They Call Me Marty!
Design goodness and other ramblings.

Posted on February 24th, 2010 0 Comments

Training The Eyes Of A Designer


design books

Going to art school will teach you the mechanics of using software and computers. It will be a place to network and to learn to think like a designer and a problem solver. School will do many things, but the one thing that school will not do is train your eyes.

Training your eyes to look at the world like a designer is a process that will definitely begin at school, but it will certainty NOT happen in the classroom.

What do I mean when I say trained eyes?

Take a look at this newsletter that I found on google images. Like it or hate it, a designer must be able to communicate what is not successful about it. The terminology will come with knowledge, but visually, can you spot what works and what doesn’t?

Unsucessful Newsletter

At first you won’t, in fact what you consider really good design will pass on to be horrendous in a few years—even less. Perhaps you’ve already experienced this:

You work really hard on a design and feel accomplished when it is finally done. You feel proud of your work and pat yourself on the back (well deserved). But some time later, when you revisit your beautiful design you discover that the leading is wrong, the fonts are horrible, nothing aligns with a grid (in fact there is no grid) and you wonder if someone took your design and replaced it with this monstrous crap!

The answer is “no,” None has replaced your design, instead you are better able to identify details in your work that you weren’t able to before.

Training your eyes is an active process which is typically ignored because the assumption is that it will happen with time as you learn. This is partly true, but like any other type of training, without a bit of resistance, you reach a plateau.

How do you train your eyes.

The best way to train your eyes is to expose yourself to good design—lots of it! I don’t mean just going to local museums occasionally. Museums are great for inspiration and appreciating art and that is certainly a large part of being a good designer, but design is not about expressing yourself artistically, it is about solving communication problems.

Trained eyes will come like dew in the morning, you won’t see it happening, but one day you’ll wake up and realize that you understand the visual and spoken language of design.

Here are a few tips on how to actively expose yourself to design.

  • Visit your local bookstore. Bookstores are a great source for exposing yourself to design that works and that doesn’t. Look through book covers and ask yourself why are some successful and others not?

  • Design magazines are expensive—especially if you are in school. But If you can afford to buy a subscription to design magazines these are the usual suspects: HOW Design, Communication Arts, CMYK, Print, GOOD. (If you can’t afford a subscription, check with the art/design department at school, many already have subscriptions to these magazines and can make them available to you. Alternatively, check ebay, you can usually find lots of past issues being sold for fractions of what a subscription would cost).

  • Join your local AIGA chapter and participate in the various different events and activities. AIGA is the largest design association for graphic artists/designers. Take advantage of the access that they provide through studio tours and speaker series.

  • Find local design studios and give them a call to see if you can come by and just look at the work they’re doing. Some might not give you the time of day, because they’ll feel that they need to babysit you for a day, but if you find someone who is really passionate about what they are doing, they will be more than happy to talk shop with you.

There are many more things that you can do, but the most important thing is to make it an active part of your design education.

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