Discipline Before Creativity

Comments are often heard about how glamorous a graphic designer’s job is because we get to “draw pictures all day long”. In reality, people see the final product: an effortless, elegant design. But to get to this effortless, elegant design, there is a lot of hair pulling, screeching, late-night thinking, arguments and bloodshed. Then, after episodes of gruesome brain kneading, comes this effortless, elegant design presented by a well-groomed, well-composed designer who hours earlier was in turbo panic mode trying to put the presentation together. Behind every facade of beauty is a caffeinated designer with carpal tunnel syndrome.

People ogle at celebrity chefs, musicians and other artists. Especially those who seem to produce their creations effortlessly. Often we hear, “Oh look how talented she is. She gets to have so much fun earning a living.” I won’t deny that a designer’s life is fun, but there is so much misconception about achieving “cool” jobs.

Before becoming “cool” at doing anything, it takes discipline. Beethoven first learned to read notes before writing the Fifth. Picasso first learned to draw anatomically correct figures before dissecting it into cubes. In the same vein, designers are disciplined in technicality before being creators.

Like many professions, the road to being a designer is not an easy one. In school we labored over lectures in art history, anatomy, typography, color theory and geometry, among many others. We learned to mathematically compute for shadows, why purple works with green and why three units are better than two.

There are people who have an eye for design. Those who have a natural ability to match color and letterform; just like those who have a natural ability to play a melody. But it’s still important to have formal education in art in order to understand the “why” in everything. Good design needs to stand up to the elements of the real world. In order to do that, a designer must be able to give her design a tangible rationale. A rationale not just understood by another fellow designer, but comprehended by the target consumer. A designer’s research is her arsenal in defending her work. It’s important that every design decision is an educated one. Every shape, color, font and graphic used in a design piece needs reason to be there.

Even after laborious schooling, the education doesn’t end. The industry keeps evolving and designers continue to adapt. But good designers confidently ride the waves of evolution because they know that they have built a good foundation to grow upon.

Mastering the fundamental disciplines of art gives a designer permission to explore and actually have fun. Just like a baker who learns the science of baking basic bread, she can now experiment in adding more flavor, substituting ingredients, or using a different method for cooking; because she understands what makes flour chemically turn into bread. In a designer’s world, we find permission to experiment because we know the science behind which colors work, which fonts match, which paper finish will hold, etc. And because we are disciplined on how to research, we can confidently stand by our work knowing without a doubt it’s “cool”.

I’m not gonna lie: I do enjoy my job because I get to draw pictures all day long.

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