Design 101 1/2: Fear & Panic

June 2, 2005

Yesterday was a lousy day. I fired up the computer, all prepared to get to work on the site I've been building for over a month. I took one look at the homepage flickering on the screen, and suddenly I recoiled in horror.

This was the site I'd been pouring all my energy and heart into? Was I crazy? What had I been thinking? This was crap. It was horrible. It was amateurish and unprofessional and nauseating and a monkey could have done a better job.

I grabbed the phone in panic. My sister in St. Louis has a degree in graphic design. So does my nephew in Denver. My next-door neighbor once worked as a product designer. I called them all. No one was home. For god's sake, where are all the graphic designers when you really need one?

In despair I sat and stared at my computer. I'm not much of a crier, but at that moment I wished I was. I wanted to wail. Already a month into the project, it was too late to change the whole design. Besides the client liked it. But what did they know? I knew it sucked.

After an hour or two of moping, I picked myself up off the floor (I like to mope in a reclining position) to hazard another peek at my monitor. Okay. All right. Well. It wasn't going to win any prizes, but maybe if I could fix a few things...

Today I look back and realize that much of what happened yesterday was a natural stage in the creative process. At least, in my creative process. I used to feel exactly the same way around chapter 11 in every book I wrote. What I was reacting to was the ambiguity of art--in this case, graphic art/design.

Since deciding to seriously pursue web design, I've worked hard on learning software programs and coding and markup languages. I'm not saying these are easy by any means, but compared with graphic design they're a piece of cake. They're unambiguous. There is (mostly) a wrong way and a right way to mark up a page. If you make a mistake in coding, you know it: The page doesn't look right or you get an error message.

But with graphic design, things are less clear-cut. Taste and preference, sensibility and emotion all play a part. And you know, whenever feelings are involved, things get messy.

Today I'm left with the question "Can I really learn to be a good designer?" I don't know. I believe that, by studying design theory and principles, I can learn graphic design. But I don't know if that means I'll be able to design well. It seems to me that good design involves much more than a knowledge of techniques and methods. Those help, sure. But to create good designs takes talent, an eye for the art of it. I don't know if that's something that can be taught.

I do know that lying on the carpet and moaning isn't going to solve anything. I guess it's time to stop procrastinating and crack open those design books that have been piling up on the corner of my desk. I wish there were more sources on the web, but everything seems aimed at teaching graphic artists to code, rather than coders to be graphic artists.

Once more I am bumbling along. This is going to be a wonderful challenge that will make me a better person. This is going to be a wonderful challenge that will make me a better person. This is going to be...