Using Your Brain as a Designer

Using Your Brain as a Designer

“I really like it.”

Probably one of the most important things I learned in design school, and subsequently in the working world, is that “liking” a design is not sufficient enough. That’s what separates art and design; art is subjective, design is communicative. It’s also, like Atomicdust Creative Director Mike Spakowski often says, disposable. Design always has new trends and technology always has new devices. The only thing that seems to have any longevity is the content behind them.

It makes sense then to design around the message. After all, the purpose of any design is to remove obstacles and make it easier for people to understand a specific message. I am as guilty as any designer when it comes to getting swept up in the romance of making something look cool, but here are some things that help me keep a focus on the real purpose of what I’m making:

1. Understand What You’re Trying to Say

It’s surprisingly difficult to communicate something, when you don’t know what that something is. It’s your job to be a translator of sorts, explaining broad ideas and feelings in simple visual terms so you should probably know what those broad ideas and feelings are.

2. Focus Group of One

Chances are the people you are talking to are actually people. And what luck, you’re a person too. Test your design on yourself. Would you really read that chunk of text in the corner? Does that button actually make you want to click it? Does this piece of marketing accurately communicate the right message?

3. Be as Genuine as You Can

There’s a lot of marketing in the world and we’re bombarded with it every day. Subsequently we’re starting to automatically rate things as believable or unbelievable and that determines to what we’ll give the time of day. Avoid making outrageous claims, or implying that stock image perfection is exactly what you’re selling. Where does your design piece rank on the believable scale?

4. Now, Make it Cool

You’ve got the basics of the message, it’s a functional piece, and your tone is believable. Here’s your chance to flex (within reason) your design skills. Half the fun of being a designer is creating something that communicates a message and makes people say, “I really like it.”

  • Michael Bierman

    Solid advice. I always like getting the atomicdustTM emails.

    #2 is good but maybe not enough. After 1-4 are complete it’d be good to take some time, think about how you ended up where you did–and imagine what comments might come from left field. My first presentation was to the president of a public radio station. I was already sweating bullets and when I pulled out the boards, which were flooded with purple and yellow, he immediately barked, “I don’t like University of Minnesota colors!” I totally froze. It was awful. I bombed. And my boss just sat there next to me chuckling to himself (He was great. It really was kind of funny). It was an excellent lesson.

    Maybe #4 could be: Now, Make it Cool and Take Some Chances. You can always back up later but pushing a new direction after you present is harder.

    All that said, We ARE being hired for our taste as well.

    Have you seen that fifth wheel logo by Toky? What the hell is that fifth wheel? Is it because it’s at 4 hands? It’s probably totally obvious to everyone else but I haven’t a clue. But I like it!

    Have you seen those little bright blue rectangular bumper stickers with the sans serif Y and some other letters I can’t remember around town? What the hell are those? I think it has something to do with the library. I don’t know. But I like them.

    Here’s the first thing I see when I walk in my door:

    Thanks for the post.


Beth Bennett

Beth Porter joined Atomicdust as a design intern in 2011 and has been designing here ever since. Beth grew up on a farm not too far from Southern Illinois University, where she earned a BFA in communication design and took home the university’s prestigious Rickert-Ziebold Trust Award her senior year.

Beth Bennett