This weekend I came across an interesting post by Dmitry Fadeyev, Our Tools, which looks at how the tools we use in designing a website influence the final design for the site, regardless of whether or not we want the tool to influence us.
I think much more than the tools we use influence our designs and I thought it would be interesting to explore some of them.
Dmitry’s post is actually a reply to several other posts that talk about how some designers skip Photoshop in their design process, going instead straight to the html and css. There’s certainly a camp of designers who think this is the best solution for the web.
Doing so of course likely forces your design to toward things like structure, layout, and code as this is where html and css will shine. On the other hand including Photoshop in the process before coding leads to more visually rich designs as this is where Photoshop shines.
Neither is automatically better than the other and again you can make good arguments for either approach. The main point is that the tools we use influence our designs.
Everything Influences Our Design Solutions
If you and I are each given a design problem to solve, our solutions will inevitably be different. Our solutions may share many common characteristics. We may choose to use the same font or both choose a 2 column layout. We may end up with a similar color scheme or even similar imagery.
Our solutions though will not be exactly the same. They couldn’t be.
There is no single solution to a design problem. Design doesn’t have an absolute answer like the solution to a math equation. There are many solutions to a design problem that will work well. Our goal is to seek the best design we’re capable of delivering.
The word “best” is an entirely subjective word and that subjectivity implies there is no single “best” design. Each of us can select which design we think better or best, but better and best will be defined differently by each of us.
You and I and the next person come to different solutions because we bring different things to the problem. You and I may share much in common, but we’re still different. We’re going to see the world in different ways and as a result we’re going to come up with different designs even if given the exact same design problem.
Things that Influence Our Designs
Many different things will influence our designs, whether we realize it or not. The list below is far from complete and the items listed will influence design from one designer to the next as well as one design to the next with a single designer.
Individual Design Process
Each of us has our own process for design. From the time of day we work to the music we listen to while working. It all affects how we design.
Ask yourself if you think you’d find your way to the same design solution listening to Mozart as you would listening to Black Sabbath or if you worked primarily in the morning as opposed to working late at night?
Where We Start an Idea
A recent smashing magazine article looks at several amazing designs where the idea began as a cliche and evolved over time. Most designs go through several iterations, but where they begin certainly influences the final iteration.
Starting with a cliche idea will lead to a much different design than starting with an obscure idea. Either starting point probably moves toward the other, but they won’t likely end at the exact same place.
Does your idea start with a visual image, an abstract thought, a mind map, a sketch? You get the idea. Where you start influences where you finish.
The Tools We Use
The tools we use have different strengths and weakness. Our tools add additional constraints to a problem as well as point the way toward a solution through that particular tool’s strengths.
See the posts below for some opinions on not using Photoshop to design. These are a few of the posts that inspired Dmitry’s article.
Our Life Experience
We all bring different life experiences to any problem and solution. Those differences allow each of us to make different connections and see different possible solutions.
Everything you create has been filtered through your life’s experience. Your style, your voice, your perspective is unique to you.
Knowledge of Design Theory and Design Principles
if you understand grids and I don’t, then your solution is much more likely to use a grid. At the very least you’d have that option available to you where I wouldn’t.
Your knowledge of design principles is essentially another tool at your disposal. The more you know, the more you can do.
If I’m a better illustrator than you it’s more likely I can incorporate illustration into a design solution than you can. If we both understand grids, but you have more practice using them your grid solution will be different and likely better than mine.
Similar to the knowledge you hold, the more skills you have the more you can do with a design.
Strengths and Weaknesses as a Designer
Both of the above point to our different strengths and weaknesses as designers. Odds are we’ll each seek solutions that play more to our strengths and attempt to minimize our weaknesses.
Understanding of Web Development
What you know about the development process will influence where you push exploration and where you hold back exploration.
If you know a possible solution may be very difficult to code you may choose a different direction. If you have ideas how the code might be bent to achieve something new, you might push toward design solutions that require bending that code.
If you develop other people’s designs you can probably tell what the designer’s development skills are the moment you see their design images.
Personal Likes and Dislikes
It’s impossible to entirely remove our own likes and dislikes from your work. Our designs are going to lean more toward the things we like. At the very least we’ll pick projects we’re more interested in working on.
There are certain colors and color combinations I don’t care for. I’m not likely to use them as a starting point in any design. If a design calls for a color scheme I don’t like I would certainly explore it, but only after exploring color schemes I find more preferable.
The Designers You Admire
Each of us is inspired by different designs and designers and that inspiration likely finds its way into our work. Most of us begin to evolve our own style by first copying the style of those we admire.
As our own styles emerge they carry those who influenced us along the way. We are links in a chain building on the work of previous links.
What Inspires Us in General
Similar to the above the things that inspire us generally are more likely to find their way into and influence our work. It will certainly influence our choice of projects and our enthusiasm for the projects we accept.
Choosing Your Influence
The list above is hardly exhaustive and nothing above should be taken to indicate one way of doing things is automatically better than another. You could make arguments for either end of the spectrum being better or worse for most anything above.
The things that influence us and our differences with them is what makes life in general so interesting. Were we all exactly the same life would be rather dull.
Where I think lists like the one above and discussions about which tools we use are most beneficial is simply in understanding the things that influence us and in learning how to change those things when needed.
For example if you find your designs are becoming too similar then making changes to your design process or improving your skills will likely lead to something different. If you think your fascination with nature is leading to too much organic imagery across projects you can seek new sources of inspiration.
If you always start ideas from the same place, then changing where your idea comes from will change how it influences your ultimate design.
On the other hand all the things that influence us are what makes each of us unique as designers and allows us to communicate something of ourselves in our designs.
If we explore the things that influence us and learn to master them in different forms (for example learning to use a variety of tools well) we can pick and choose our influences more consciously on each project, which of course is itself a new way to influence a project.
Design problems have multiple solutions, any of which can work well. There is no single best design solution as there is no objective way to determine what is best.
Everything we do and everything we are influences what our designs will be. From the tools we choose to use in the process to the lives we lead outside of our careers. That’s a good thing as it leads to each of us being different designers, with different solutions, and different styles.
There is no right or wrong set of tools you must use in designing nor is there a right or wrong life to live to be a designer. What you should be aware of though is that the tools you use and the life you live influence your work.
The more you understand the different things that influence you as well as how they influence you, the more you can change and shape the influences that find their way into your work.
In the end your choice of influences is yet one more thing that influences the solutions you create to the design problems you attempt to solve.