Developing Style

March 8, 2016
5 min read

Take inspiration from places outside your comfort zone is where you’ll find new beginnings.

One of the ways to improve your style, taste, and design is by exploring different methods and approaches that are unknown to you. The design could be generalized into two major components: Creative Direction and Technical Execution.

A person can be very versed and technically skilled at executing a vision to perfection, but may not be the person that’s directing the concept. Similarly, a strong artist may not have the skills to visually or tangibly create the work. How do we converge these two skill points?

Styling and Creative Direction
How do you quantify taste and decipher whose opinions should be respected? One way to develop this taste and inspiration is by stepping out of your comfortable medium into something new.

Observe your environment and surroundings and practice conceptualizing how and why a certain concept or campaign came to be. ie. (I see a billboard of The House of Cards show on Netflix, why did they select this particular headshot of Frank Underwood? There’s a slight reflection of Claire looking into Frank’s car, why is she not in the car but looking from the outside? What was done to the color grading of this photo that makes the feeling suspenseful? How many other angles could this image be shot differently to convey this same emotion?) Practice and train your brain to think creatively about everything you see. Be keen on the way the light shines on something, or even focusing in on the object of the user’s attention.

Look deeply behind the scenes and allow yourself to step into the shoes of a director and imagine their vision. Why did they choose this medium? What is the message they want to convey? Was it successful in conveying that message?

It’s easy for designers to get caught up in what’s “trendy and cool” and ignoring the principles of good design. What makes a style or design classic and timeless? It is made by people who strive to create something unique and have a strong sense that their vision is the right one, no matter what others say. To create something timeless, think outside the box, let go of control and invest in people that shape your work.

Technical Craft
To improve your technical craft, it’s an easy solution: work on it until you are extraordinary. Malcolm Gladwell’s theories that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert, or it takes a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest. It’s also an important point that that is how you can develop your technical skill set, and it’s not based on the innate talent that is assumed beyond ‘training’.

Being a digital designer, it’s not often I get to hold a piece that I create. There’s something nice to make something with your own hands from typesetting, painting or even simply folding a simple origami. I miss the ability to be tactile. In the digital space, building an app or seeing your work on the internet can feel intangible and I yearn for the nostalgia of holding and presenting physical work.

Select your poison
Pick a medium you want to work in. Go back to your roots and make something. Step outside of what you do on the daily and re-energize an old craft. If you don’t have a medium that you can look back on, why not start a new medium? Try and paint a picture every week or take a photo with a DSLR? whatever makes you feel fancy.

My relationship with the Camera
As a child, my father used me as the subject of his many photographs. He used a 35mm film camera because a digital camera didn’t exist. He would teach me about lighting, aperture, focus, rule of thirds, shutter speed and what makes a good picture and what doesn’t.

It wasn’t until about 3 years ago, I bought my first DSLR. I was driven by the memory of the connection I had with the camera and my father. I also thought by self-teaching myself photography would improve my design.

By no means am I an expert at photography. I solicited my coworkers to let me to take their portrait. I promised them free Linkedin profile photos or photos for their OkCupid. I would venture out on the weekends to photograph people for free and spend countless hours on post-production. I spent a few weeks investing time in taking photos of New York landscapes and I learned everything by trying. I would take a photo, ask for feedback, and self-evaluate the shot.

I did not expect photography would make as huge of an impact as it has on my life.

Being a timid and not too adventurous person, the camera changed me. After seeing a photo of The Subway in Arizona, I wanted to go after this image. The path of all resistance dwindled in my mind. My head was filled with wonder and ignorantly dismissed my usual complaints of outdoor activities.

The subway is a ten-hour hike through the back country of Arizona. I am not sure what I was thinking as I have never walked ten hours in my life. Every step up and down the canyon felt like my heart was going to come out of my fat city-lazy body. I ignored the wet slippery sand beneath my heels and the pain of my bruised toenails from navigating through sharp and steep rocks.

Chasing the image infested my mind. I would have never been able to do this today, feeling accomplished and grateful that I’ve done something completely out of my comfort zone.

Pushing yourself beyond your personal limit is very scary. How do you know what your limit is if you never come close?

My dad said this to me when I left home for New York. 
“Success is all in your mind. Some people need to climb Mt. Everest to feel accomplished. For me, if I can hike a local mountain, I’m just as successful as a Mt Everest climber. You do not need to compete with them, just compete with yourself.”


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