log 011

Creating New, Not More

Lately I have gotten the itch to really push my design skillset. It has been a slow burn of feeling like the work I have done is…bland? I think that feels like the right description.

Don't get me wrong I don't think I have been making poor designs. They have just felt well used. Which can be a positive! When you're making software for a business, a lot of times, predictable patterns are the best patterns.

However, there is room for pushing predictable patterns in small and delightful ways and I have found those areas overlooked.

Naturally, questions about process and practice came up as I have ventured down this path. How do you train that creative muscle? How do you improve taste? How do you find results that make people say, “Oh, that was nice” when they use your product?

And this is the answer that has been slowly solidifying in my head:

Studying people who are great at product design just helps you create more. You must explore work outside of your medium inspires you to create new.

I have a Pinterest board with…honestly an inappropriate amount of pins on UX/UI examples that I wanted to use as reference. It is one of my most used resources and profession possessions. At the beginning of my design journey I needed it. It was my North Star, my taste meter. Was the work I output the level of the great design I was filling that board up with from other great designers? However, +2,000 pins in and almost a decade into my career (that feels disgusting to say) I see the same patterns. The same taste. The same “interesting” elements to each design. This path of drawing inspiration and creativity explicitly from the medium you work in is a easing curve that looks like this:

Early on your ceiling is so high, you are rapidly increasing your skill through reps and references from great designers work. However, as you continue on the journey your progress begins to slow and then flatten.

Your meter for what is possible and expected never left your local maximum. You're just creating more of it. What you need now is a muscle that helps you explore and create what's new. To be a taste maker instead of an imitator.

This is what I want to do. I don't think it will be easy. I think some people are just built with that muscle. The ability to observe what is around them and have that translate into new ideas and directions in their work. I will have to build it, and this is how I have been trying to do that.

Exploring Other Mediums

There are UI designers out there who are great at, not only, looking outside of our medium, but synthesizing that exploration into meaningful work. So, I them two questions about this topic and this is what they had to say:

Where do you gravitate to when you're looking for inspiration?

Different places during different stages of my career, for sure. In the early days —just starting out, I was focused on increasing technical precision and making work I thought others would like, Dribbble was my answer to that. As I earned my stripes, I stopped caring so much about what other people wanted to see and started dipping into my own tastes which led me offline, for the most part.

I don’t always jump to the books though. I get a lot of inspiration anytime I travel, I think the mind works differently when you aren’t laser-focused on a screen and open yourself up to the world. That’s when you really start to do unique work.

How do you process external inspiration and integrate it into your work?

I think, more than anything else, the import part is just doing it. It’s uncomfortable, leaves you questioning if you should even try to pursue something outside of the meta, and it comes with a bit of risk. But where there’s risk, there’s reward, and ultimately, it’s going to lead to a far more interesting future for what the web looks like, something we’re in desperate need of.

Understand the Materials

It doesn't matter how much discovery we do in an effort to broaden our taste if we do not understand our own materials. This is the foundation. You cannot synthesize the inspiration you find and apply it to your work if you don't have a firm grasp on the fundamental building blocks you have to create with.

In case you want some proof to back up this concept check out these quotes from some of the great designers and artists of our time.

To limit yourself to a particular material may mean limiting your creativity. But to understand that material, to understand its essence, means to understand what you are capable of doing with it.Isamu Noguchi
It is the understanding of the material at hand that opens up the process of discovery. Working with material is not only about shaping it, but also about being shaped by it.Richard Serra
The nature of the materials we use, the methods of their treatment, and the results obtained are the most important factors in the success of our work.Gustav Stickley

Reps and Loops

This is is not a new concept but is core to solidify new information for me. I wrote something more about this concept over inA Pattern for Growth, but the main idea is that to learn something you first expand out and gather as much information as you can about a topic, and then compress that information by putting it into practice and finding the sharp edges. Find the places where the information you gathered has gaps then start the process over again.

I hope you enjoyed

There is a lot more coming...

If you want to get updates when I publish new guides, demos, and more just put your email in below.