Tag Archive: education

  1. On Skill and Talent

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    I was talking to a medical equipment sales rep the other night at a bar who became very interested when I told her I am a graphic designer. I’ll usually introduce myself as graphic designer because it is broadly understood. In certain contexts I’ll say I’m a web designer or even front-end developer.

    We got on the topic of skills versus talent when she asked how much of what I do is talent. It seemed to me that, despite her childhood memories of being crafty and creative, she doubted her ability to do it professionally from fear of not having enough talent. I told her that I believe design, drawing, painting, weaving, etc. are all skills that can be learned. You can study, practice and hone skills. I used the example of drawing to illustrate my point. You can develop the skill of wielding a pencil, making marks on a paper, observing objects, light and shadow and replicate that on paper. Imagining something in your mind and representing it on paper, I argued, is a talent.

    In hindsight I disagree with my last point. I think using you imagination is also a skill that can be developed; it is just more difficult to do. I’m beginning to believe that talent is simply innate skill. Everyone has different innate skills in many areas, such as mathematics, language or the arts. If you agree with this perspective then the challenge of developing new skills is a little less intimidating. Identify your talents, not just to know your strengths to exploit, but also your weaknesses to work on.

    Practice makes perfect

    For anything that this rings true I’d argue it’s a skill. For some time I decided to focus on typography to further develop my skills. It seems to have paid off because I feel very comfortable and confident in my abilities. I’ve also focused on efficiency and colour theory. I know if I wanted to do more illustration then I would need to develop my drawing skills again. I’ve become rusty since I spend more of my free time writing then drawing, like I used to. The key is to continuously take stock of the tools in your tool belt and fill the gaps to become better.

  2. Books to Get Started as a Web Designer

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    If you’re new to the game or are simply looking for a refresher, the following books are a selection of my favourites that have guided me to where I am today as a designer and continue to be great resources.  This list is heavily web design centric, but a few of these book are design and typography classics and offer perspectives and advice that is easily applied to various disciplines. (more…)

  3. Design Philosophy

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    As I’ve been exploring the philosophy of Stoicism, I’ve discovered and adapted a few things that I’m trying to incorporate into formulating my design philosophy. The following is a work in progress and I welcome all commentary.


    The duty of a designer is to design and deliver the best solution for any given problem. Beyond that, a designer’s duty is also to evaluate the requests of clients objectively and take an educational role when necessary. It’s important that a designer not blindly follow client demands and requests—take time to reflect upon requests and try to determine the end goal. Often, clients may feel they need a certain “thing”, but not really know why or what other more feasible options may be available. (more…)

  4. Truth in design — make it yourself


    I’ve been bothered lately by the abundance of UI packs, starter templates, icon fonts, tutorials and everything of the like. Maybe I’m getting cranky and opinionated in my old age—but I feel that relying on these things is lazy, irresponsible and contrary to how I was taught in art school. I think we should take the time to explore and experiment with designs—but more importantly consider the brand, company or person you are trying to represent with the design. That should inform the aesthetic more than personal taste, trending styles or access to tutorials.

    To be clear, I have nothing against the existence of the above mentioned tools; just the irresponsible use of them. If you aren’t a designer or lack the appropriate skills, and you are looking for a way to get a  proof of concept or build a working prototype, then by all means go grab Twitter Bootstrap, download a flat UI kit or whatever. If you are a designer, or developer, however; I implore you to take the time to really think about what your working on and don’t just use something someone else built to get it done.

    I also have great respect for those who take the time to built these great tools and intend to help others; it’s just that we are beginning to lose that so-called element of “craftsmanship” when we use someone else’s designs. In the quest for efficiency and profitability I feel we’ve sacrificed a fundamental element of design.

    Design is the purpose, plan or intention behind an action or object.

    By slapping a framework on your product you are forgoing one of, if not the most, key parts of developing any idea. Design is the visual language of your product; do you really want it to sound the same as every other product using the same framework?

    Learning Through Doing

    So much is learned in the process of figuring things out. If you download a UI kit with all the buttons and text styled for you you’re missing out on learning why those things work. Trying and failing and trying again until you find that perfect font size for legibility and anti-aliasing setting for crisp text teaches you a lot; not just about the software but also about the importance of all these small decisions and how they begin to add up to a form gestalt.

    By starting from scratch you will learn over time how to best pad type within a button based on it’s context, or how to space images and other elements from each other in a layout to clearly communicate relationships and hierarchies. I compare this to paint by numbers. Anyone with the ability to read, hold a brush and dip it in paint can follow the directions to paint a seemingly nice painting. For the beginner it’s a fantastic feeling to accomplish something you previously thought only talented professionals could pull off. It’s also a great way to build the foundation skills and confidence needed before you dicard the training wheels and take more risks. If you’re trying to be a professional I feel strongly that you should make it yourself.

    I recently read this article which shares a common theme, and I agree with the sentiment: http://scottkellum.com/2013/12/11/ui-kit-is-dead.html


    Frank Chimero’s recent post “Homesteading 2014” also shares a similar sentiment; where he alludes to detaching from the digital noise of all these web services we eagerly adopt and instead building your own “web home” from scratch; a place you are proud to live in.

  5. Truth in design — on flat design and style

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    Matt Gemmell’s article on tail wagging triggered some thoughts on truth in design and on style. With recent uproars over flat design and iOS7 here’s my two cents worth.

    A design is true if it fulfils its requirements judiciously, and yet surprises and delights its intended audience. An app is true if it has a purity of vision and focus, and serves its intended customers on their terms.

    Matt’s article is a great read that begins about speculations on the design of Jonny Ive’s iOS 7. That’s a whole other thing, but when he began writing about truth in design something resonated.

    I’ve always thought of truth in materials, something I picked up from an interest in architecture and craftsmanship. Now that I’ve considered that I feel I have a landmark to aim for, truth in web design.

    The hot drama these days is of course flat versus skeumorphic. Before any debate one much first define the sides of the argument. I think flat design means different things to different people. To some it is the complete absence of decoration—typically manifesting as the removal of texture, lighting (gradients and drop shadows) and rounded corners. This would be the Adolf Loos approach; whose lecture and writings on ornamentation have a lot of lessons for modern designers. Google’s UI design may be the epitome of flat design for others—which in my opinion is a very well restrained use of design elements to indicate interaction while remaining relatively flat. Google uses subtle shading and shadows in interface elements; such as the compose button in gmail.


    Letterpress is another excellent example of flat design. It’s design feels more honest than some flat dribbbles. The difference being that is the style for letterpress is true to the core of the game. The game was built from the ground up and has a minimalist approach to it’s structure. Also, the game is really just about letters and letting users move them into a region of the screen. The app lacks a lot of flash and flair which allows for a clean and refined experience. The letters aren’t burnt into faux wood tiles because that colour and texture would distract from the letter.

    I believe there is still a place for skeumorphism in interface design, especially as we continue to enter markets and industries previous apart from the web. If for some reason we find ourselves designing web based interfaces for pilots to remotely control their planes, we would likely do the user a service by referencing the complex physical interfaces they are familiar with now.