Writing Makes Me A Better Designer

About a month ago, I decided to start a new discipline: write a short piece about design every day using Day One, which has a useful daily reminder. My goal was to become a better designer. It worked. I started to obsess more over my design process and made many fascinating case studies. I had no idea that by sharing my design decisions and techniques to the world, it would help thousands of designers improve their own. During that one month period, over 70 thousands unique visitors came to my blog seeking information about Sketch, Android design and Solving The Back Button. Many came back. Designers would ask me questions directly on Twitter, to which I happily replied. With this article, I’d like to share with you what I learned through this humbling journey.

Writing

  • Download the Sketch file of this design.

Don’t Just Think, Write

I used to bottle all my thoughts inside my head and never write anything lengthy down on paper. Yes, it was expressed through my design, but is that enough? Can I become a better designer by writing? The answer is yes. The thousands of thoughts my in head were chaotic. Writing was a way to organize them and clarify them in the simplest form of expression: words. I know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but are those words cleanly organized? That’s what I wanted to improve. A designer should be able to concisely explain his product decisions. People can recognize good design if you’re able to tell them why and show them how.

“Good design makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.” – Dieter Rams

Iterate & Respond To Feedback

Feedback is gold. Your blog is essentially a topic open for discussion, whether the feedback exists on your site or on networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Designer News or Hacker News. I also iterated my blog based on some comments:

1) Added News Feed, so that people can subscribe on their RSS apps.

2) 18% of my readers are on mobile, so I made the blog friendly for iPhone, iPad and Android. I also added an icon for the home screen on iOS.

3) Added Markdown support for WordPress so that I can paste efficiently the posts that I wrote on Day One, which also uses Markdown.

4) Write follow-ups based on feedback: Photoshop Users: How To Switch To Sketch was written because I was asked to write a “Get Started” article for Sketch. Photoshop VS Fireworks was written because many felt that Fireworks was a good alternative to Photoshop. I had to compare it to Sketch.

Grasp The Moment, Don’t Let It Slip

I spend very little time writing blogs. English is not my first language and I’m just not very good at it, which is why I wanted to dedicate more hours to it. I write what goes through my mind. I learned throughout the years that the key to efficiency is to never wait for inspiration and always grasp it as it hits you, on the topics you’re most passionate about. Turn frustrations into actions. Inspiration comes when you set an environment and lifestyle fertile for it. When it strikes, don’t let it slip, it doesn’t matter if you’re brushing your teeth or in the middle of a conversation, jump to your phone and write your thought down. If it was good enough to completely eat your soul, then it’s worth writing about. That thought will stem into a more complex piece and from there, it will naturally blossom.

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” — Bruce Lee

After reading that quote, chances are that you it will inspire you as it did to me. Well, grasp the moment.

Don’t Let It Sit

Waiting is the enemy of productivity. What I usually end up doing is set a condensed amount of time and just completely be absorbed by a task. Be your own researcher, tester, proof-reader, even if you suck at it. You’ll eventually get better. Never say no to something just because you think you’re not good at it. Try it first and if it stops you from waiting, then it’s all worthwhile. Learn through the experience.

Write About You & Make It Useful

Who are you? What’s your design process like? Who are your heroes? There is an overwhelming number of generic topics out there, of people jumping the bandwagon on topics like Skeuomorphism or Google Glass. While there’s nothing wrong with those topics per se, they’ve been so sucked dry that nothing really useful will likely come out of them. Skeuomorphism doesn’t matter in design (it’s not a foundation) and Google Glass, albeit an interesting idea, is not a real product yet. Almost no one has tried it. If design is problem solving, then you are not really solving anything with speaking about generic topics. Treat your readers like the student that you are and give them useful, thoughtful and new angles on what you’re passionate or frustrated about. Solve them. Share resources, give answers and teach your readers useful techniques to perfect their art.

Be An Original

Seek the original source. Don’t be a copy of a copy, you’ll end up being a bad copy. Dieter Rams is my hero because he’s the original source of inspiration for most of the Apple products. The minimalist design approach we see today are likely based on his 10 principles of good design. Steve Jobs is another hero of mine because he completely changed my career orientation by exposing good design to the mass market. Now, my skills and design thinking are actually wanted. Other heroes of mine? Tesla, Bruce Lee, Jiro.

Let me give you a task: find the heroes of your heroes and dig really deep by jumping through generations. Chances are that you will find a world of fascinating people who forever shaped the world of today. When you reach a true original, study all you can about him or her.

Put It Out There

Don’t hesitate now that it’s done. Get it out to a few key places and expect absolutely nothing. Tweet it, post it on Designer News and Hacker News. If your work is good, people will come to you. If it’s not, then keep working at it. Jiro required that all his apprentices go through 10 years of rigorous training perfecting the art of sushi. New apprentices would spend months just cooking a Tamago (Japanese egg omelet) to perfection. It’s not about the goal but the path. It’s not about perfection but the love for pixels. Quality over quantity. If a few readers like your stuff, thank them and ask them why. Welcome tips and meet with them. Build relationships and expand your ideas.

10,000 Hours Is Not Enough

I’ve been designing for 12 years and I’ve been committed to the 10,000 hours rule of practice ever since I finished the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. And so, I have applied that much practice to my design. But, when I look at Jiro, Dreams of Sushi, a man who has spent over 50 years perfecting the art of sushi, I ask myself, am I good enough?

“Originally, I was going to make a film with a lot of different sushi chefs who all had different styles, but when I got to Jiro’s restaurant, I was not only amazed by how good the sushi was and how much greater it was than any other sushi restaurant I had ever been to…”, the filmmaker says about Jiro.

“How much greater”. Going above and beyond the bare minimum is what makes the craft that much greater than anything anyone has ever experienced. If 10,000 hours is the bare minimum, then 50 years is my next goal.

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