The most important thing you can do as a graphic designer is to practise as much as you can.
Practise with intention and thought and careless abandon.
Learn theory but realise that it doesn’t help you become a better designer, merely a more knowledgeable one. All the theory in the world won’t make a page more interesting to look at unless you understand how to marry the theory with aesthetic.
Aesthetic is the craft of our profession. I’ve heard some designers say that aesthetic is like the bastard child of design, it’s there but it shouldn’t matter as long as the functionality is solid or the design serves its purpose as a communicative artifact.
These designers are idiots.
Aesthetic matters more than anything else. Our profession is largely built on craft and gut feeling and knowledge that can be learned but rarely taught. This makes some uncomfortable as it suggests that any ol’ creative hipster could walk into our studios and do what we do. But like I said, designers who think this are idiots. We are not part of an industry done by rote, nor willy-nilly mark-making.
The aesthetic implementation of a blanket of theory which wraps warmly around content should be our chief concern as we move from project to project. It’s the only way we’ll win awards or praise or recognition or, the only one really worth going for, gratification, through our work.
There’s a reason why we look at pretty people and want to be with them. They’re nice to look at. There’s a reason why so much of the creative output we see in design is shallow, pretty shells that hold no quarter against scrutiny – because it works and does so easily. It still gets attention and any functional mistakes made are forgiven because of how it makes us feel.
It’s the reason why the pretty girl can get out of a speeding ticket. Is it fair? No. Is it right? No. Is it the way things are, absolutely. And good on the pretty girl for knowing how to use her aesthetic to her benefit.
Aesthetic matters more than theory
Retrospect will prove a purely aesthetic piece to be worthless, but today it’s all that matters. If we wish for our work to stand strong and tall and for years to come, then we have to understand how to give it immediate appropriateness (modern aesthetic) so it is noticed in the first place and long lasting charm (base aesthetic, which is often instilled through theory) so that it is remembered.
To better understand how aesthetic works we have to understand how it is produced. No amount of reading or listening or studying will help us in this endeavor nearly as much as actually making pretty marks will. The only way for us to learn how to make such marks is to make as many of them as we possibly we can.
Make a million marks and hold them up against the marks of others. Compare and learn and see the difference. Think about the marks you’re making and how the one scratched against the paper now, can be made better than the one made previously. Experiment and make the strangest of marks just to see if something wonderful can be found in them. Deliberately make the wrong marks to see if you can make them right.
While practising we will naturally implement any theory that has been sewed in our minds using our marks as troughs into which the seeds can be planted. The theory will break through the surface all by its self, as long as we give it a little warmth and a little food.
Read a book and theory is learned. Go through process and it’ll be implemented. But aesthetic is only learned through practise. Lots and lots and lots of practise.
Now go create.