You know what I really like? I like things that don’t follow all “the rules” or traditional ways of doing things. I especially like those things that bend or break “the rules” and create their own guidelines and standards for doing things. I get tired of the same-old, same-old all the time.
I look around my house, and see the same-old books, addressing the same-old topics, in the same-old ways. I drive to and from work the same-old way. And when I get on the Internet, I do the same-old things: check the email, check Facebook, check Twitter, click “interesting” sounding links, look at the pretty pictures, read the “interesting” articles, and discover 25 “new” tips, tricks, tutorials, or trends that I “didn’t know about” already.
While it may be true that I didn’t know about some of those trends or tips before, the thing is that most of what I end up clicking on and reading throughout the day is more of the same-old, same-old lists. Wow, I get incredibly bored whenever I land on one of those cookie-cutter affiliate, marketing, sell-you-something, get-rich-quick, diet-exercise-pill sites. Is it any wonder that I get bored reading more of the same-old, same-old list posts? They seem to all follow a cookie-cutter format: “X Things you needed to know about Y.” Problem is, as inspirational as they may be, as cool as some of the work on there is, they don’t inspire me to create better designs, but rather just make me wish I could create work as cool as the designs I’m viewing.
Every designers’ dirty little secret is that they copy other designers’ work. They see work they like, and they imitate it. Rather cheekily, they call this inspiration. – Aaron Russell
I used to try my hand at some design contests on 99designs.com. It was a really good way to build up some experience when I was first starting out and to learn some things that look good and work well. However, on more than one occasion, I found that my work, if in the top 5 designs, would have some unique elements in it that the contest holders liked (and mentioned in my comments) that other designers would then take and incorporate into their own designs. In fact, on more than one occasion, I had contest holders asking me to “borrow” a design element from a competing design and add it to mine in order to help me win.
An addition problem arises when one person posts a wonderful design to a contest early, that everyone obviously likes. Nearly all designs that follow the first “4-star” design are likely to be very similar in style. In fact, by having a base-line design to work off of as “inspiration” it virtually kills any other possible originality. Once a certain design is known to be well-liked, other designers only change small bits of the design, or add little flourishes to attempt to outdo the others. Even designers that may not have been interested in the contest at first are suddenly “inspired” to join. But what they’re doing isn’t always improving on the actual design of the site or logo, rather they are just adding “eye candy” in the form of reflections, gradients, sparkles, and other “Web 2.0” effects that clients sometimes seem to value over form, layout, and simplicity.
Basically, if you’ve seen one design on there, you’ve seen them all – give or take a few fancy effects.
Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration. – Jeffrey Zeldman
The same is true of so many “Web Design” sites these days. I’ve been on so many in recent months that follow the exact same pattern – with a minor change of color, or splash of a logo. The logo goes in the upper-left, social networking upper-right, horizontal navigation below the header on top, blog content on the left, ads covering the entire right sidebar…. Why go on? It’s all the same.
And that’s not all that’s the same. How many of these “inspirational” sites just copy exactly what all the other “inspirational” sites do? Web galleries all look the same, list posts all look the same, and inspiration is all the same kind of long post of cool pictures. Don’t get me wrong, these galleries, list posts, and inspirational posts do have their place and do what they are meant to do – inspire – but the problem is that that’s all they do – inspire – and there’s really little content left after you strip away all the pictures and sparklies. And it all is just the same-old, same-old “click-here-get-inspired-do-this-tutorial-make-a-pretty-picture” stuff.
Where’s the meat of design? Where’s my main course? I learned a lot about my software because of sites like these, (“Ahh, so that’s how you Render Clouds… in Photoshop…”), but they’ve failed to deliver what I now crave – the meat and fundamentals of design.
Technology over technique produces emotionless design. – Daniel Mall
I don’t want more sites that give me more fonts, more patterns, more brushes, more inspiration, more tutorials, or more “design knowledge” (that really is merely software knowledge). Most of the “more” ends up being too much.
I want sites that teach me in depth how to use the fonts I already have, and challenge me to limit my own font usage. I want sites that teach me color theory – from the very basics, to in-depth studies of how each color relates to our senses. I want inspiration not in the form of pretty pictures and stunning graphics, but I want inspiration in the form of content that inspires me to write better content. I want to read thought-provoking blog-posts that rekindle the fire of passion I have for learning better design and creating better design.
It seems most of the meat of design principles isn’t to be found on the web, where anyone – including people half my age (I’m 28) – can publish anything. But rather, the real inspiration of design, the content that can spark a fire of creativity (and not just “copycat inspiration”) will be found in books, tried-and-true reference manuals that are still invaluable to the best designers today (any suggestions?).
The most innovative designers consciously reject the standard option box and cultivate an appetite for thinking wrong. – Marty Neumeier
Remember at the beginning of this post I said I like things that don’t follow all “the rules” or traditional ways of doing things? Recently I’ve been reading a few authors that have really impressed me with not only their style and design, but especially their content (which is king on the Web after all). Two of the most interesting have to be Paddy Donnelly and Drawar. Paddy has a brilliant way of making each article follow a different style and different flow, while the content stays interesting and visually exciting. Drawar may appear “simple” at first, but his content and writing is king over so many other blogs out there, and he mixes up the design of articles enough to keep things interesting (plus the simplicity of his design makes reading and visiting his site a joy). Below is a list of the most interesting of their posts I’ve read:
- Life Below 600px
- 4 Pixels or Less – Paddy
- X Somethings Y Should Have – Paddy
- World Wide Web for Dummies, Not Us – Drawar
- Doing it Different Might be Doing it Right – Drawar
- Don’t Let Ads Kill Your Site – Drawar
- You Are Not a Designer and I Am Not a Musician – Drawar
- Smashing Magazine Killed the Community (Or Maybe it Was Me) – Drawar
So, anyone have any suggestions for design books I might read? Where can I get beyond software knowledge and into the heart of solid design principles?