Andrew Clarke: A Modern Designer’s Canvas

Orde Saunders' avatarPublished: by Orde Saunders

Andrew Clarke (@Malarkey) was speaking at Smashing Conference about a modern designer's canvass, these are my notes from his talk.

Being a good designer is so much more than knowing how to use tools. It's about how we approach things and our attitudes.

Going to art school was a humbling experience but it taught me lessons that have helped me adapt to a medium that didn't exist when I graduated.

Technology is supposed to make our lives less stressful but it's changing so fast. Hard not to feel stressed by the thought of becoming an expert in everything - everyone else knows something we don't. Learned to write HTML and CSS to express my designed, it's how I express my medium. Couldn't write a script if my life depended on it. Might not know backbone.js but I'm a devil with a bezier code. Just because someone shares the same language as you doesn't mean they have to share the same experience as you. We don't need to be experts in all areas.

Making something beautiful takes time and experience. You can't learn how to make things pretty overnight. It's going to be useful long after the latest framework has been and gone. Have to learn to be great at the things that you do. Follow the path you love and you'll find your medium, it might not be the path you expect.

Designing with data can be a crutch, need to also rely on our intuition. Iteration needs faith in the low fidelity versions. We can miss seeing the whole if we focus on the parts - this is happening with websites today. Profiency doesn't guarantee good design.

We're taught that there's only one right answer. Something either is or it isn't. We want to create systems that make things predictable. What if the answer is "it depends"?

Designers have been making comps of full pages, they've become the currency of web design. They're bringing a knife to a gun fight. We've learned to live with the deficiency. We try to let the visuals do the talking for us but they leave a lot of room for miscommunication. Things will actually look different in different devices. What we're actually looking for is approval but what we're asking for is people to look beyond it to a real website. Ideally we want these visuals to look like a screen shot of that page. Fixed width sites are a direct result of this. Signoff of frozen visuals leads to problems when it comes to the result in actual devices. We make these promises by selling the static visuals. For years we designed to the lowest common denominator.

What matters most is not the way we design, it's how we communicate the design. Static visuals are the wrong way to communicate, it promotes different conversations at the same time. We might want to talk about colour but the client focuses on an out of date product photo. Separate design into individual components away from layout. We create patterns because we seek predictability. It's important not to let our processes define what we make. We're becoming intoxicated by new processes.

Design a system - not design systems. Creativity should never be as predictable as a manufacturing process. Instead of research use that time to come up with a good idea.

Don't take what we hear at face value - question what you hear. Ask: can I do this better? There's nothing we can't improve. We don't have to improve it for everyone, it's enough to improve it for ourselves. Things are improved just by the act of sharing them. Developing an idea takes time and experience. We can make things better by simplifying them. When we start, we don't have to have a clear idea of what our idea will turn out like. Improving an idea doesn't disrespect the person that came up with the idea. A different perspective can take an idea in a different direction. There are different approaches to almost everything. Negative reactions can come from fear because we worry about the consequence of failure too early. Questioning an idea makes it grow and get stronger.

We can feel isolated and starved of inspiration. Organisations classify people into certain roles which can have implications on creativity - it can limit what you do and what you aspire to do. When we cross over into what someone else's area of expertise it can inspire us to make our own work better. Multi-disciplinary product teams help creativity. Curiosity is a trait we have lost - we should be asking "what if?"

Be adaptable. Find a medium to express your talents. It's too easy to become intoxicated with process and tools and forget the idea. There isn't another industry that shares as much of what it knows.

What is a modern designer's canvass? It's in our minds and ideas, it's in the people we inspire.