I feel like the rate of acquiring knowledge in your field or your passion grows exponentially after college. Once you’re thrown into the real world, you learn things that you never planned on learning, things you couldn’t have even fathomed as a student. Lately, I feel like I’m learning more than ever…even if it doesn’t always seem directly related to design. Organizational skills and people skills are very undervalued. People think differently, react differently, and work differently.
I love working with different UX designers at work. Everyone has their own techniques, specialties, and quirks. While I’m quickly starting to realize that I’m building off of their strengths and growing into a better and more mature designer, I’d like to take a moment to look back on the times when I thought I was doomed for failure.
I realized I wanted to switch to design right before I started my junior year of college. I was in a Technology and Creativity class for my Arts & Humanities major, and my professor was talking to us about the importance of polish and aesthetics in materials. My major was full of wild, passionate activists…but I quickly realized that even if you had something important to say, and even if you knew how to say it, if you couldn’t visually present it or articulate it in a way that would stand out or draw the eye, it could easily get lost in the chaos.
Enter – the design specialization. I had four prereqs before the holy grail, Graphic Design 1, that I managed to struggle through. My charcoal self portrait looked more like a Tim Burton character, and not in a cool edgy way. I matched blocks of colors, learned about values and hues, and concocted a toy microphone made entirely out of tissue paper. Finally though, it was time for the class I had been waiting for…and boy was I a disaster.
Designing a poster without any knowledge of Photoshop, Illustrator, or any other program created to aid humans in designing posters is kind of like trying to make a romantic gourmet meal relying solely on a toaster oven. You can finagle your way through a decent presentation, but it will be rough around the edges. Without any instruction as to how to use any fancy programs, and little time to become a master on my own…I spent the first few months using - wait for it - Microsoft Word. I can make a bomb poster in Microsoft Word, but I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I used every sort of shape, sketch, and filter tool they had. And my work was hideous. One of the things I love about being a designer is that sometimes I can look back on previous work, laugh, and then keep right on going. You constantly improve. You constantly grow. But for a moment, I’d like to giggle at a few things.
Let’s start with the worst.
We were supposed to redesign currency. That’s a really cool assignment. People thought of awesome ideas, like using a vertical layout since most machines accept cash vertically. I at least try to defend my early years by saying that while I didn’t have the proficiency in the tools to execute my ideas, creatively I could come up with good solutions. However, this one just drops the ball in every category.
I’m going to be honest, I have no idea what my incentive was behind this Kool-Aid sketch money theme. Granted, it was made in Word…but I can’t even come up with an excuse for these gradient filled beauties. Perhaps I was onto something with the roman numerals (that’s a stretch) but what on God’s green earth was I thinking? And I don’t know if I just ran out of time but I’m pretty sure there are a lot of things missing from these bills, and calling them minimalist would make Honest Abe cringe.
Okay okay, stop laughing. Now I’ll show a better example.
A nice little poster for an event, clearly before I had taken typography class and definitely before I had decided that Century Gothic was no longer my favorite typeface. I think I tried to justify the text...how adorable. I was young. But there were some good things happening here, and I pushed the limits of what a word document tool was created for. Flash forward a year later and I was in Graphic Design 2. I was still not an Adobe pro by any means, but I had grown.
Our professor challenged us to design fairy tale book covers, throwing out the idea that it could be cool to do a more realistic and eerie depiction of a Brothers Grimm novel. If you have only read the cute, sappy interpretations of Brothers Grimm books…reading one and finding out the truth is sort of like discovering there is no Santa Claus. You feel horrified and betrayed at first, but then you realize it’s kind of cool and you offer to be the little elf helper for your younger siblings the following year.
I chose to design a book cover for Hansel and Gretel. I was up for the creepy challenge and it was definitely outside of my comfort zone. I can honestly say that this was the first time I was really proud of a design. This is still a piece I can look back on and appreciate. I pushed the limits of my mind, looking for metaphorical and interesting ways to come up with my visuals. I didn’t know what a clipping mask was or how to work the pathfinder tool just yet, but I came up with the idea of using a mouth to represent the windows of the house, and a candy filled smoke stack to depict the perception the house gave off, what the children were expecting to find. To me, these ideas were unexpected solutions, they had multiple meanings, and they were purposeful. I will never forget our professor urging us to use clever designs.
If you push the limits of cleverness, you will feel clever for coming up with the design, and your users will feel clever for understanding it.