Design Lessons

creative doing Mar 03, 2019

My very first classes in graphic design were mysterious. I did my best to follow my teacher’s instructions, even though I often didn’t get her point. It wasn’t really about that though. It was about learning to see through her eyes, and trusting that I would learn something valuable in the process.

Our initial exercises seemed simple enough: creating a simple symbol, then repeating it within an 8-inch grid so that all the marks were evenly distributed. I learned about marks and shapes and space. I learned that “evenly” meant something much more precise than I initially thought. And even though we were working with small, straightforward compositions on paper, I learned that form and space applied to everything. It applied to the layout of a page and the arrangement of furniture in a room.

It even applied to the way I arranged myself in my own bounded life:  close to some things, far from others.

We worked with color, too:  hue, saturation, and value. I learned to see that colors had different dimensions, different attributes. Red wasn’t just red. And red didn’t just stand for something, either. It didn’t just serve a symbolic function. I learned that colors could be light, dark, intense, muted. And I learned that we perceive colors relatively - that adjacency affects the way a color “reads.”

Those design classes taught me how to see differently. Differently than I had been seeing. They taught me to see with greater discernment, greater authority. I learned to see fine distinctions that I hadn’t noticed before. And in that, I became more confident in the how of seeing.

I like to think I bring that discernment to the work I do with my clients. Seeing and sensing what matters - noticing the fine distinctions that make a difference.

I didn’t know back then that those design lessons would still apply, years later and in an entirely different context. A life is many things, among them an act of design. Seeing my clients through a design lens helps me recognize how their lives are arranged, organized, shaped. It helps me see their intention, past and present, as we amble together toward a more desirable future, one whose design fits better.

It helps me notice the fine distinctions that make a difference, now and again.

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