This blog rarely addresses subjects such as “How to solve UX problem XYZ” or “How to set up a perfect grid” for a reason. While these are valid topics and plenty of other platforms publish articles about them, they have no place here.
Ask any designer you admire for advice and they won’t tell you to follow design blogs or read design magazines. They won’t tell you to read a book about design process either. They won’t point you to the latest trends in web design or a list of keyboard shortcuts.
Great designers know that nobody has it all figured out. They know tools and techniques matter, but they don’t make us better designers.
Becoming a better designer means becoming a more informed human. Every designer, from advertising designers to product designers, deals with a different set of problems. Regardless of the problems they are trying to solve, every designer caters to humans.
The day we become better designers is the day we start looking outside the design industry for inspiration. It’s the day we start reading books about philosophy, psychology, art or science. It’s when we stop hanging out with only designers and start making more friends in other industries. When we start a new design job and ask to sit next to someone from a different department.
“All this creative potential and we’ve only created a bubble.”
Humans have a tendency called confirmation bias. We interpret the world in a way that validates our existing beliefs. This means we tend to agree with people who agree with us. We hang out with people who see the world similarly and make us feel comfortable. Designers are especially prone to confirmation bias. We are proud to hold strong opinions and therefore strive for internal consistency by seeking confirmation from our peers.
The result is an insular community existing in perfect isolation. We visit conferences attended and lead by only designers. We read magazines and books from and for designers. We hang out with other designers. All this creative potential and we’ve only created a bubble.
Our view narrows as we limit our field. By restricting our friend circle to others who think just like us, we fail to challenge ideas or beliefs contradictory to our own. While it makes us feel comfortable and protected, it can also be an inspirational trap.
As creative people, shouldn’t we be the ones most curious and open about the world? Shouldn’t we be the ones connecting the dots that others might not be able to connect? How can we do so without experiencing and understanding the world beyond our industry? By immersing ourselves in different perspectives, we draw a much richer and more balanced picture. We can collect the dots and connect them. This enhances our work.
“Talent is developed in solitude, character in the rush of the world.”
—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Consider the artists and designers who create covers for publications like The New Yorker or Bloomberg Business Review. They are great not because of their craft, but because they immerse themselves in current events and culture. They are informed in fields outside their expertise. Design as a craft just provides them with the tools and framework to make sense of that information. The poignancy of those covers is not a result of simple research before each project. It’s part of who these designers are. They are as much communicators as they are designers.
As Walt Whitman said, “Be curious, not judgmental.” Endless curiosity is one of the most important traits of a great designer. Spending time with non-designers allows you to avoid meaningless feedback loops, group-think and monocultures. Surrounding yourself with people who challenge your beliefs, who disagree with you and offer new perspectives, helps you grow. Becoming a more well-rounded person makes you a more effective designer.
Of course, spend time with designers too. Read the design magazines and books if you are so inclined. Tutorials and other design resources can be useful to the task at hand. But don’t stop there. Look beyond the design community, the top trends, the tips and tricks, the tools and process. All the design blog posts in the world won’t make you a better designer, despite what the headline may promise. Experiencing the world itself will.