Blog, Project

Design is a Passport

Design, to me, is a way of looking at the world.

It’s often said that good design is invisible — that it presents the intended message without calling attention to itself — but to a designer, it’s that so-called invisible design that gives you the biggest thrill. Seeing creative work done well is a distinct pleasure.

Design isn’t invisible and it isn’t flamboyant: it’s exactly what you need it to be in a given moment. It’s art, it’s math, it’s discipline, it’s chaos. Depending on the goal, design can be black or white or red or transparent. The shape it takes is determined completely by the purpose it was created for, and without someone there to shape it, design doesn’t exist.

Of course, learning to shape such things can take time. It took me four years of school, plus another eight working as a professional designer to get where I am today, and I’ve still got plenty left to learn. In fact, there will always be a new horizon to chase, because there will always be new tools to try, concepts to master, and boundaries to push.

Design is a way of looking at the world, but it’s also a passport for crossing the borders between professions.  By nature, designers tend to be multi-disciplinarians, and as such can hop from career to career, making use of their creative talent while acquiring new skill sets.

From college onward I’ve been a painter, a journalist, a print shop specialist, a software technician, a photo retoucher, a magazine publisher, a protest ‘zine creator, a photographer, a web developer, a motion graphics designer, a UI specialist, a creative director, an entrepreneur, an author, and the co-founder of a publishing company. In each and every case, the basic, foundational skills I’ve learned as a designer have helped me do the work and have increased my options along the way.

There are as many ways to train yourself in design (and other incredibly versatile skills) as there are people. Taking the traditional route (as I did) is a good, if expensive, option, though I would recommend working jobs in your field alongside classes (again, as I did) to supplement your philosophy with practical experience.

You can also come up with your own coursework making use of cheap and free resources online. There are myriad great books, videos, and blogs on the topic — take some time to peruse them and walk through the tutorials, and you may find yourself with a new, very versatile set of skills you can bring to bear within a few months. These options are also quite useful for their a la carte tutorials when you need to pick up a very specific skill or proficiency that you’ve never needed to learn before.

Another option would be to take a class like the one I’ll be teaching in May, called Intro to Design for Publishing.

You can learn more by clicking the link above, but in short it’s a four-week class through which I’ll be teaching students the fundamentals of design, especially as it applies to publishing.

There will be a lot of information, a good deal of homework, and a frightening amount of critique (by me, but also student-to-student). Each student will also learn the basics of Photoshop and Illustrator, with the end-goal of having all the knowledge necessary to do their own work and find new information on their own when they need it.

This class isn’t for everyone — you’ll have to really want to make use of the information, and if you aren’t willing to put in the work, I’d prefer you didn’t sign up.

I’m hoping it also goes without saying that there’s absolutely no pressure to sign up for this class, or to purchase anything I have available for sale — this blog is and will remain free, so please enjoy the work I publish here either way!

There are a very limited number of seats in the class, however, and about half are already filled as I publish this (advance notice was given to folks who are subscribed to my free newsletter, and those who subscribe to Exiles), so if you’re interested, it’s best to sign up posthaste.

If you have any questions about the Intro to Design for Publishing class, or just want to say hi, shoot me an email.

Thanks folks!


Intentional Titles

Many “minimalists” own very little because they don’t have the money to own more. Given the opportunity, they might go on a spending spree, or they might stay minimal. There’s no way of knowing, because the option isn’t available to them.

It’s not that this application of minimalism is a bad choice — it’s more that it isn’t a choice at all. An accidental minimalist is still a minimalist, but not in the same sense as someone who owns a yacht and decides to ditch it to live in a cabin. Calling an impoverished person living in a third world country a minimalist is like calling someone who’s never heard of meat a vegetarian: without the philosophy behind the label, the label loses its validity. It’s more of an unavoidable reality than a philosophy — a default state that requires a different title, or no title at all.

When you do something, you should do it consciously. If you decide to stop eating meat, you should do it because you choose to — because you’ve thought out the pros and cons and weighed the decision carefully — rather than being forced into it due to outside conditions beyond your control.

With no options, there’s no decision. With no decision, there’s no purpose. With no purpose, there’s less chance you’ll be changing for the better.

It’s not just what you do that matters — it’s why you do it. A positive act performed accidentally is far less valuable than one performed intentionally because you may not be able to replicate it or glean all you can from the experience.

Take the time to figure out where you are and where you want to be, and act accordingly. Paddle — don’t just float and call yourself a swimmer.