A simple way to learn designing

On October 13, 2012

Designing is the process of thinking and planning how a product should look and work. The aim behind designing a good product is to make it work as efficiently as possible, using as little resources as possible.

Every product is designed to meet specific goals.

Some are designed for durability and rough use, whereas some are designed for delicate and careful use. Some are designed to be simple for vast majority of users, whereas some are designed to be rich in features for power hungry users.

Based on these goals, the designer starts working on the form(how it looks) and function(how it works) of the product. It's very important to know the goals the product is supposed to meet, and the users the product is targeting.

This product can be anything from a hardware device to a software application. But, the basic principles remain the same.

In addition to satisfying the user's need, a good design always tries to make things simpler and better than they already are. It's a process that involves deep thinking and a great eye for simplicity and quality.

If you are someone who thinks a person with photoshop skills and a designer are one and the same, you are wrong.

The same way I was wrong, just a year ago. I didn't had much idea about designing or designers. I thought all designers are graphic artists who use photoshop, and all graphic artists are designers. I guess it's fine to be mistaken, as long as you keep on learning and don't repeat them again.

To be a good designer, it takes years of hard work. But, for those from non-designing background, like me, it's good to know at least a few basic things if you wish to make your own product some day.

So what's the simple way to learn designing? The things that sound simple are usually the things people don't get easily, because they are used to complexity in their life. They can't believe that something can be that simple and easy to understand.

I ask you for only one thing though. Please read the remaining post slowly and try to understand the thought process behind it. You would simply waste your time, if you just take a glance and move ahead.

I want you to think about them and reflect upon them as you read each new thought. That's all I ask.

The simple tip is : Observe the nature of everything.

Observe the way the things around you look and work. Observe their shape, their behavior. Observe them closely with complete focus and pay attention to the tiniest of details.

Why are some things easier to hold and use, whereas some only work in specific manner and are difficult to use? Try to find the answer yourself.

Observe the things that you see around yourself every day in your life.

Why do you hold your tooth brush in a particular way? Why do you hold a spoon with a particular hand, and stir a cup of coffee with it in a particular direction.

There is a lot of power behind these simple observations.

As you observe things this way, you will see there is a relation between the way we use something and the way these objects are designed.

If you have to make something that's easy to use, and where there is no learning required, consider such kind of questions and try to find a design solution that will solve these problems. Before you start asking others, ask yourself first.

The best way to begin these observations would be to start with something that already exists in nature. See things that are not man-made.

Not to sound too philosophical here, but this is actually a good way to learn designing. Observe the nature of universe and everything in it. The nature of planets, solar systems, galaxies and their relation with each other. The way everything works in co-ordination and sync with each other.

Nature is, and always will be, the best designer mankind has known.
Take a look at animals, plants or any living species in this planet. Do you know how each and every one of them have been perfectly designed to live, hunt, and survive in their surroundings?

Polar bears and penguins live in much harsh and colder climate than we do. A camels body is designed to survive in extremely hot temperatures. A fish has been made for swimming and living under the sea. Birds have been perfectly designed to fly in the sky.

Have you observed, how every breakthrough product that man has ever made came because, it was modeled after something that already existed in nature?

Think about how helicopters look so similar to dragon flies; an airplane is shaped just like a flying bird; Tall towers have support that goes down deep into the soil, just like roots of a tall tree, to keep them steady.

All the laws of physics and electronics are based on the simple laws of nature.

Every living creature in this planet can be perfectly related to the environment in which it lives. It's wrong to interchange their very basic nature. Fishes can't live outside water and birds can't survive under water.

The same way, the elements used in designing are very specific to the context in which they are used.

Applying these same rules to software, we can observe that:

  • It's wrong to change the basic nature of any design element. For example, anything that looks like a button must act like a button; things that don't look clickable, shouldn't be clickable.
  • Any design element should be present only when it solves a purpose, and not to merely add to the beauty of the view.
  • Every design element should give a clear hint about it's nature to the user. After seeing an element, users should be able to guess what will happen when they click it.
These are just few of the conclusions that you can reach yourself after observing beautifully designed products in real life. The more you practice observing things this way, the more you will know about good designing.

If you want to learn about designing in a simple way, there is one book that I would highly recommend to any beginner.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman.
This book explains what good designing really means, with the help of very simple examples. The writer has used objects that we encounter every day in our life, and how they can be further enhanced to make them simpler and easily understandable.

Once you get the idea, you can easily implement these design process in any product that you make.

This is just the beginning. I assure you, every minute you spend in learning about designing will prove to be priceless when you use these knowledge while designing your own products.

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