My raised-ranch-esque suburban existence was rocked by a neighbor who lived in a totally different world. I was a nerdy, artistic, athletic high school kid who needed some cash. Inge was a mature recently divorced woman, who had just inherited multiple houses and a tree farm—and was looking for someone to help her get organized.
Surrounded by glorious mid-century modern furniture in her home that had been part of an elegant country estate I learned to start seeing.
Inge was an artist in every sense. She had studied weaving (with Anni Albers). She had studied design (with Wolfgang Weingart and Armin Hoffman). She was friends with Paul Rand and Josef Albers. She had started a gallery (that went on to become the Katonah Museum). She was dynamic, busy and engaged.
And, while I swept, ironed, painted, cleaned, sorted and moved things I learned to start seeing. I learned to delight in light, value and color. I learned to see relationships of shapes, patterns and textures. I learned to appreciate line and typography. I learned to think about the emotions that the combination of these elements conjured up. I began to have an understanding of the value of design—how it could truly change the functionality of a process or object and convey a mood.
This was an important step for me in my development as a designer. Design is about a lot more than creating a pretty logo, package, poster or publication. It is about communicating a message visually. And you can only communicate and control the elements of design if you have seen them and understand them. Seeing is what designers are honing in our research, sketching and peer critiques.
But seeing isn't something you do only once. Seeing takes practice. A designer has to have a sense of what has come before, they have to understand what is popular now and they should have a handle on predictions for the future. This means studying the past and staying active. We need to keep looking at everything and figuring out which things delight and how artwork and objects make us feel.
In our busy day-to-day worlds how do you keep seeing things with a fresh eye? Here are five suggestions:
1. Look at art. Make it easy on yourself and follow artists, photographers and museums online and in social media. I love Instagram and Pinterest for this. But I also use Facebook and other design and craft specific websites regularly.
2. Create your own art. I love photography and work at it pretty regularly. But I also garden, knit, cook and dabble in crafts. Just last month I took a beading class and next month I will take a photography workshop and a calligraphy class. Try something new and set a goal. Working to achieve a specific effect or learning a new skill will have you seeing things in a new way. Skillshare and Craftsy offer lots of exciting options. Designer Jim Krause has several great books on the subject if you are self motivated.
3. Go outside. Take a hike or swim. Visit the ocean—or the city if that is your muse. Break your routine to search out things that excite you.
4. Teach someone a new skill. It will help you solidify your thoughts and have you seeing your skills through your students' eyes.
5. Join other enthusiasts. I regularly attend our local photographic society. I also try to eat lunch with other designers at least twice a month. If a club doesn't exist, or you feel isolated, try setting up a meetup in your town.