re too “fast food”. It’s easy to create something that looks pretty. You know Figma or PhotoShop or any toolings you prefer, one can create those shots within an hour. Everyone wants immediate results and simply wants the layouts to look good. Make it pops, cool and trendy. To impress everyone. That’s the “easy way”. I don’t blame you, I did that for years.

Design is a way of problem solving. The layouts you created are the answer to the problem. The development process is the most important thing as a designer. Because it shows how you approach the design. It really can tell who you are. And yes, it’s way more important than the end results. The process is to showcase your solution to the design problem. Your portfolio will be more worth-looking if a case study is present for your work than just pretty images without background and context.

Old-school Pen and Paper

When I was studying Visual Communication, we were taught to draw sketches using pencil on paper even without a ruler. To draw layouts for business cards / print designs / publications that kind of stuff before moving on to computers. To brainstorm ideas and practice how to arrange text and alignments, create visual hierarchy by choosing typefaces, font sizes/weights and line height, learning grids and the proper use of white space. (I admit that it’s a pain in the arse to draw typefaces by hand.) We did all of that without the help of computers. Those are basic elements that can be incorporated into designs—the fundamentals of design. The process is to let you to actually “feel” the relation between those elements and how they works together. That’s the “old way”.

You probably think you’re doing web interfaces and UI and there’s nothing to do with “Pen and Paper”. Then you’re missing my point. No matter what the “mediums” or “formats” are, those design principles still applies. It’s all about typography and spacing. A blank canvas is all you have to express and visualize ideas through layouts. Everything you put into the layout should be your intent. The only limitation is your creativity.

I totally get that it might be a bit “impractical” to draw sketches on paper. One might argue that to show pencil sketches to clients seems unprofessional. But to a seasoned designer, you can translate those sketches into layouts with ease. That’s not for everyone but I’m still doing it. If you really wish to learn, I can tell you it does help to have a better understanding of what you want to create.

If you call yourself a designer, you could be able to design even without computers. What if there is no software, apps, or internet, and you suddenly lose all of your skills and abilities? Since when does a designer need to rely on that? Design is found in “thinking” not the “tools”.

The Good Stuff is found inside Books

Back in the day, we didn’t look for inspiration online, we went to a library. At my time, of course there’s internet but there wasn’t much to look for back then. The resources were limited and Dribbble or Behance simply don’t exist. As I recall, we hardly found any online tutorials and YouTube wasn’t a thing yet. Most of our classmates went to the central library or a bookstore to look for references and inspiration.

You can now search for pretty much everything on the internet. But if you slow down a bit, you might be surprised by what you can find inside books.

To be honest, I myself haven’t gone to the library for a long time. But I do own a few design books. It’s a very small collection but I still read them even after a decade.

Bradley has some good suggestion for learning design. I want to counter propose a book here. A type primer by John Kane. It covers the basics of typography: from history, classifying typefaces, kerning, alignment—to grid systems: margins, gutter, columns, baseline grids, etc. The book is a very good introduction to learning typography. No matter what you’re doing: print or web or interfaces, the knowledge can stick with you forever. I own the first edition of the book.

At the end of the day, you can choose your own path. You want fast and easy? Well, go for it and no one is stopping you. But remember, trends won’t last long, they will soon be replaced by another new waves. All you can do is distill them, make it yours and put your own spin on it.

This is #Day52 of #100DaysToOffload.