How to Develop an Eye for Design

October 19, 2018

In this visual day and age, design has become resplendent and integrated. As digital marketing, and easier access to it, continues to take a central role in our lives, we find that more and more knowledge and sensitivity to design has begun to leak into the consciousness of the general public. When I tell people that I have a typography studio twice a week, quite a few of them immediately understand that it is a course dedicated to type design, fonts, and other derivatives. Even more people recognize that pretty packaging will convince them to choose one product over another and, more importantly, that at the heart of things, design is visual communication. In the blink of an eye, an entire brand, a stereotype, a person, a movement, can be conveyed to an observer. Anyone who has ever strategically posted their Instagram pictures to better accent their profile has taken advantage of this.

I wasn’t always this passionate about design, however. I didn’t even understand the value of design until about a year ago. I was just starting out in my design classes, and I thought that my two-hour studio dedicated to color theory—and only color theory —was my greatest waste of time yet. I had entered college with the intent of taking a pre-law track, so when I threw all caution to the wind and changed my second major, political science, to graphic design… well, it felt like I was following the Pied Piper into the maw of a subjective, unemployable, and generally useless hell.

I am passionate about design and it is important. A year of classes has taught me more than how to mix colors and fonts to make things “pretty.” Design is a teacher of culture and life itself. I would encourage everyone, regardless of whether or not they are a designer themselves, to crack open a third eye to the world around them. Without much effort, you can start paying attention by following these four steps.

Notice Patterns & Connections 

As I mentioned before, design is all about visual communication. More than that, a lot of it is about being able to communicate information in engaging ways.hink of poster design. Not all posters are created equal, especially on a college campus. Which posters are you most drawn to? Which information did they choose to make larger or smaller? How did they group it? Would there be a difference if it was red or blue instead? It seems tedious, but pretty soon you’ll notice that there are weird similarities between the Rugby Club poster and the Med School ad in the library. Notice which ones work, which ones get your attention faster or which ones hold your attention longer.

Notice What's Selling

Design, like anything else, goes through trends. Take note of them. A pattern on a bowl at Target probably has something in common with the packaging of new granola bars or a throw blanket. For example, I’m convinced that no one can go through a day without seeing fonts that look like handwriting or Scandinavian-inspired interior design. These trends are design solutions that communicate a feeling or a look that society wanted or identified with. The successful communication of that message is why it’s selling, but what exactly is it communicating besides reflecting the current style?

Notice What You Like 

Building off of the two points above, you need to notice what you like. Handwritten fonts might be selling on every crunchy package of granola bars, but you might hate it. That’s equally as important. Make lists of designs you like and dislike and cut what you don’t like out of your life. Being surrounded by things you do like—no matter how mundane—will make you happier. You could ruminate on the designs of cereal boxes and posters, find connections (step one), distill your likes and dislikes (step two), and suddenly revamp your closet with pieces you’re absolutely in love with instead of just lukewarm toward.

Notice Why

Likes and dislikes act as touchstones, but there is more. Dig into them. You have reasons, maybe weird reasons, for liking or disliking something. Instead of starting on a rant over something you absolutely hate, force yourself to describe it without using the word “dislike” or “hate.” Rationalize why you’re not drawn to it, which piece of it repulses you or pushes you back out of the design. Go back to the posters you saw all over campus. In relation to the ones that you liked, what are the ones you disliked “doing wrong”?

Design is all about communication, and like all other messages, it can be and should be analyzed. Most of us primarily identify via sight, but a lot of its value lies in being dissected. Intentional sight brings us to a better understanding of design, and all the facets that design speaks to: the consumer, the actual message, and society at large. Opening an eye to design is opening an eye to the undercurrents of marketing, psychology, and society. So stay open, stay fast, and keep evolving. It’s wild out there, folks.