Catalin Parascan

Social entrepreneur. Engagement consultant.

Learning To See

Learning to design is, first of all, learning to see. Designers see more, and more precisely. This is a blessing and a curse — once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see. The downside is that the more you learn to see, the more you lose your “common” eye, the eye you design for. This can be frustrating for us designers when we work for a customer with a bad eye and strong opinions. But this is no justification for designer arrogance or eye-rolling. Part of our job is to make the invisible visible, to clearly express what we see, feel and do. You can‘t expect to sell what you can’t explain.

This is why excellent designers do not just develop a sharper eye. They try to keep their ability to see things as a customer would. You need a design eye to design, and a non-designer eye to feel what you designed.

“See with one eye, feel with the other.”
― Paul Klee

Claiming that you can’t see well if you are not a designer might sound condescending, or at least old-fashioned, but this is not a post about designer superiority. Designers are as superior in design as doctors in medicine, or hair dressers in cutting hair. Of course there are good and bad designers, doctors, and hairdressers, and most of us fall somewhere in between.

In reality, “designer” and “not designer” are not split into two separate groups. You can develop an eye for design without ever going to school or even having designed yourself, and you can pick up some serious knowledge about design from design books. There is no doubt that if your perceptual set is comparable to a web designer’s point of view, for example an architect or industrial designer, it will be easier for you to see design in the same way a web designer would.

However, as much as seeing mistakes is always easier than doing things right, you will always see more with practical experience than from passive observation. There is no better training than imitation. When you learn to draw you do not primarily learn to move your hand, first you need to learn to perceive light and shadow as they really are, not what you think they are.

“My approach to the artistic process is to trust my eyes, not my mind.”
— Kenn Backhaus

What applies to Backhaus doesn’t apply to Picasso:

“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them.”
— Picasso

Genius or mortal, you need to learn to discern what you see and what you think you see before you can paint either reality. The best way to learn to see is copying the masters. That applies to art as well as to any form of design.

By observing great examples of design with your own eyes, attempting to duplicate them with your own hand, you will feel, see, and eventually understand the invisible lines behind a great product at a deeper and deeper level. Some of these lines are more obvious, while others may be so delicate that the very designer that drew them might not consciously realize exactly why and how they happened.

I sometimes hear that once we know how things are made, we can’t create or enjoy them spontaneously anymore. As far as this concerns enjoyment, I completely disagree. For me the more I learn about the many ways of human expression — music, architecture, even sports, the more I enjoy observing the masters at work. How could one not enjoy observing functional beauty and the care for detail?

In the development of design skills, theory can get in the way of practice, but only until the theory becomes practice. With practice your intuition evolves, and the better you understand what you do, the deeper your intuition. Only once you do not consciously think about the theory anymore are you achieving mastery.

– Oliver Reichenstein

Source: Information Architects 


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This entry was posted on March 26, 2013 by in Creativity, Design.
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