3 Reasons Doing Other Art Makes You a Better Designer

Want to be a better designer? Silly question – of course you would. Who wouldn’t, right? There are plenty of obvious ways to improve: practice and design relentlessly, try different styles, get outside of your comfort zone and thus force yourself to learn new techniques, and so forth.

But did you know that by doing other art forms – music, film and video, painting, writing, developing – you can actually improve your designs?

Now before you stop reading in confusion, there’s a method to this madness.

Common sense would dictate that in order to get better, you should focus on designing to the exclusion of other activties. After all, every minute you spend making a tune or shooting video is time not spent designing and getting better in ways mentioned previously.

It’s how pianists become virtuosos or skateboarders become all-stars, after all. But designing isn’t a performance-based art, and outside influences can actually result in you designing much better and more uniquely than if you dedicated all of your time to designing – and got absorbed by its rules and limitations. It’s similar to how you can be a better designer by doing more non-design things.

So without further ado, here are the 3 reasons doing other art makes you a better designer…

1. You Avoid Being Trapped in Design Constraints and Cliches

This one’s pretty forehead-slapping obvious, but it’s worth reminding. When you do only one thing, you inevitably become trapped by it’s rules.

You read and learn about designing only, and after a while your perspective on what you can or can’t do with your design work becomes limited by what’s around you and accepted in your field. It’s hard to avoid and a natural effect of diving into something full force. Just ask those studying classical music their whole life what they think of metal, punk, hip-hop or electronic dance music.

By doing at least one non-design art activity – music, film and video, painting, writing, developing – you help yourself avoid being trapped in design constraints and cliches. The reason? Pretty obvious: when you go to make some tunes, your mind will shift to a music-making mindset. You snap yourself out of the design bubble. Then when you return to work on your next project, you’ll have a refreshed approach. A naivety of sorts, like what you have when you attempt something during your early stages.

You’ll be fresh off of music-making and will likely have a more anything-goes attitude. Or you’ll question certain constraints and why do that when you could do it this way – but those who only spend time designing might’ve not thought of arranging elements that way, or presenting text and headlines this way, or using that color combination, or getting really creative with how to approach a website and present otherwise-traditional content in a unique way.

2. You Bring a Unique Perspective to Your Designs and Stand Out More

Similar to how a music artist who does another genre brings freshness and a unique edge to their primary style (a metal band trying strings and folksier material, a funk band trying house music, and so forth), when you also do another art form, you bring that unique perspective to your designs.

For example, the only way to really pull off an authentic film poster/intro/trailer feel to a visual design is to actually, y’know, have done one of those. If you work in film and video, you’ll bring your experience and perspective from that field into your design work. No matter how regular and conventional it was in your filmmaking, it’ll be fresh in your next design. You’ll have a leg up on most designers who aren’t also filmmakers.

The same goes for developing a game, painting, writing, and whatever else. There’s the obvious connections: if you’re going for a video game design, you know what a sidescrolling level should be arranged like or a character looking like; a watercolor design should look a certain way, with the water splattering spots authentically recreated; how the text for your client’s website or visual design should be edited and laid out for maximum impact and readability.

The point is, even if you’re average in this other art form, when you bring it into your design work, you automatically have a more unique perspective than designers who don’t do that kind of art – and especially designers who only design and nothing else.

3. You Improve Design Elements You Otherwise Might Not Have Noticed

You know how sometimes someone who’s not familiar with designing at all points something out in your design that you didn’t notice? The letters are too close to each other and hard to read, or the color combination is hard on the eyes, or those graphical flourishes distract from what should be the main element: the headline, the button, or whatnot. It was obvious to them, but you were so absorbed in the design that you missed it?

Doing another form of art helps you to be a self-editor in that sense. You pay attention to details in that other art form, and when you come back to designing, you’ll have that outsider’s perspective and look at the big picture and obvious elements.

When you make a film, you pay attention to the way a shot is set up and composed. You know how much space between objects or actors will bring maximum impact to the viewer. Then, when you come back to working on your next design, you bring that sense of space with you. Or if you paint, you get a great sense of color and composition balance for the big picture, not just the individual elements or sections. Again, that’s brought to your next design so you don’t overstuff with elements or work with too many colors. With music, you get a sense of rhythm that you can use to maintain a nice pace and spacing for your design elements (headers, pictures, subtitles, logos, text, and so forth).

All of those you might not have gotten – or gotten as well – if you didn’t do some other art.

Doing Other Art Makes You a Better Designer

A musician is only as good as his or her record collection. And a designer is only as good as his or her influences. When you do other art, you gain insight and influences that you wouldn’t have if you only designed, read and learned about web and visual designing, only consumed design magazines, and so forth. Yes, you’ll spend less time actually designing when you do other art, but by doing so you’ll actually make the hours you do design more fruitful. Quality over quantity.

To recap, here are the 3 reasons doing other art makes you a better designer:

  1. You avoid being trapped in design constraints and cliches
  2. You bring a unique perspective to your designs and stand out more
  3. You improve design elements you otherwise might not have noticed

What other reasons do you feel doing other art makes you a better designer? How has it helped you? Feel free to share in the comments section below.


  1. Evan R says

    As someone who works in seven or eight different mediums, including web design, I agree with all that you said. But “other art” implies that design is art. Design is not art because someone other than the designer tells the designer what to do. Art is about unlimited individual freedom of expression.

  2. says

    I think that’s a matter of opinion. By that logic music is not an art if someone asks you to play something in a different mode or use a different scale or you need adhere to a certain style. It’s still art no matter how you put it. Back to design, if you work on a personal project you probably have unlimited freedom and you can do pretty much anything you want, so we could call this art, right?

  3. says

    I couldn’t agree more! I’m a big believer that the more you take in the better and more wholly rounded you will become. That idea really connects powerfully with your third point. Until you’ve seen countless examples of good design, your idea of “good” is likely pretty pathetic. It’s almost terrifying the naivety we all faced when designing our first piece. Just look at how we cringe watching a non-designer make something as simple as a flyer. It’s in this spirit of self-improvement that I’ve determined to make one piece of art everyday this entire year http://www.365artist.com. It’s a huge commitment, but I know it will even make me better web designer in the end.

  4. says

    I agree. I do a lot of sketching and watercolor. It helps that I’m also an illustrator, so it brings a new perspective to my design work, for sure. I’m starting a life drawing class this month after 12 years of being away from it, so I’m hoping it further develops my overall style.

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