December 12, 2012
By Tad Fry
Here’s to here’s to iteration in 2013 now. It’s time to do the things instead of thinking about them. No more thinking of a plan for a new year’s resolution and then not executing it because we’re scared to act on the idea, again :/
Creatives are blessed with talent to make wonderful projects; however, with that blessing comes the natural curse of wanting everything to be perfect. Even along the creative path, we strive to make every step go as planned. We try to avoid mistakes to hopefully reach an error-free destination. Albeit, it’s nice to have a plan and follow through—it’s that pre-planning which can lead to fear, and that prevents us from beginning the project.
I’m going to destroy that fear with iteration, and I hope you do the same! Most of us know how important iteration is to a project, I just don’t want to forget how powerful it can be to our mental health as creatives overall.
We must remember iteration is with us even before we start a project. This will allow us to create amazing work and fosters learning opportunities. It’s of course the learn-from-our-mistakes mentality, but ensuring we always have that mindset before, during, and after a project completes.
I hope we all keep iteration with us, and I sincerely hope we use this fantastic tool to get our new projects off the ground. This is my new year’s today’s resolution, here’s to iteration.
April 13, 2012
By Tad Fry
Someone once asked me, “What makes a bad design?” Aside from using colors that don’t mix, not using a grid, or not applying negative space etc., this can happen if we don’t add constraints while designing. Art direction is giving yourself constraints and developing within them. If you deviate from these limits then you start to lose the feel of your project. Things start to not fit; it’s like trying to solve a puzzle with the wrong pieces.
Magnificent examples of applied constraint are Rogie King and Tim Boelaars. In an interview with Rogie, he says, “Give yourself a limitation.” You can see this in his shot, The Essentials of A Day in Disneyland Illustration, on Dribbble. By limiting use of certain colors he created wicked elements that fit well together. Had he used a different palette on any one element, then the work would seem off a bit. Tim applies the constraint of using one line weight, but don’t be fooled by this simple limit. Armed with one line weight, Tim builds amazing illustrations that are easy to discern. And we all know the easier something appears, the harder it actually was to make simple… it appears simple because he took the time to solve the problems which then communicates those elements to us easily.
How do you add constraints to a project? You can develop these as you listen to find the problems you are trying to solve. What limits could you apply to help you reach a solution? A company wants a consistent look using colors from their logo as you build their website. Determine which colors compliment and ground each other using the color wheel. Now, the somewhat difficult part; stick to those colors no matter what! Adhere to your constraints. Keep in mind when you’re developing your constraints they are also just an iteration. So don’t stumble over which ones to make… just make a few and try to apply them. If they’re not working out, then iterate to make new constraints.
Too often I’ll want to add to a design to make it better when in fact I should try to figure out what I can take away. Improving the work by applying the limits I first set forth to build the project. Referring to the constraints potentially makes the decision-making a lot easier. They should be a constant go-to in order to ensure your design is on the right track. Always seek the approval of your constraints; albeit a bit annoying, this referee will help you play out your design by abiding to your rules.
Are you up for the challenge? Then throw down some constraints and create within them on your next project. It’s amazing how much you can build by applying limits.
March 30, 2012
By Tad Fry
We’re inspired by people every day, and neglect to tell them they inspired us. Think about how selfish that is. You get your inspiration and make magnificent work, while the person who inspired you possibly goes on with their day wondering if their work is even worth doing. It’s time to tell your hero they are your hero.
I’m not trying to suck up or be a gigantic cheeseball. I want to give credit to a batch of awesomes that need to know they are my heroes.
This obsessive-complusive maniac loves design and programming. We bounce ideas every day to create projects. Extremely motivating and knows how to ship.
An amazing designer. Picks up the phone to tolerate my newfound love of typography. Countless discussions on design.
The man behind Drawar. This beast provides a wonderful platform for us to learn and discuss design and is a prolific writer.
Cliff invited me to Drawar and has given me honest feedback with my projects. He brings a refreshing attitude to design and user experience.
He wrote this amazing post; thanks others and has a passion for details which is seen in his work. Also drafted me to Dribbble.
Some of the most honest writing you’ll ever read. A genuine mastermind who knows how to motive people.
There you have it. A few of my heroes. If you’re not on my brief list, then please know I’m not trying to draw lines.
Let’s have some reciprocity. Take the time to tell your heroes they are your heroes. They deserve it.
March 23, 2012
By Tad Fry
My Dad is an amazing mechanic. While growing up, I noticed he used a lot of tools that were not branded. One day, I noticed a wrench laying around; I had never seen one like it so I asked where he bought it. He replied, “Oh, I made it.”
“What!?” I asked in disbelief.
“Yeah, I couldn’t find a wrench at the store to do the job, so I made my own.”
I always remember that because it helped me see why my Dad is so good at his job. He does whatever it takes to get it done effeciently and in the right way. Even if it requires making a tool.
Over the years, I noticed I do many of the same tasks. Sure, some programs automate them, but many don’t do the job correctly. Furthermore, the programs might not be available everywhere I work. Therefore, I’ve written my own tools to keep at tadfry.com. They’re simple, but save time and are available everywhere I have Internet.
Here’s a few of them:
They’re probably not intuitive to most users, but they’re for my own use. I know what they do, and they help me tremendously. One I found extremely helpful was tadfry.com/ratio/200. Thinking it might be useful to others, I made getratio.com.
So, I hope you’ll make your own wrench. It frees up your time and mind to save your brain for creative work. I’d love to see what you make, so please share on Twitter @tadfry.
March 15, 2012
By Tad Fry
Do you want to be a better designer, and are not sure where to start? After college, I wanted to ensure I became a better designer as I grew with my profession. I bought a few books about universal design principles and it helped quite a bit, but I felt like something was missing. Sure, we learn and apply design principles, but there had to be more to design than principles alone. I’m just now discovering there is no silver bullet to design, and we need to dig deeper within elements of design.
The question of how to be a better designer surfaces often on Forrst. We want to know which books to get or tutorials to read. A reply I found most useful was when a member said there is not a single book that will help us become better designers overall, but we need to get many books on single topics. Then drill down to learn as much as we can. That advice motivated me to get a typography book, and I’m amazed by how much there is to know on type.
To find which typography book to read, I did a search on college design programs to discover many classes use Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton. The book is magnificent—No, those are not affiliate links. Lupton teaches how to use type, and does so with inspiring references and has an amazing sense of humor. Reading this helped me to see why some uses of type look so well done while other uses look awkward. I could never discern this a few months ago.
So, where to go from here. I highly recommend you pick a topic about design and focus on it. Dig deep. Here’s a few suggestions of topics you could read about:
Overall, I find this wonderfully annoying. I want to grow as a designer, but now I’ve found there is so much more I don’t know. Yes, I understand we’ll never know everything, but that’s what sets well-designed work a part from the so-so work. It was created by those who took the time to learn and apply individual elements of design.
March 5, 2012
By Tad Fry
Welcome to the behind-the-scenes edition of how I write (I know you’re excited). It’s simple right? Think about stuff and write about it. If it were only that easy—actually it can be easy if you adhere to the writing format I’m about to share.
We of course take composition in high school & college, and are shown the ropes of how to use logos, pathos, and ethos to write essays. It’s valuable information, but what I found most useful was discovering a simple, yet amazing, format that fosters prolific and meaningful writing.
The course was Communication Theory at Baldwin-Wallace College, taught by Dr. Mary C. Toale. We wrote a paper each week based on a theory we wanted to discuss. She provided the following format to help us achieve that goal:
- Select a theory and introduce it (First paragraph).
- Build on it or argue for/against it (Next 3 paragraphs).
- Conclude (Last paragraph).
That format helped me stay focused and get to the point. Those elements were important to me when I decided I wanted to write more often. I want to share what I know very quickly, and hopefully others will find it useful.
If you want to write more material and more often, then I highly recommend this format. Choose your topic, find how you can introduce it, discuss it within 3 paragraphs (focused), and then conclude. Sure, there are times where you’ll need an extra paragraph or two, but try to exercise restraint because it can lead to slim and solid writing.
December 13, 2011
By Tad Fry
Random is one of my favorite creative weapons. Although a major goal of design is to assign meaning to elements, the slightly haphazard road created by random can spark quite a brainstorm during your creative process. If you find yourself stuck on a project, then roll the dice to keep moving forward.
My obsession began when I couldn’t decide which action to do next on my Next Actions list. All priorities were equal, and I was wasting time debating on which item to complete. So, I rolled the dice and the decision was made for me. Yes, I’m aware this was ridiculous, but it was fun and kept me moving. Not to mention, I couldn’t wait to complete the task so I could roll again.
Now, if you’re like me, your Next Actions list is well over a dozen items. We must not leave out the tasks after the twelfth item; therefore, (yes, I know I’m insane), I wrote code that will give a random number from one to a max number I input using mt_rand. My glorious random machine was working, but something bothered me. How in the world did mt_rand do its job? Considering programming is so binary, how did it give me a random number? I learned it’s pseudo-random. Upon putting that knowledge in my brain, I attempted to write my own random function, but for now it’s just heads or tails. I might expand it a bit, but I like its simplicity and that I made it without using a library. If I need anything more than a coin flip, I’ll use mt_rand.
Aside from taking care of my insanity, there’s other fun uses with random. As you’re sketching, roll a random number to decide how many limits you are going to force with how many points, lines, planes, shading, or texture you get to use. Draw some monsters, and roll to figure how many eyes, mouths, and legs are going to be on it.
A more practical approach is to use mt_rand, array_rand, or MySQL RAND(), to pull in different content to your website. Appropriate content could be a homepage image, testimonials, quotes, facts, and tweets. I wouldn’t apply random to your navigation because it might annoy users. But adding random to some of your other elements can make your website live; an amazing-living-random creature.
I hope you’ll add some random to your next project, or at least during your creative process. If you do, then please share your progress with me on Twitter, @tadfry. I’d love to see your work. My next project is heavily based on random, and I can’t wait to release it!
November 18, 2011
By Tad Fry
It’s easy to snap out of the writing routine. There’s an insane number of excuses to not write. An excuse I gave myself was to take a break after getting an article published, and it’s a break I’m regretting. What I thought would recharge my creative has actually hurt me instead. I encourage you to not make the same mistake. Here’s a few tips on how to bounce back.
Just write. And remember to write for fun. It’s great to have people read your work. The feedback and learning you get from readers is awesome. But remember that you are writing for yourself as well. When you disconnect a bit and write for the sake of writing, it is really enjoyable.
If you simply can’t bring yourself to write, then take the time to be inspired. This is ridiculously important. When you are not inspired then do things that motivate you. Reading articles definitely gets your creative gears going. Furthermore, consider reading The Writer’s Manifesto by Jeff Goins; a wonderful book that is certain to straighten you up from your creative slump—a must read for every writer. Always have notes handy while reading so you can write ideas. Then take those ideas to create topics that you can add to your topics list.
A topics list? Yes, always keep a topics list. Then you’ll never have an excuse for not having anything to write about. It’s freeing to have a list you can always pull from to start your next article. Having trouble deciding which topic? Roll dice and that decision will be made for you. The number you roll determines which topic you’re going to write about from your numbered list. Don’t have dice? Use my Dice Roller—no excuses.
There you have it, don’t make the same mistake I did. Keep writing. Stop reading this, go write.
October 12, 2011
By Tad Fry
It’s easy letting excellent design pass us by. Ridiculous amounts of things compete for our attention through the day, and we discard most of them. But then out of nowhere we see something catch our eye—we take notice. We might spend an extra 5 seconds or even a minute looking at the thing that grabbed our attention, but… alas… it too, likely fades from our thoughts. Don’t let this happen. Those things that caught your eye are often inspiring, and you can’t afford to let them get away. Capture that inspiration.
It’s important to collect inspiration so you can reference it during a creative slump. Motivation kicks in as you reflect on work that made you look twice. Furthermore, it’s an awesome puzzle trying to solve what’s inspiring about the item that… inspired you. Which fonts, colors, copy, alignment, textures, made the piece punch you in the face and say, “Hey, look how awesome I am!”
You need a place to store this inspiration. Flickr, WordPress, or Tumblr could be used. Make sure whatever you choose has a way to handle the different types of items you want to collect. Are you just collecting images? Or do you want to capture inspirational text as well? Ensure you tag & title your items so you can find them easily as your library grows.
What you use to catch your inspiration depends on the types of items you collect. If you only want to collect signs, then your camera phone will do fine. Screenshots will work as well. And then there’s the obvious, copy & paste text or images. Whichever you decide, make sure it’s insultingly easy to put what you catch into your library. Have a specific camera application on your phone automatically upload to Flickr. Send quotes or text to a designated e-mail address. Or simply have everything go to your blog to handle the different types of inspiration.
Here’s some examples if you’re a visual person like me. The Drawar Collections are awesome and are broken down by category. Rogie King dedicates a tag for inspiration on his blog, and has great commentary on what inspires him. I’ve started collecting Logos & Trademarks and Signs on Flickr, but I think a blog might be best so I can put quotes and text as well.
I seriously want you to act on this. Do it. It ends up being a great meta game to your day, and you’ll always have a reference that personally inspires you. Share your findings with your friends to begin design discussions. Give yourself exercises with what you find; recreate the elements to dissect the design choices that went into building the work. Have fun collecting and learning from your inspiration.
September 14, 2011
By Tad Fry
I’ve seen this topic creep up a lot on Twitter and design forums, and I wanted to formally take a stand on this issue. Yes, I found a dead horse, and I’m about to beat the crap out of it; you have been warned.
The question, “Should designers know how to code?”, is the wrong one to ask. Rather, I feel we should be asking, “Why shouldn’t designers want to know how to code?” If you’re a designer, and your work is going to be on the web, then why would you not want to know how to make your work better?
Your goal as a designer should be to help people. The purpose of design is to assign meaning to objects so people can understand them. So, if we’re blessed with a language (HTML) that assigns meaning to our objects, then why do you not want to know that language?
Great job making that awesome website. It looks fantastic! But have you considered that not everyone can see it? Will a screen reader be able to read your work? How portable is your design if it’s not properly coded for importing into other services like Instapaper or other readers? Your website isn’t the only place where your content can live. But if you don’t learn how to code, then your content is dead… and its sole resting place is the cemetery that you call your website.
If you haven’t figured it out by now… my answer is yes. Designers, especially those whose work is going online, need to know how to code. Knowing how to write semantic HTML is another tool you can exploit to make more effective work.
A common rebuttal is that you work in a team where you design, and you have a developer who writes the appropriate code. You should still have an understanding of how your design is going to be coded. Sit alongside your developer and ask them what you could do with your design to make it more code-friendly. It will improve your work, and be a tremendous benefit to who you design for in the first place, your users.