This post was inspired by Kevin, a good friend and extremely talented front-end developer. Kevin asked:
“I’d like to redesign [my] site… but I’m having trouble articulating what I want to do, though – even to myself. I just don’t speak the language well enough to explain my ideas to myself and evaluate whether they’re good, the way I can in lots of other areas. How can I take the next step toward a coherent design from a few scraps of ideas? How do you generate design inspiration?”
The Problem With Design
Design is a tricky thing to pin down. While most people are able to instantly distinguish good design from bad, it is far more difficult to articulate what makes a design successful. People just know it when they see it. Even more challenging is creating a new design from scratch. Trying to express a style, brand, theme, movement, or idea through images, colors, shapes, and textures can be a challenge, even to experienced designers.
- The problem (and frustration) with design lies in translating visual cues into a form that can be shared through our primary mode of communication – language.
Because humans communicate primarily through spoken and written word, it is this disconnect from words to images and back again that creates gaps in the way we interpret and describe the things we see.
- TRY THIS: Describe your favorite painting to a friend. You can describe its color palette, the subject matter, the artist’s technique, its layout, the size, the way it makes you feel. But chances are good that unless it’s a famous painting that your friend has seen before, they will have a very different idea of what the painting actually looks like.
- THE POINT: With no concise way of talking about what we see, it is no wonder we have a hard time discussing design.
The same challenge exists when talking about scents. Fragrance designers, who live and breath (sorry, couldn’t resist) in the world of aromas, can not only identify subtleties from one scent to the next but can also talk intelligently about them using industry-specific lexicon.
Coding at the Speed of Light
The growth of the Internet is staggering but makes perfect sense if you consider the following: Most of the content on the web is in the form of words. Recognizing this, search engines have set up ways to use language to help people find exactly what they are looking for. This ability to quickly type, locate, interpret, and use bits of information that others have already created allows developers (for example) to build on it instead of starting from scratch. Of course, good web development is more an art than a science, but the point still stands: much of the code that has been created up to this point can be indexed and, as a result, searched via text.
Finding Balance in Design
So what does this mean? Like all design, we believe the form of a strong website design (how it looks) should be driven by its function (how it works). And the beauty of creating a cohesive brand identity or an interesting website design, in our opinion, is about finding balance:
- Interesting, but not cluttered.
- Clean, but not boring.
- Identifiable, but not obnoxious.
- Intriguing, but not distracting.
- Unique, but not trendy.
So how do we get there?
Like much of the strategy we do, we suggest starting at the beginning and working backwards from there:
What is the goal of the site?
What action do we want visitors to take?
What is the story we’re trying to tell?
How can the design help us tell that story?
Once you have answered those questions, use the following resources to create a visual library of what you like/don’t like and work to describe (in words) your thoughts around each example. Translating your emotions into language will help identify trends and cues that can be used in your ultimate design.
Tools & Resources
- Pinterest: This “digital swipe file” website has quickly become a favorite for visual artists, wedding planners, fashionistas, and designers alike to create a visual reference of their favorite visual digital images.
- Logo Design Love: Launched as a side-project in January 2008, LDL is a website (and a printed book) devoted to the design of logos and brand identities. Great starting point with countless examples of successful logos and brand identities.
- The Dieline: A resource created for packaging designers, but a great place to spark ideas and generate conversations around some of the best branding online.
(Photo credit: Fontshop)