I have read hundreds of articles about rules for designers and rules every designer should follow. Typically, they’re about rules we learned in school, like always leaving a healthy amount of white space in your design layouts. Recently, I accidentally stumbled upon this article entitled, “101 Design Rules” while scrolling through LinkedIn. You can read the full list here. This article dove further into the headspace of a designer and the unspoken rules we try to follow. Since a good portion of the rules in the article pertain more to life than design, I selected 10 that were more relevant to design and examine why they should be important to a graphic designer.
1. When talent doesn’t hustle, hustle beats talent. But when talent hustles, watch out. As a graphic designer, yes having some talent is essential to be successful, but you don’t have to be the most talented person in the room. Hustle goes a long way when it comes to developing your talent. The harder you work and the more practice you do outside of work to improve your skills, the more talented you will become. The more talented you become and the harder you work, that is when other designers should be “afraid” of you.
2. When you work only for money, without any love for what you do in and of itself, your work will lack energy. People will feel that. So, give every project everything you’ve got, at every moment, every time. I cannot stress this one enough. Whether you are a graphic designer or not, you can always tell when someone was not putting in full effort in a project. If you have the mentality of “oh well I am getting paid either way”, you will not make it far in the design world or any world. It is essential to show the audience you care and not just every once in a while. It is imperative to show your enthusiasm every single time you design or else you are not in it for the right reasons.
3. Are you going to tell a story? Then tell a big story. An enormous story. An epic story. Or tell no story at all. As any designer knows, when you are designing something, you aren’t just throwing elements together on a page and hoping it looks aesthetically pleasing. Designers take components from the brand and the textual content and combine them into a visual story. If you aren’t going to tell the right story or if people aren’t going to understand the story, you shouldn’t tell the story at all. That is when you step back and look at the design with fresh eyes and ask yourself, “What am I really trying to convey to the viewer.”
4. Stuck on a problem you can’t solve? Go bigger. Expand it. Make it giant. Do not try to contain it, or simplify it, or reduce it. Make it so large that you can begin to see a new pattern. Solve the larger problem and the smaller one will get solved along the way. Sometimes the best way to solve the problem, design or otherwise is to crack it wide open and look at all the pieces independently before trying to put it back together. I cannot tell you how many times I have been blocked trying to come up with a creative solution to a design, I have racked my brain to solve, and I go to my co-workers to get their input. Generally, they see a completely different problem, or between us, we can brainstorm ideas until someone can see a piece of the puzzle we missed. Sometimes, it is as simple as talking with someone about the design you are working on, explaining to them what you are trying to create and why you can’t figure out how to finish the design.
5. “Always think with your stick forward.” Amelia Earhart painted that on her plane. She meant, I imagine, to seize the moment when it arrives. Refuel as necessary. Don’t wait for any damn kind of “inspiration.” Punch the throttle. Get back in the air. Keep flying. Whenever a client says, “I am not sure what I want, I want you to give me a couple of examples of what you are thinking.” When this kind of freedom presents itself, this is the time to punch the throttle because it is not often clients give you free rein on design work. Never in this situation is it the time to play it safe, this is the time to give them that out-of-the-box crazy idea that you aren’t even sure will work. If they don’t like the direction you are going in, that is okay. Simply adjust, refuel, and get back in the air.
6. If an idea doesn’t scare you in some way, it’s not really a good idea. If you come up with a crazy design and are afraid to show it to the client, do it anyway. What is the worst that can happen? They say no. Proficient designers are the ones that are capable of pushing their designs past what the client is asking for and providing them with an even better solution than the one they originally asked for. If you always go with the safe option that you know the client will love, you won’t flourish as a designer. There should always be something about your design that you are afraid to show your client. For instance, the client asked for two specific colors you just know in your mind will not go together. Instead of using those specific colors, you decide to use similar colors that work much better together. Even a small change like that might be enough to make you nervous to present to the client.
7. Never create and edit at the same time. Get all the sloppy, ugly roughs and first drafts out. Quantity is more important than quality at the start. Mess is more. I wish someone would have told me this when I was still in school. I used to spend hours trying to perfect one idea for one assignment for class instead of taking the time to try different designs. Now, I spend hours coming up with every design I can think of for one project. When taking this approach, designers weed out flawed ideas and then focus on refining the designs that work. And if for some reason, none of the designs work, the designer can revisit all previous designs, see if there is one worth reworking or redesigning, and then start from there. This strategy saves designers from having to start fresh every time.
8. Ignore those who tell you to “only focus on your strengths.” Nonsense. Your strengths never go. Build them, hone them, and add muscle to them. But also focus on what you need to move into new and larger worlds. Become a shocking triple threat, not just a shiny, one-trick pony. Is your strength illustration? Excellent. Learn how to take that strength, amplify it, and expand it into other regions of design. Maybe you transform that strength into designing icons, logos, or even storyboards. Then you take an illustration, icon design, or logo design and transform it into brand design and so on. You want to be able to tell a client, “Yes I can do that” every time they ask to design something. Use your strengths as the foundation to make you a more versatile designer.
9. Be careful of doing too much work that copies the people you admire. Start that way to see what feels right. But aim to seek what they were seeking instead of doing what they were doing. In any creative field, inspiration comes from a myriad of places, especially in today’s world where creative types often post their work online for the whole world to see. Every designer looks at inspiration wherever it comes from Pinterest, Instagram, or Tik Tok and see if they can create something similar. However, there is a fine line between creating something similar and copying someone else’s artwork. We can try to mimic the style of a particular piece we see online and hopefully get similar results. But it is also incredibly important to add our creative style to it because that is what makes us unique. As an artist or a designer, you can be inspired by their artwork and what they have done during the duration of their career, but you have to find your own path and what is going to make you happy.
10. Design is not what we make. Design is what we make possible. At some point in every designer’s career, they will be asked to design something so little and something that feels so insignificant that it makes the designer question why they are even taking the time to do it. As designers, we constantly have to remind ourselves why we do what we do. Designing that one little piece might not seem like much to us but to the person asking us to create it, it means a lot. One billboard someone sees on the side of the road might drive them to try something new. Maybe they have been searching for new car insurance and they see the same advertisement everywhere on tv, on billboards, and all over social media and they decide to finally give that insurance company a call.
At A3 Media we have been working hard to get Social Shelf off the ground. A program in which users can scan QR codes in the aisle at the grocery store to receive information about a product they might want to try. As a designer, it is my job to create the pages that users will be directed to when they scan the QR. Through design and our Social Shelf program, we are supplying customers with the information they ask for while making their lives just a little bit easier and that is why I love doing what I do.