Be a Better Designer by Doing More Non-Design Things




Want to be a better designer? To come up with more creative and innovative designs? And make sure that you don’t deviate from the design career path that you’re most passionate and excited about? Well, you can be a better designer by doing more non-design things.

Huh? Be a better designer by actually doing more non-design activities? That may sound counterintuitive to some. After all, when someone wants to get better at something, they should surround themselves with more of that activity, not less, right? Well, not exactly.

Be a Better Designer by Doing More Non-Design Things

See, there are 3 reasons doing more non-design things rather than more design-related activities will actually benefit you by. The idea is to not get trapped in a design bubble. This way, when you come back to your design work after frequent breaks, you’ll be fully creatively charged. Which just doesn’t happen when you’re pretty much only doing design stuff.

1. Maintain a Healthy Perspective on Your Work and Direction

When you do more non-design things, you more frequently come back to your design work with an outsider perspective. Which is good: this way, you maintain a healthy perspective on your work and direction. You make sure that you stay on the path you want to be on and not deviate from it.

Remember when you were just starting out with designing? Anything and everything seemed possible. You approached designs with a naive, wide-eyed attitude. But the more you remain engrossed in a design bubble, the more you become constrained by the rules and standard ways of designing within your niche. It’s fine – something like this is unavoidable when you’re living and breathing only one thing.

The problem comes when you start to lose perspective on your work and direction. Perhaps you started off wanting to accomplish a certain style of design, but more and more paid gigs that weren’t that started skewing your direction. When you’re amidst designing and getting paid for it, you don’t step back and see if you’re on the right track – the one that’s true to yourself and your design vision. And that’s pretty dangerous.

The way you make sure you stay on track is to do more non-design things. You take your mind off of your current design work, jolting your brain and giving yourself a fresh surrounding to do something in. Then, when you come back to your design work, you’ll have that outsider, healthily-naive perspective again. And if you see the type of work you’ve been doing lately isn’t something you want to continue doing, then you can get back on track to the direction you want to truly follow.

2. Become More Frequently Inspired

Introducing variety will make you more frequently be at that naive state where you create more inspiring and creative designs. As previously mentioned in #1, when you were just getting into design, anything and everything seemed possible. You weren’t bound by rules but instead did what was exciting, fun, and visually appealing to you – regardless of if it was “right” or “wrong”.

To keep that healthy inspired state going, you have to create a way to consistently come at a new design with that healthily-naive state. And the way you do that is by doing more non-design things.

You take your mind off of your design work. You go create in another medium (or at the very least, visually create in a style that’s different from what you usually do), or do a recreational activity, or watch films, or listen to music, or read books and publications, or whatever. Then, when you come back to your work to start creating your next design, you’ll be in that fresh state, filled with inspiration that’s not bound by the rules of the style you’ve been creating in.

Why is this? You jolt your brain outside its comfort zone. After creating in the same style for a while, you inevitably settle into a routine where you stick to the basic rules or framework of your style. You start thinking of what you can create within those rules, rather than not seeing the rules in the first place. By doing non-design things, you snap your brain out of those rules by introducing an activity that’s completely different.

When you come back to designing, you’ll no longer be bound by those rules and instead see the entire spectrum of possibilities – or not see the spectrum at all (The Matrix “there is no spoon”-style). Fresh inspiration can come pouring in, with grander and bolder ideas running through your mind as to what your next design can be.

3. Constantly Try Fresh and Creative Ideas

This is like a continuation of #2. By getting more fresh inspiration, you’ll more likely try fresh and creative ideas.

Innovation frequently happens when you’re on the outside looking in. Not just with designers, but musicians, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, writers, or any other creators. There’s that healthy naivety in the creator, which helps him or her to ignore the rules (since they’re not known in the first place) and possibly stumble onto an innovate idea.

When it comes to designing, you couldn’t get those kind of innovate ideas from design-only inspiration. The reason is that when only look within the design industry for inspiration, you’re looking within design rules rather than beyond them. But many of the most innovative and inspiring visual designs have been created by looking at nature, or while playing a sport, or listening to music, or admiring a well-designed electronic piece of equipment. The sounds, the movement, the vistas, or the industrial designs all can make the designer go back and implement some of those ideas into a web or visual design.

  • It could be building a website user interface in a more fluid and intuitive way – after seeing an unconventionally-arranged house.
  • Or going with an infrequently-used color combination that’s rare in the design world – but you saw plenty of during coastal sunsets.
  • Or trying a new and exciting visual style – that you saw in a film.

The list goes on.

So while plenty other designers will essentially be tweaking existing visual designs, you can come at it with an outsider perspective and use a non-design inspiration to create a fresh visual or web design. Again, just like the ideas you most likely had when first starting out designing – before all the rules and guidelines of your given style got in the way.

Do More Non-Design Things to Be a Better Designer

Oftentimes the best design inspiration is not design related at all. Outside influences help you to stay grounded and maintain a healthy outside perspective to your work. You get to see the big picture and where you’re headed design-career-wise, and you’re more likely to try bolder, outside-the-norm ideas that results in the most creative and innovative designs.

Has doing non design-related things helped you be a better designer? In what other ways did it help? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!





About the author:

Oleg Mokhov is an electronic music artist and design enthusiast. He makes electronic music that's a cross between Four Tet and Boards of Canada.

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