I have a bad habit of giving only half of a recipe. It’s the recipe that I did, technically, cook… however, it’s missing everything else I added in once I started.
It started with no onions, but I decided to sauté in some bacon grease. I added a few red pepper flakes because it needed a kick. I doubled the oregano and removed the sun dried tomatoes because as it was simmering, I could tell it needed more flavor but I wasn’t loving the idea of the tomatoes.
My grandma taught me to cook with all my senses — “taste often and smell the spices... the measuring can be done using different parts of your palm.” By the end, I have a meal that is tasty, and a little different than the original recipe. I couldn’t even tell you what I put in if I wanted to. Half the time, I’m just smelling the herbs and spices while I add.
Over time, I’ve developed an intuition that makes the difference in my cooking. Like cooking, design is not a mystery. Rather, the ability to develop a design intuition is the difference between “pretty, but I don't know what to do” and “I love this site!” If you’ve done the job well, your user will just enjoy the meal rather than think about the cook that made it.
So what are the raw materials every designer needs?
You’re not just going to throw your food on the burners without a pot or pan. So before you can develop the user experience, you have to ensure your project has a good foundation. What paths will the users take throughout the digital experience? How big will the project be? What’s the company’s branding? There’s nothing worse than a pan that’s too small — likewise, in the workspace, you don’t want to underestimate the time you need to design and edit. Maybe you need to heat up the grill (sketch on paper) or the cast iron pan (start working in InDesign). Knowing the full scope of the project will allow you to choose the right pan to cook with.
People use all kinds of different cooking spoons. In the kitchen, I prefer a good classic wooden spoon to stir up my creations. At work, my spoon is a bearded designer with years of experience and a fresh perspective. Whether it's a creative director, fellow designer, or random work buddy, you need to have someone looking at your designs and reviewing it before the client gets a taste. Stirring up the ideas and overturning the parts that are undercooked — whether or not that person has a design background — inevitably will ask the questions necessary to refine the design and push it to the next level.
Being able to pick out the best ingredients for a dish is critical to the end result. Likewise, most websites have a header, a footer, navigation, and a few templates for page types. Start by looking at the recipe (aka the project brief) and go shopping. There will be some components that were the hottest thing out there but their freshness has turned (looking at you, lil QR codes). This is also why it’s important to have a good project scope before the design — peeling 20lbs of potatoes when you only need one is such a waste. Knowing the project size will make you more efficient.
Bring on the spice! I love this part, and the spices and herbs are what most people love about a meal. In design, your spices are the elements that are unique to this project. Movement, textures, layering, typography, branding elements, color — the list can go on and on, but it's these ingredients that really pack a punch. But just as too many jalapenos can ruin a good dip, this is also where you can go overboard and turn a design into a catastrophe. I love a good subtle parallax animation, but if the buttons you want your user to click are shifting too much, it can quickly become a frustrating user experience.
Whether it's in your kitchen or office, there are skills to be learned, practiced, and mastered. A good chef will tell you it’s all in the prep… and preparing your workspace for developing great design solutions is the first step to becoming a consistently successful designer. While I may not be great at sharing recipes, I like to think I'm a pretty good cook (and hopefully an even better designer). See for yourself... go check out some of our work. And if you need recommendations on spicing up your bland website, contact us today.
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