The hardest part is finding the willpower to face your limitations

So said my brother, currently training to be an illustrator. Beginning a piece of work - in his case a painting - knowing that it's not going to turn out as you hope it will. Is it better to begin knowing that it won't be as good as you hope - but know that it's another step on the path; or to begin believing that what you make will be perfect this time - and then face inevitable disappointment?

This is where deliberate practice comes in. You choose to begin, knowing that the work will stretch you, knowing that you're likely to fail, but also knowing that the work will make you a little bit better.



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.

What's the 'ism' of what we're doing on the web right now?

Have you seen Helvetica, Gary Hustwit's documentary about the near-ubiquitous font? You should. I was recommending it to a non-design-geek friend recently and realised again what a tough sell it is. It's ostensibly about a font, which must be off-putting for a lot of people. Spend nearly two hours of my life watching a film about a subtle variation in the shapes of letters? Er… I'll go and see Toy Story 3 again, thanks very much*.

But I'd say it's not really about that at all. Yes, it is indubitably a hymn to Helvetica (font-porn, anyone?), but the typeface is actually a clever device that allows the filmmaker to explore the differences and the tension between the broader modernist and post-modernist movements. He interviews enough industry movers and shakers to make up a whole fantasy graphic design team and they're split down the middle between the two movements. Broadly speaking, the modernists love Helvetica and the Post-Modernists hate it. The resulting discussions cut to the heart of the tension between these inextricably interrelated movements better than any text-book explanation could. As in the best haiku, the most insignificant subject matter communicates more than a grandiose epic could.

It got me to thinking though. What movement are we part of now? I'm talking about the movement towards data-driven decision making, ever deeper understanding of our users and customers and the focus on their experience with our services and products. The movement towards continual growth, learning and agile adaptation.

In one sense, it's absolutely modernist in the sense that it rejects the traditional way of doing things for new ideas and methods enabled by cutting edge technology. But that doesn't really do it justice – every movement from the 20th Century onwards can pretty much be lumped under modernism. So what's the specific ideology of the web right now?

Empiricism is already taken and doesn't really cover it anyway. How about Optimalism? Experiencism? Suggestions, please.

* I really do want to go and see Toy Story 3 again.

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