Advice to Design Students I

Make a more interesting chicken.

Make a more interesting chicken.

I’ve been working with students as an adjunct professor at DAAP, and I consistently find them stuck in the middle of a design block. They’re usually playing it safe. There’s not a whole lot distinguishing their iterations or, there’s not a whole lot of iterations to look at. More often than not, there’s an attachment to a solution (usually a first or second iteration). Their unwillingness to release these early solutions prevents them from doing better work. I’m all too familiar with this situation in my own practice. Here are some ways I’ve gotten out of a design block.

On getting past a design block:

  • Try typefaces you haven’t used before (Fontstand, Adobe Fonts, Klim Test Fonts, Future Fonts). Typography is your secret weapon.

  • Swap projects and have a peer to design a version to get their perspective. It’s not cheating. It’s collaboration.  

  • Print out your screens and take a sharpie marker or Exacto knife to them. They're not precious.

  • Turn off your wi-fi and design without checking the internet or Instagram for inspiration (give your self three hours and see what you come up with). You’ll make more than you ever have before.

  • Limit your self to three or four elements (shapes, colors, type, line). See how far you can push those simple elements. It might be helpful to start an empty Illustrator artboard and play. Be bold. Try different variations. Pull out what you love.

  • Design the wrongest solution. That may help you know what’s right.

Additionally, critique is a fantastic way to get new perspectives and do better work, but you have to go in prepared.

On getting your work critiqued:

  • Bring specific questions that you’re struggling to resolve.

  • Don’t spend the whole time talking about your process and research. Talk about the work you want to be critiqued.  

  • It’s hard to critique a design that’s 10% finished. Try to get it to 60% - 80% and let the critique help you to 90% - 100%.

  • Don’t defend your work. If it’s good, it will protect itself. If it’s weak, it will get stronger the more it’s beaten up.

This is the most frustrating phase of design. You think everything is terrible. But, you’re not alone. It happens to students and professionals alike. Don't give up! It will evolve into something better.