In a design rut? Find a different perspective.

In a design rut? Find a different perspective.

As a designer, one of the most frustrating phases that I occasionally go through is feeling like I’m stuck in a design rut. You might also know the feeling, everything you do starts looking the same, the same color palettes, font choices, even compositions begin repeating themselves. Even worse, the blank page – which for most designers is a playground of creativity – begins mocking you, daring you to try something new without looking amateurish or stale.

To be fair, the design process I go through typically protects me from this cycle most of the time. I had a professor in college who repeatedly challenged us during our critiques. “If you can’t defend it, if you can’t explain your choices, don’t bring it in here….and ‘it looks good’ is not a defense!” That phrase (thanks Professor Rose!) helped lay the foundation for my own design principles, which is if it doesn’t mean anything, if it doesn’t relate to the information you’re trying to communicate, it doesn’t become part of the design. Although staying focused on the best way to deliver information to the viewer helps most of the time, there’s no getting around those occasional creative doldrums.

See monkey suit...

See monkey suit...

I was reminded of this recently as I was asked to officiate a wedding (don’t ask…LONG story). Since I was performing the ceremony, my wife was left with my three daughters (young daughters might I add) which left absolutely nobody to take pictures. Well…almost nobody. My oldest daughter was 5, and fairly advanced for a 5 year old. Figuring something was better than nothing; my wife gave her that camera and had her shoot away.

The result astounded me. Not because Morgan took great pictures of the wedding…she didn’t. No, what really caused me to do a double-take is the totally different perspective that came through in Morgan’s set of pictures. I was presented with the wedding through the eyes of my five year old, and realized that she had a very different take on the evening than I did. Not only that, she managed to catch some things and some textures that I know I’ll use in future designs; things that I didn’t think a five year old was capable of focusing on and capturing. This led me directly to the point that I’m making in this post: When we feel like we’re in a rut, one of the best ways to lead ourselves out of it is by changing our perspective. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes or looking at your assignment through the eyes of another can really help you find a solution that’s outside of your normal, comfortable old bag of tricks.

So in celebration of Morgan I present you with a few of her images from that evening…un-retouched and in their original glory. Look closely, you’ll see some textures and objects that will undoubtedly show up in a few of my future designs…

Morgan’s calvacade of whimsy…

The auteur herself...

The auteur & sister

wood

What people look like at a 5 year old height...

What people look like at a 5 year old height...

Floral patterns...

Floral patterns...

My sister, my focus

My sister, my focus

About head high...

About head high...

Nice composition...good use of lighting

Nice composition...good use of lighting

Candids are really candid when shot by kids

Candids are really candid when shot by kids

Morgans finger...youll see the results later

Her sister's finger...you'll see the results later

I have no idea

A baseball, I think

A baseball, I think

Accident or not, this is a good shot

Accident or not, this is a good shot

Note the use of the smudge for artistic effect...

Note the use of the smudge for artistic effect...

Morgans journey into texture...

Morgan's journey into texture...

Pool balls, if you were wondering

Pool balls, if you were wondering

I have no idea what this is...

I have no idea what this is...

Artistic salad shot is go!

Artistic salad shot is go!

Nice!

Nice!

More texture...

More texture...

Nice framing...nice lighting, odd perspective...

Nice framing...nice lighting, odd perspective...

Morgan found the nightshot setting...and my lap

Morgan found the nightshot setting...and my lap

Go Carolina!

Go Carolina!

Sister close-up

Sister close-up

I dont know why, but I really, really dig this shot

I don't know why, but I really, really dig this shot

Well, there you have it, just a few examples of Morgan’s unique perspective. Occasionally taking a fresh look at things from a different angle can steer us in directions we might otherwise have missed. For example, the Featured Article banner image was made from several of Morgan’s files, can you spot them?

So hey, if you’re really stuck…hand your camera to a five year old and get out of the way…

6 Responses to “In a design rut? Find a different perspective.”

  1. modelbaseguy says:

    Awesome stuff. Be sure to tell the little artist Uncle Bill said so. Been a while since you updated this site huh?

  2. jameswill says:

    Yes, it has. Been busy with a couple of titles and I’m redesigning the blog…

  3. redsnapper9 says:

    Just been working through part of your Dreamweaver tutorial on Lynda.com and wanted to say a big “thank you”. I’ve watched a number of different tutorials and without question you are the best tutor by far. You provide just the right level of detail and explanation, don’t take anything for granted, know just when to stop and recap, etc. You’ve made such a difference to my learning that I just had to let you know how much I appreciate this. I’ll look forward to reading your articles here on your website. Oh, and I agree, some really fascinating images from your daughter!

  4. rasputin1963 says:

    Just a note to say… Wow! James you are, bar-none, the best LYNDA (and other brands) host/teacher I have ever seen.

    If every web and software video tut were authored by you, I’d be the happiest guy in the world. Most video tuts are hosted by either:

    a). Some 19-yr-old dweeb who has ABYSMAL speaking ability, and obviously have not organized their thoughts in any way. They ramble and hem and haw and fudge and waffle, and it’s really rather embarrassing. Usually they’ve recorded their tut with a lousy-sounding microphone, too. (May I say that LYNDA is not entirely immune to video hosts such as this type).

    Then you get:

    b). The guy who imagines he is something of a standup comic. He is desperate, it seems, to “be your friend”, laying on many minutes of stale jokes and smarmy patter, using all sorts of cutesy locutions… etc.

    When I am really hungry for hard information, it is such a pain to have the information filtered to me by characters such as these.

    But here is where *you* shine, James, nonpareil. You are fast and clean and sharp and thoroughly prepared and an expert of your topic. It is bracing and thrilling to watch your videos. Like I said: if only every instructional video could be authored by you!

  5. jameswill says:

    Wow! Thanks for saying that, I really appreciate it. We have so many talented authors and I feel very fortunate to be working with them.

  6. stella says:

    Hi James,
    just to tell you that you have a HUGE fan in Italy. That’s me!
    You are a GREAT teacher, by far the best at Lynda.
    All my compliments,
    Stella

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