Here it is: Many people believe that good designers and illustrators just fall onto the top of the mountain. Colorful butterflies aren't the result of good photography or excellent drawing skills. The same could be said of the view. It's all trick photography.
When people who hire such designers and illustrators believe this, something not so positive happens. They believe that anyone can do design. And that said designs are going to look nice when they're done. Just give 'em the right software.
Um…no. Sorry. But design, even for people like me who are more naturally design inclined, takes work. Sometimes our designs turn out badly. Sometimes - God forbid - we even have to go back to the proverbial drawing board.
Based on this, the non-designer might think that it's all about inspiration. Inspiration helps, true enough, but really most creative endeavors have a rough-draft process. Really, the best design requires you to work an idea, keeping what works and throwing out the rest.
Why Good Design Is a Bit Like the Rabbit Hole
Why am I bringing this up? Well, this week in EdTech 506 we actually covered the basics of the design process. Our book "Creating Graphics for Learning and Performance" actually gives us some acronyms to make the process easier. And if you think getting from "A" to "E" is easy, well, let's just say you might be climbing the mountain for a while. Or stuck in the rabbit hole. Whichever... You pick.
Here are the steps to the design process:
ACE: A - Analyze C - Create E - Evaluate
PAT: P - Principles A - Actions T - Tools
Basically, when you're given a design task, you must first analyze the goal of the design project. (This is where the ACE part comes in, and even more specifically, the "A" as in analyze.) For example, in this week's assignment, we were asked to create some sort of graphic organizer that related to our semester-long project. The purpose then was to introduce some element of our project to our intended audience. That was the goal.
Based on this analysis, we then had to create the graphic. (It's the picture that accompanies this post by the way.) PAT or principles, actions, and tools are a subset of this. There are few hard, fast rules in design. Sometimes you actually can break them and still end up with a stunning design. PAT just guides you as you go through this process.
That said, when you employ PAT during the create stage of the design process, you do get some go-to problem-solving tools to use. Keeping solutions like contrast, alignment, fonts, etc. in your toolbox allows you to come up with ideas to solve the design problems you face.
Finally, we had to evaluate our project to see if it worked or not. If it did, great. Project done. If not, rework.
Falling Back Down the Mountain
All of this isn't necessarily a linear process anymore than climbing the mountain is. In some places you have to backtrack so you don't slide down an embankment of rocks. Sometimes you zigzag up the side of the mountain because it's too steep for a straight climb. Design can feel like all of that.
I experience all of that as I worked on the design at the top of the page. Truthfully, although in spirit it looks similar to the design I originally started with, it's now a very different design.
In other words, I didn't just fall onto the top of the mountain. It required a steep climb. That's just the way that design goes.
Lohr, L. (2003). Creating graphics for learning and performance: Lessons in visual literacy. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
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