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Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus

So, you want to be a designer?

March 7, 2012

By Raja Sharil Azhar Bin Raja Abdillah

“Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people” – Leo Burnett.

For any school leaver who plans to be a designer, the next step is to enrol into a good design program at a recognized institution. But first, here are several steps you could take to prepare yourself for the road to the world of design.

Criticize, make suggestions
A designer has to be aware of his or her environment. Observe your surroundings and you will see a lot of design, from a building to hairstyle. Anywhere you look there is no escaping design in almost everything. From there, start to think like a designer – “criticize” their design (in your mind, of course) and try to come up with ideas for better designs. For example when looking at a house, you may find yourself making comments like this: “this bungalow could be in darker brown so that it looks more compact”. Never let any design go pass unnoticed. By observing and criticizing those in your surroundings, you will train your eyes and mind to work together, something designers do all the time. This will serve as a basic platform to your becoming a designer.

Embrace styles, techniques
In order to have a greater ability to pre-visualize his or her own work, a designer needs to be familiar with a variety of design styles and techniques. As design involves several stages or processes, the ability to pre-visualize the final product helps the student to foresee the outcome at the production stages and work from there. When you are exposed to an array of styles, you will have more visual memory, and this makes it easier with pre-visualization. Browse design sites, read books on design and magazines. If possible, interact with professional designers and get acquainted with the way they see and evaluate styles.

Know everything
There is more to design than playing with colours and shapes. What you see in a design is only the tip of the bigger picture. Underneath the beautiful visuals are content and concept, two of the most important aspects of design. They are the standard in differentiating a good design from the bad. The only thing that could help to augment your content and concept development is a good grasp of general knowledge. Keep abreast of “non-design” fields such as history, politics, economics, language and religion around the world. With a wealth of knowledge, you will be able to develop stronger ideas, concepts and content which will, in turn, generate a fresher visual. Wikipedia is a good start.

Put ideas onto paper
There is a difference between an artist’s sketchbook and that of a designer’s. An artist mostly draws what he or she sees. It may be used occasionally as planning for a painting to be executed, for example. A designer’s sketchbook, on the other hand, is used to record design ideas, perhaps for a specific design task or just random ideas. Nonetheless, these should be recorded as they could be used in future. A designer’s sketchbook should include more than just drawings and it may even be in the form of writings, pictures from other sources, and so on. Remember that the sketchbook is all about recording ideas. The more you sketch, the more ideas you generate.

Digital weapon
Since a sketchbook is only used to record ideas, a camera should be the next handy tool for a designer to record visuals. The existence of digital photography is an unlimited resource for designers to collect visuals that could be utilize in any project. Unless you aim to be a photographer, there is no need to opt for the most expensive camera. A low-budget compact camera is sufficient as long as the image is clear. Walk around town and take photographs of people, landscape, buildings or still life and store them in specific folders on your computer. This could be your personal collection and if you should use them, they will be as original and authentic as could be.

Imitate your heroes
There are “heroes” in the design industry. Dave McKean, David Carson and Dieter Rams are some of the most well-known designers and visualizers you should learn about. The key here is not to be addicted to their design. Rather, it is their design philosophy that you should be aware of. Understand their philosophy and try to use it as your own. Carson’s philosophy of “it is about acceptability, not readability” is a statement that I hold strongly to, and is reflected in many of my artwork. By sticking adamantly to your philosophy, your design will have its own uniqueness, and you will have “total authority” over your own design. Over time, you will slowly reconstruct the meaning of the philosophy to suit yourself.

Raja Sharil Azhar Bin Raja Abdillah is a lecturer with the School of Business and Design at Swinburne University of Technology Sarawak Campus. He can be contacted at sabdillah@swinburne.edu.my