Tips for Designers #1: Make Space

I've been thinking about posting a few hints and tips for designers that I wish I'd been given. There are already tons of lists of tips and how-tos for designers and wannabe designers all over the web. Tons. Too many. I'm going to try to steer clear of the stuff they already bleat on about and mention some ideas that I haven't seen mentioned quite so much. I'll try to keep them bite-sized and tasty.

So... tip #1 is Make Space.

I don't care what software package you're using to do your design work — Photoshop, Fireworks, GIMP or the original MS Paint — I recommend always making the canvas bigger. No, even bigger than that. Give yourself multiple screens-worth of lovely space.

Done? Now feel how all that space makes it much easier for you to relax about editing your design. Drag bits and pieces freely in and out of the working design. Now you're never in danger of losing anything so you're free to create little copy-paste groups where you can freely explore different versions of every element and cast your eye over them both in and out of context. I often now create several versions of a whole design simultaneously within one big document – it's easier to compare them, easier to drag parts from one to another, easier to explore all the possibilities.

The underlying principle is to do as much as you can to make exploring and evolving your design easy. I realised that if I didn't have any thinking space around what I was designing, I'd get blocked. I wouldn't want to change anything unless I was sure that I'd be improving it, so I'd end up not changing anything. I'd fiddle around with insignificant things and feel dissatisfied and uneasy. Then I'd end up surfing blogs instead of finishing the design. I was falling into the fool's trap of waiting for a bolt of inspiration to hit. But as soon as I did nothing more than making the canvas really big, I was freed up to try all sorts of stuff out and shuffle it all around. Suddenly, I was getting through design work faster and feeling more satisfied with what I'd done.

By the way, also make sure you've got a fresh sketchbook page or crisp sheet of A4 in front of you too. And a nice sharp pencil.

Got all that? Now, off you go and get back to work.