Crayons, Apple Pencil, and Algorithms.
Do you still love design?
I was crazy about graphic design when I was young. Every night after school, I stayed up until dawn to draw something with Photoshop. I made my own comic books, websites, and organised social events. No wonder I failed my first university exam. But it was fun!
In contrast with my early passion, the sparkles in my heart faded away once I started to work as a designer. I felt so tired from all those links people were sharing for me to look at. I was sick of hearing about yet another tool for designers. Perhaps I was sick of being an UX/UI designer as well?
In the meantime, there exists a different type of person. Those who are genuinely interested in design. Of course, they improve much faster — regardless of university degree (or not), initial skill or the background they come from. I felt really jealous.
Are they using magic or something?! What’s their secret? How come they don’t feel as I do?
The magic was the hobby.
After many years of looking people on the internet and real life, I finally noticed one common thing. It was the hobby. Every cool designer seemed to have something they enjoy outside of their work.
Talking about their hobbies, some of them were work-related (😨), such as
blah blah redesign or
something something app concept. On the other hand, there’s also
crafts. This was a very interesting find.
Would a hobby make me a cool designer? Well… I’m lazy, I don’t want to have to learn something new from scratch.
What about drawing? It was my old hobby!
My year of rebooting a hobby began from there.
Justifying impulse purchases.
As soon as I decided to draw again, I felt I needed to buy some tools. Yes, having a hobby often comes with Gear Acquisition Syndrome. I bought art supplies, drawing books, and finally an Apple Pencil and iPad Pro.
Despite my initial goal, I used my iPad for drawing or painting less than five times. A hobby is usually a part of your daily routine, and my time after work had instead been taken by watching YouTube videos and reading silly things on Twitter. There was no room for drawing! Embarrassingly, the iPad became a portable binge-watching device instead—until now.
Meeting lots of similar people like me.
After realising it’s hard to be inspired to draw, I decided to change my path to learn more work-related skills instead. As a part of the plan, I attended many design workshops in Melbourne. The most memorable one was Presenting Work With Confidence by Mike Monteiro.
The workshop was about how to present your work to your clients. It may sound simple, but there were multiple levels of horror. The presentation was about your work, in front of other designers and the author of a famous book—Design is a job.
Watching people in the workshop was interesting. The fear, tension, and embarassment were projected transparently through their voice and gestures. Even though they did great work and gave excellent presentations!
No matter if you have high level of skill or not, it seemed to be difficult to present your work with love. I finally realised feeling insecure was a common phenomenon.
Why do many designers suffer from the same anxiety?
Many designers share the anxiety that comes from the emotional turbulence of changing the thing you love, into a job that you must instead be good at.
In my case, the obsession of must be good at your job created a chain in my mind. It made me hesitate whenever I found something interesting, by throwing harsh questions to myself:
What if it makes me even more behind skills-wise? Shouldn’t I spend more time on learning UI design stuff?
However, these questions will never going to help me to find a hobby. I decided to ditch them, and look to completing my questions with some answers.
You know what? I wasn’t born to be a UX/UI designer. It just happened because I loved art and drawing.
This method worked on me. I could feel less guilty about myself searching for a non-work-related hobby.
Drawing again with algorithms.
I finally started drawing again, but there is a small difference this time. I write
code for drawing art. What I’m doing is commonly known as generative art. Instead of drawing shapes with a shape tool, I write algorithms which generates the shapes.
This is a different approach compared to how we normally draw with graphic design software. Sometimes it can be annoyingly labour intensive. Every point, size, and movement has to be planned and calculated.
The restriction is what makes it addictive.
Compared to the infinite freedom I had with Photoshop, this was an extremely restrictive environment. Ironically, this is why I found it more addictive than typical digital drawing. Having limits encouraged me to think about problems from many different angles.
I also needed to learn things I’ve never liked before. Mathematics, programming patterns, version control systems. (How would anyone think a designer would learn such things?) This wasn’t the end. There came even more complex subjects —
3D geometry, and
At the same time, Open Processing was another motivation to learn. It was amazing to see how far people can push creativity with code! Some of the algorithms (e.g: particles) have evolved in such interesting ways over many years.
Every object in my life now inspired me.
Since I started generative art, the way I look at everyday objects has changed. My eyes are constantly finding interesting subjects for me to code. Sometimes it happens subconsciously and surprises me when I realise.
For instance, here is my drawing. I thought of glacier floating around the universe with stardust. I studied Euclidean vectors and algorithms to draw triangles based on the distance of each particles.
After I finished this concept, somehow it looked really familiar. The next morning, I figure out why — It was the train I took everyday!
This is a funny proof that my subconscious mind keeps finding geometric objects around me. At the same time, I became really curious about how natural, organic shapes can be explained with algorithms.
In general, natural patterns are much harder to calculate as a formula. Imagine the curves from mountains, clouds, and waves. How can I generate them? This is very challenging, entertaining subject for me to explore more.
Developing a UI can be generative art.
Contrary to my expectations, there is a strong connection between generative art and actual UI design. The process of writing algorithms was similar to how developers interpret UI design with code.
Surprisingly, I found many developers didn’t have a chance to use geometric attributes (such as trigonometry). My generative art knowledge could help fill the gap. Being able to apply my hobby in this way made me love design again!
From couple of similar experiences, I feel there are so many hidden opportunities on what you can create with code. I would love to keep exploring it with my generative art.
Make shit for fun! 💩
I’ve started learning many things for fun. The joy of earning new knowledge made me happy at the beginning. However, as I became moderately good, I started to realise my own limits. Knowing my own limits sucked.
On the other hand, making shit was fun. No deadlines, no sign-offs or critiques. There was nothing that limit my freedom to create. Also it’s a truly objective way to learn about myself, and my design.
I still enjoy watching YouTube videos and reading silly things on Twitter. I just made a small room for my creative hobby to live in.
If you are a tired designer like me, I hope this article helped you to think about getting a hobby as well. It might take some time to settle it down as your routine, but it can make things better.
Thank you for reading my story. If you are interested, you can follow my twitter (@arle13) to check out all the small silly things I’m doing. 🙄