How to become a better designer: analyze other designs
It makes sense to say that to become great at something, we need to put in the effort and time. The same goes for becoming a good designer; we need to spend hours practicing. But instead of mindlessly diving into our favorite design tools and start creating your weekly Dribbble images, I might have a more effective approach.
I’ve heard about this approach before, but it’s only until recently that I applied the method and found it very insightful. What I’m referring to here is to analyze a design from a visual perspective before creating something out the top of your head. Meaning: to look at someone else’s work and analyze the grid, the spacing, the balance, the typeface, the hierarchy, the color, everything, to really understand how something is created.
In this blog post, I’ll take you along this approach on how to analyze a design. So it’s going to be a bunch of images below. Hope you enjoy it and I hope you find it effective as well.
Example Design 1
Step 1: The Grid
This is the design we will be working with. We know the use of grids creates better designs, often making them less chaotic. So, I wanted to discover the grid first. I’m often using a 12 column grid, but perhaps this designer used something else?
I drew a rectangle over the left image with the assumption it was placed on some kind of grid. I was correct and after moving some rectangles around I discover a 12 column grid here. Unfortunately, nothing fancy here. But then again: nothing wrong with a good ol’ 12 column grid.
Step 2: Repetition of sizes
Using a limited set of sizes for all your design elements often results in a better-looking design as well. The eye unconsciously notices repetition, making it easier on the eyes, easier to perceive, less heavy on our cognitive abilities.
I measured the size of the left image and some other elements, to discover there was indeed a lot of repetition going on.
Step 3: What gridlines are used
Even if we have 12 columns available to use, it’s often better to limit where we align elements. Why? For the same reason as mentioned above: creating repetition is easier on the eyes: less chaotic. Here we see 5 and 6 grid lines are used. A bit much for my taste, perhaps explaining my gut feeling that this design was indeed a bit too chaotic.
Example Design 2
For this second example, I picked a design that is more outspoken. Because figuring out the grid doesn’t enable you to make a design in a specific style yourself. It’s also a question of what choices make or break this specific look & feel?
Step 1: Margins
To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about: this design used very minimal margins around the design. Interesting, because I’m used to the opposite: using very large margins. Yet, I very much do like this design. So, an interesting discovery here.
Step 2: Grid
I’m was again curious about the grid, and figured it’s again a 12 column grid. But as mentioned above: with very minimal margins: 8px all around.
While setting up the grid we see most content is on the right, creating a sense of a-symmetry. Which is a good thing by the way. Perfect symmetry can be a bit boring. Creating just enough a-symmetry created a sense of tension, making it a bit more exciting to look at.
Step 3: Composition
While looking at that balance mentioned above, we also notice this diagonal line.
Step 4: Typography
Something we clearly cannot miss is the huge contrast in font size. Writing on top of this design I quickly discovered 3 font sizes:
- 425px for the heading (that’s huge)
- 18px for the menu
- 12px for some small side details (right of the large image)
Like I mentioned before and what I discovered myself: you can’t really learn a style by inspecting the basics. It does help to discover multiple designs of a specific style; in line with the one above. For the sake of keeping this blog post length reasonable, I did not include the findings of other inspections. But a summary of my findings below:
- Very minimal in terms of color. However: one color can be fine as well. Either a bright neon color to make it more modern, or a very desaturated to give a bit more class.
- The contrast in typography size is huge, but by adding some small details like 16 or 18px you get a sense of quality as well. Otherwise, the design would feel cheap and unfinished.
- It’s often a-symmetrical; creating a sense of tension.
- Images are often in different sizes: perhaps a reference to art magazine designs, where images were sometimes kept at their original size, rather than cropping it.
- Side information is kept very close to the border of your layout. The whitespace is happening between elements rather than at the outer gutter.
- All elements are placed on a grid.
Let’s put it into practice
As a final step I got a practice brief from https://goodbrief.io/, as a test (or exam if you will) whether I could apply this style successfully and add it to my inventory of styles.