Design Atrophy

My team will complete Phase 0 of our app in a couple weeks. I wanted to help the human factors guy out and bring some funk to the table so our first deploy to QA and others would be mad-sexy. The whole hiring of graphic designers has been all over the map because of my seperation distance from the decision makers, which is fine. I just took it as an opportunity to do some design work for a change.

I was surprised, while at SIS, that when spending about a week with a pad of paper, Fireworks, and After Effects, I got back into a design groove pretty easily. It wasn’t fantastic, but I definately felt I was earning my paycheck via design vs. programming. It was tough adjusting things to my manager’s suggestions, but I attribute 90% of that to the fact that I was in a development department vs. a design/creative/marketing one.

I tried, twice, this week to get into the groove for laying some funk down for some designs to propose today to my team. Hit some major brick walls, though. I think the pressure of having a human factors guy here who’s so talented and knowledgable, submitted the first design in the first place, the imminent arrival of 1-3 graphic designers (maybe), and the target audience not necessarely digging my design style… it’s tough both mentally and in execution.

Really, though, I’ve noticed that over the course of the past 4 years, while my eyes have learned to appreciate good and bad design, it hasn’t worked both ways. Flawless execution of an idea doesn’t just come from talent; part of the reason Flash development for me is so easy to talk about is the actual process of idea to workable prototype is extremely streamlined. Not only does the tool make it very easy to help bring my ideas to fruition very quickly, but my grasp of how to use it does what any good manager should: remove boundaries. I have none.

You would think the same holds true on the design front, but that just isn’t the case. I think it comes down to what her majesty said about one of my designs: “It doesn’t look like you do it everyday.” I’m guessing the reverse holds true about my appz I develop (here’s to hoping anyway). There is a mountain of frustration I go through each time I start getting back into design mode. I’ll throw together a few layouts, and just as quickly toss them as they are repetitive styles, aren’t going anywhere, or don’t solve the problem I’m trying to solve. Eventually, I latch onto a theme and go with it. Same with trying to find an efficient tile based game approach in Flash. Requires an extensive amount of throw away code/FLA’s.

Really, I’m attributing it to working out. I haven’t worked out since November. Once the house purchasing became quickly to the forefront, combined with school and contract, I really started to need every second I could get and bigger pecs wasn’t helping me keep tabs on everything. Now, I’m sure if I head to the gym, the first 2 weeks will hurt pretty bad, both physically and mentally because my body has suffered atrophy from lack of use. I know the benefits, so it’s worth it, but I can see how my design challenges relate. I have the will and the technical capability to utilize the tools (Fireworks/Photoshop/Paper/AfterEffects), but I think a couple things are lacking. First off, it is hard for me to see the benefits. I realize that there are more capable individuals to complete the design tasks we have. Second, it’ll take a few go arounds for me to again attain the level I want to be at. The latter won’t happen in the timeframe I want.

Another interesting issue is the amount of work put into my design esque projects seem to generate little return. Not just monetarely, but emotionally. I think, too, it is because as a hobby, it is best done for myself vs. clients. However, coding has become both hobby and fulltime gig, so I’ve had little opportunity to really need a design for myself aside from the occasional icon. I wish there was some way to “work out”. I have some small side projects I need to finish for her majesty, so maybe that’ll help. Maybe I should just go mix audio this weekend… something.

3 Replies to “Design Atrophy”

  1. I feel your pain on the design issue. I often get so frusterated when doing design work. Things feel repetitious, and when I do actually get a bit of creativity… the project feels user unfriendly. There are so many styles that actually work and still feel friendly. I know that sometimes when I don’t feel creative I’ll blow up a picture until I can’t figure out what I’m looking at. Sometimes that does the trick, kinda like looking at the clouds. You can’t let your mouse do the drawing, it has to come from somewhere deeper, somewhere in your imagination. Ohh yeah, having a drink calms me and often gets my creative juices flowin.. good luck with the design!!!

  2. Definitely know where you’re coming from on this. As an artist turned designer turned programmer, I often feel disconnected from the creative faculties I was once able to tap so readily. It IS a lot like working out – atrophy (and age) certainly effect creativity. Maturity/responsibility also play a part, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned, not the least of which being money. In the world of business, form is nice, but, function pays the bills.

    However, there is a positive I am sure you appreciate – no one questions your code. If it works, you’re golden. Designers, on the other hand, are constantly challenged by everyone with a pair of eyes (including former designers ;) ). — Maybe this is the real issue >>> As a programmer, your brilliance is hidden from all but your peers – who are unlikely to ever see your work anyway. It is the designer who ultimately garners the praise because their work is evident. It is very frustrating to build an immaculate machine, when all who see it only marvel at the paint job.

    If your company/client needs you do some design work, more power to you – but don’t you hate it if/when designers mess with your code?

    So, I say “Good luck with the code!”

Comments are closed.