It was 3:00AM and I was hunched over in a computer chair, staring at an Illustrator file, feeling lost and tapped-out. I was spinning my wheels, redesigning a page that I’d already designed a few times before. Hemingway said something about leaving enough ink in the well for the next day, but at this point, I didn’t have a next day in me.
I don’t have a next day in me
I am not a designer by trade, though I’m slowly becoming one by experience. Most of my designs are cobbled-together solutions that borrow from things I’ve seen along the way. I have mastered the concept of stealing ideas better than my own without replication.
Awwwards is a big part of my stealing method. Most of the entries are agency created and look great. That said, they are an unrealistic aspiration for my own web creations.
Awwwards is a microcosm of website omg-look-what-we-can-do. That’s not a slam. These sites are impressive for production value and content creation alone. Getting a fixed-position Awwwards badge on your site is a badge of honor for anyone.
Austin Kleon’s book, Steal Like an Artist discusses the idea of previous work acting as inspiration for remixing with your own creativity; there is no such thing as true originality. But, I still I want to be original.
The problem is balance. At one extreme, I can view source the exact code and literally steal someone’s design to produce a copy. At the other extreme, I’m so off the mark that it looks like I can’t way out of a box. That last part matters a lot.
To quote the late Massimo Vignelli, “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” I want to prove I can design a few things, which can turn into everything if your not careful.
“If you can design one thing, you can design everything.”
The bad designers are the ones who fail to pick up on the details or are too lazy to find them. The rules are logical and orderly, even if the actual aesthetic is chaotic.
In design, these rules matter because they legitimize someone’s belief (even if the someone is yourself) that you can do, or have done it. I think what Vignelli is talking about. If you can just get one right then you can probably do it again.
When To Break
There’s a balance in good design between these basic rules, timeless and constant, and the rules that follow current trends. Designing for today, for the time and period in which we live right now, is another reason I swoon over the sites at Awwwards, beautiful examples of today’s trends. If your putting together pages with Web 2.0 design elements, plan on it reflecting how little you bother to look at other sites.
But there’s an inherent problem to following the trend: your site looks like every other site.
Grovemade’s site, an Awwwards SOTD winner and site I like, looks like a lot of other websites out there. Sites like Elespacio and Dock and a bevy of other sites that have adopted this look. It works. It’s pretty, I think, and well designed.
I specifically modeled portions of this page on these pages and, accordingly, my site looks like theirs. As a cobbler of design, that’s the trade-off you make for proving you can follow trends: your site looks like all the other ones.
I’m still not sure if I’m a really bad designer who could be good or just a bad designer. I feel like I’ve been lucky a few times, but I still don’t think I have design confidence.
Sometimes I know I’ve hit the mark, and sometimes I struggle to convince myself. Am I abandoning the rules to the point of obscurity or just talking to myself at 3:00 AM?
It’s become a big joke to my friend, Jamie Smith, that I want to constantly change and redesign pretty much everything I create. This is at least the 2nd iteration of the front page of this site, and probably not the last.