6 steps to design genius

6 steps to design genius

This article was originally published in Web Designer Magazine in March 2016. Image courtesy digitalista, via bigstockphoto.com

Expert advice for upgrading your creativity and maximising your design potential


Go traditional and put ideas into a physical book, then keep a tab on it digitally with Pinterest

In the age of bookmarks and favourites, we all have digital designs, websites and campaigns that we have loved over the years, but it’s as important to suck up what’s going on offline as well as on. If you’re out and about and see a flyer for a bar or restaurant, why not bring it home and keep it in a book? The mind works in strange ways, and sometimes you don’t need to see that flyer again in order to remember it. The fact you brought it home will act as an anchor for the thing itself. For example; you see a beautifully illustrated image in a magazine, once you tear that image out and put it in your book, you’re way more likely to remember it and reuse the concept in some way than if you’d have just said “that’s nice” and turned the page. The object itself is only there now to fill in and provide the detail. It’s easy to think that all the best ideas and innovation are only happening online, but go through magazines old and new, find things you love and think of how you could bring something 2D and static to life on the web.

To keep your scrapbook with you, snap each item using Pinterest on your phone and add it to a the relevant board. The better organised you are with everything the quicker and easier it is to relate back to it. If you can, group things into photography styles, typography, colour and illustration for example.
Digital work is still important to keep, either a folder on your desktop or on Pinterest. So if you’re doing something like writing a proposal for a series of short films online, go back through examples you’ve saved and find a reference for the client to see that illustrates the style you’re proposing.
Websites like Fubiz for example can be a great way of continually immersing yourself in new and original concepts by doing no more than scrolling. Each day they send their inspirations out with the images attached, so while you’re sipping on your first cup of Earl Grey in the morning you can begin to get new ideas and thoughts about that next project.


Designing with your motions and feelings in mind are a critical part to building brilliant creations

It sounds a little cliché, but to create truly great work that you’re proud of (and hopefully the client will be too) requires an element of personality and love poured into it. When you’re mid-way through a new design or concept and you’re not ‘feeling it’ – go into that feeling. You should question why it’s not working – speak to others who have no attachment to the project. Have you gone too heavy on the design and neglected the overall user experience? Or is it the other way entirely – you’ve been methodical in your design choices to the extent that what you’ve ended up with is devoid of personality. Quite often you may find that it’s the part you think is best that’s actually the problem.


Work with your creative half of the brain as well as the systematic half to ensure that you have a balanced design

The two sides to our brains carry out different tasks. The left side deals with more functional, pragmatic and systematic tasks while the right is more associated with colour, images, music and emotion. Interestingly, both these sides of the brain are required to be used when designing for the web, but on occasion we tend to go too far one way or the other. For some it’s all too easy to blur the lines of functionality with appearance. On the other hand, have too little creativity applied to the design and you result with something that can be dull and uninventive.
So to avoid falling into the ‘designer’s’ trap of going too detailed too soon, close Photoshop and pick up a pencil and paper and begin drawing the website out by hand.


Being clear on the project is something that seems so simple that it can often be underlooked, but clarity is of the utmost importance

There are times where you may feel most nervous about presenting ideas to clients, and that maybe when you’ve subconsciously not understood the brief. You think you have, but you haven’t. Or worse – you haven’t understood their client. You maybe in your own space of wanting to make stuff look cool. When you work from that place you’ll undoubtedly find it harder to succeed. Often the client can’t articulate exactly what they want – they see themselves as ’not creative’ and need you to find answers. Also, when you’re not 100 per cent clear on what you’re aiming to achieve you’ll end up being micromanaged by the client and reduced to pixel pushing which is one of the most depressing places for any self-respecting designer to be in.


Stay focused by articulating the goals beforehand to get an idea of exactly what you need to be doing

There’s huge solace in writing what you want to achieve following the process of reading and understanding of the brief and before the beginning of the design. Or, if you don’t quite understand it – writing what you think it is helps your mind to process your understanding of it. For example: “we’re going to create an online experience for people to browse a new range of homes developed in London… it will feature films, immersive walk through’s and beautiful typography. You can download technical information and feel in love with the property before you’ve visited it in real life.”
This piece of writing didn’t need to be shared with the client or anyone in fact, it’s for your benefit – it basically breaks down what you want to do so you have a clear vision.


Beyond understanding the brief, a good designer should really get into the shoes of the client

Sometimes the temptation to jump straight into Photoshop and start whipping up concepts the moment someone mentioned a new project can be too difficult to overcome – but seldom will it result in your best work. Without properly immersing yourself in the client’s world you can bypass a lot of relevant information that could drastically affect the design direction. Invariably when you work without doing enough research, your work will likely fall flat and when you come back to it after drafts one and two, you’ll realise just how uninformed it was.
Set aside a considerable proportion of time in the project dedicated to research. If you’re working for a client whose work interests you all the better, as you’re more likely to ask more probing and useful questions.
Understand your customer’s customer. What are they trying to achieve on their website? Act as if you were them. Try out their product or service where possible – notice if there are any areas that fell flat throughout your customer journey that could be alleviated through an improved area on the website or mobile experience.
If time is of the essence and you absolutely must begin getting ideas down right away, start with pen and paper. Focus purely on function and at the same time, gathering styles and creating mood boards that will be overlaid when the time comes.
To ensure a smoother and happier project journey for you and the client, you can share your early work with your main contact, or if possible do it with them. It’s best not to wait until you think that you’re 90 per cent finished with a design and go “Ta daaaa”. only for them to pull it apart later.
Through increasing the number of interactions and contributions they have with you at the start, the better informed you’ll be, and the more included they’ll feel – resulting in a more appropriate end product.