When you hear the name Gravity Jack, it’s easy to jump right to coding and software. It’s what we do — and, while coding is a very large part of the software development process, just as important, is the process that happens before any code is written: Design.
As a creative agency, a large number of the projects that come to our team are in the “idea” stages. They require calculated and expert execution to even begin to reach their full potential. It takes vision and the perfect balance of artistic interpretation and scientific calculation to provide the best possible user experience.
In many of our conversations, we’ve found that so many of today’s young design-interested students aren’t quite sure where to start. They have an idea of what a career as a designer could look like, but in many cases it’s romanticized. Similar to how we imagine life as a rockstar would be.
For the right person, it’s an amazing career, with a unique blend of creative output and lucrative reward, but to help clarify, we thought we’d offer a short list of common tips that come up in conversations.
If you take home one thing from this post today, let it be this:
Design is so much more than Photoshop and making stuff that looks cool — or even really nice and professional.
Designers are the new DJ’s
Ask any DJ what makes a “real DJ” and you’ll get varying answers. Thanks to the rise of electronic dance music (EDM) and a number of other factors, the musical artform has quickly become an oversaturated industry of Facebook pages and basement “producers” that spend weekends beat-matching tracks and spamming people with their soundcloud links and appearances at the local bar for $1 Jello-shot ladies nights. Sound familiar?
It’s sort of similar with design.
Due to recent trends and the explosion of silicon valley, tech, etc…the job descriptions for ‘graphic designers’ have become, at the very least, glorified and more honestly — just flat out hip. Answering the dreaded “So, what do you do?” question with “I’m a graphic designer” seems cool and opens a world of possibility for gag-worthy words like “guru.”
You’re seen as an artist, sitting in your city loft, drinking in designer coffee and all the music that indie music blogs can serve. You can wear jeans to work (and not just on Fridays), and soak Google-esque perks when you’re not working from your treadmill desk. It’s so agency.
This exaggerated understanding has brought both benefits and pitfalls. It has undoubtedly brought a lot of great talent to the industry; artists with a passion for the scientific psychology of great user experience. Designers who push technology forward and create amazing, functional realities from raw inspiration. It has provided a very real demand for these skills and the opportunity for truly talented and studied designers to make a fantastic living.
It has also brought a surplus of self-proclaimed designers — many of whom are lacking experience or an understanding for what makes successful design.
Anyone can copy a Dribbble concept with flat vectors and pastel tones. Architecting an intuitive and seamless user experience is an entirely different thing.
User Interface 101: Designers are artists
Everyone knows that great designers make things that look beautiful.
User interface can often be confused as the “design” of a project. It works hand in hand with something called user experience. It’s not exclusively true, but this is where a ton of the artistic output lies for our designers — and, while it is grown over time, it can be extremely hard to teach.
Some may disagree with us but, in our experience, the best designers possess what can be explained as a “gift” or an “artistic eye.” It absolutely takes proactive effort to grow but, in many cases, there has to be a basic level of innate understanding; the ability to look at something and say “Hm, that doesn’t quite work” and the savvy to visually understand why.
This is where design is particularly unique to art, in the conventional form of the word. Art is heavily interpreted and appreciated based on opinions and preferences. Design is constantly critiqued and improved — most often by its own creator.
A great designer might have the education and content knowledge, but in the vast majority of cases, they will also possess the natural ability to really see artistic balance and the “what works” factor. Again, it’s not to say that an artistic eye cannot be developed and grown over time but, like singing or any other artistic output, the natural talent that you bring can heavily determine what you have to grow in the first place.
User Experience 101: Designers should also be scientists.
In addition to the user interface element of design, there is a critical and extremely scientific/content knowledge side to design. It requires a strong understanding of user psychology, best practices, modern trends, current technology abilities and restrictions, and so much more.
A truly fantastic designer will not only be able to make something beautiful, but also have a reason and psychological rationale for why it is structured the way that it is. It will walk the user through a process, ideally, without the user ever having to think twice. It will prompt, encourage, captivate and engage, and create a relationship with the user’s mind. It will make sense, with minimal tutorial and, most importantly, the numbers and stats will prove that it works.
This is nerve-wracking for many “designers” who just want to create something that looks good. The expectation that the design will be analyzed and assessed, using analytics and statistics means that there is a quantitative measurement on the success of their design.
This is what makes the difference between a graphic artist and a designer, and if you’re willing to take a paycheck from a client, it’s your responsibility to own. Having a good looking site is one thing, but they came to you for a website that works. It’s the entire reason you have the job in the first place, and is why a calculated approach to user experience is so critical. Without it, you’re just painting them a pretty picture — not offering a solution to their need.
An app or website can be beautiful, but unless it serves the purpose it was created for and proves successful, from a business perspective, it is a failure.
These are the elements of true design that are taught/learned (whether in a classroom or through experience) and are ever-developing, shifting and changing. A complete understanding of user experience should be constantly pursued throughout your entire career — if not for passion, for the understanding that it keeps you and your work relevant and valuable.
Design that worked in the 90’s will not always work today. Devices change, trends change, generations change and what people connect to and understand as “intuitive” changes. Think about it! The iPhone (swipe, pinch, zoom, etc..) is only 8 years old. We had to be taught to use these elements that seem so second nature today. Regardless of whether you’re in a program or working in the field — ALWAYS be a student of user experience.
To school, or not to school:
This will differ for everyone.
What we can say, however, is that there is no one program from which Gravity Jack would hire anyone, without getting to know them first. Every interview is unique — and is treated as so. One of the first things that we see when considering interviews are portfolios. These carry a great amount of weight (more-so than where or if you have studied) — so be sure only your best, most polished work is included. We cannot stress this enough:
Quality over quantity, always. Do not place work in your portfolio for the exclusive purpose of showing more work. Show only your best and complete work, worthy of defining your skill as a designer.
Gravity Jack hires all of our positions based on skills and what they can bring to the team — not where they studied or who they know. Our decisions are based on proven skill (in design, this is heavily portfolio-influenced), your savvy (this can be content knowledge, but moreover that you’re actively improving that knowledge) and also extremely importantly, how you mesh with our specific and unique team and agency culture. It’s a synergy of a number of different character traits that make the decision.
Finally, keep in mind that whatever network you choose to become a part of (whether an educational program or not), and the quality of that network, will play a large roll (positive or negative) in connecting you with opportunities once the program is complete and you’re seeking internship, job, or other field experience.
We’re always available and interested in hearing from designers of all levels of experience. If you agree, disagree or want to provide your own tips to young designers, let us know on Facebook or Twitter! We will add them here!