Ditch the overarching rules and explore design

When it comes to design style, some people have strong hangups.

  • Drop shadows are outdated, cheesy, and overused.
  • Stroke on type is always ugly.
  • I don’t use red. I hate the color, and I don’t use it.
  • Reverse type is hard to read.
  • Serif is for print. Sans-serif is for web.
  • Illustrations and photos are dominant visual elements. Don’ t make it too text-heavy.
  • (color) is the new black.

A few things: Black will always be black. And your big sweeping rules to design might not be as accurate as you think. When you always follow them, you actually put yourself in a rut and end up being a much worse design critic as well.

Remember, limitations to your own visual brand are a good thing. Only using specific tools, fonts, and colors will often breed the best results, especially in the beginning stages of design. These kinds of project-specific defined rules keep things looking consistent and clean. But when it comes to starting a fresh project, expanding your visual horizons, and guiding others, design is a big open space of opportunity.

Instead of articulating what you can’t do, start opening up to what you can. Look at great work and dissect it for its best elements – is the color palette surprisingly subdued? Does the type follow a grid perfectly? How do the elements work together? What rules did the designer break to get to a better end result?

The answer to these questions provide inspiration and guidelines to get better, not overarching rules to supposedly avoid getting worse. They can help you direct your work into new, better spaces, and not automatically shut down others’ work based on a few sentences you learned in Design 101.

So hang up your hangups and explore the visual world. You know what the cool kids say: rules are for losers anyway.

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