How do designers know what looks right, and how do they get there?

Most designers are lucky, I think, to just ‘know’ what looks right. But that is constantly informed by experimentation, education, experience, and (the magical part), a creative brain that can link disparate ideas together to create something new and unique – and it’s often those moments the rest of us just sit back and think “I’d never have thought of that”.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it. They just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.”

STEVE JOBS FORMER CEO, APPLE

Quite recently I presented a design concept for a new recording label brand which I’d been having issues with, until I tilted the whole thing to a slightly obscure angle. All of a sudden it looked right. It *was* right. It had gone from a simple and if I’m being honest, slightly dull logo treatment, and become something that was dynamic and had attitude, which was entirely appropriate for the client and the personality and character it needed to represent.

SOMETIMES THINGS JUST LOOK BETTER WHEN THEY’RE AT A JAUNTY ANGLE

I have a feeling if I’d presented the initial concept, before the tilt factor (technical term), it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as well received as it could have been. Not only did it look wrong, but it ‘felt’ wrong, and I think that’s where designers are able to add their experience, their knowledge, and their talent to a design project.

The key in this example, is that the typeface was chosen to indicate movement and attitude, but the logo itself needed to reflect that confidence, and provide balance and a strong foundation in order for it to work as a whole.

The first feedback I got whilst working through the initial concept went from “Cool badger, but…” to “I love it!”. Simple change, but what a reaction! The emotional response is something you’re always looking to achieve, so by changing one aspect of the design and hitting that indicator, I felt confident the client would be happy with the end result.

Had that not been achieved, I’m fairly certain the overall concept would have felt somewhat diluted, and I would have had questions come back from the client. When that happens, as a designer you often know you haven’t nailed the brief quite as well as you may have hoped.

This emotional response is something the best designers understand is essential to developing design work that resonates with clients and consumers, leading to (hopefully) positive emotion when deciding whether to use one product or service another. A small side-effect, perhaps, but worth noting.

It also brings me on to the designer’s vision, or the eye for design that remains a fundamental advantage when developing your brand or marketing strategy.

I was reminded by this recently by a video from Pantone, the colour system standard for designers and industrial designers working with colour day-in, day-out.

The video demonstrates the very human process of mixing colours – which is still done by hand, by colour experts who’s eyes are so good they can see minuscule variations in the colour of the inks they mix.

To do this job to Pantone’s exacting standards, the video goes on to explain that each member of the team involved in the process must pass an annual exam in order to do the job.

Have a look at the video – can you see the variances they mention? Even I had a hard time, and I work with colour every day! It just goes to show how important a good eye, as well as years of training and experience really are.

So whilst we can all read up on design theory and good practices, understanding the nuances of what really works, and why, is often a somewhat magical combination of talent and and ‘inspiration’, as well as a good understanding of how we think and feel when we see something we like. Getting to that point can often be as much about perseverance as well as a spark of creativity, but being able to recognise when it happens, and why it’s happened, is what enables a good designer to develop a strong foundation around what is often a very simple and straightforward concept.

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