Why Great Designers Need Time AWAY From Design

Flirting with the boundaries of Design

How your career sits within the wider world and how to avoid reaching a local maximum.

You’ve spent three years passionately studying design, you know your way around a golden grid system, how to distinguish Helvetica from Arial and you have an entire coated and uncoated pantone book tattooed accross your arm, and so you’re ready to hit the big wide world with you bezier curves of beauty.

But hold on. Remember that definition of what design is? Something about effectively communicating?

Introducing, The Wider World


In order to design effectively, we need to understand the world around us. Our design education, whether it was with an institute, internship or self initiated, is far from over. It starts when we are born and will continue for the rest of our lives. Design requires you to bring all of you knowledge and experiences to each project. This is why it’s so hard for designers to ‘switch off’, our minds are constantly seeing the world around us and making connections, storing information and contemplating new possibilities for a problem which needs solving. Design in a way, is the most natural thing we can ask our minds to do.

Design is communication for a business. This means we must understand not only design, but people and business. Bear in mind that business, comes down to people, and marketing is just building a relationship between people so you can see where this is going. People are at the core of everything we do, in any job or market, the very heart of it is people. So the better you understand people, the better you can design for them. People exist within cultures, and while endless travel to all sides of the world is a great way to understand other cultures, reading is a cheaper and more realistic way of beginning to understand different cultures and attitudes.

Bear in mind that clients are generally focused on Business Goals, that is to gain customers and make money. The Audience is focused on Customer Goals, that is to draw value from something and further their happiness.

Introducing, The Local Maximum

The local maximum is loosely the idea of the top level of achievement within a limited area. An area of comfort. If you always design for one medium and study one medium you will find you reach a local maximum whereby you’ve reached your level of knowledge/interest/skill/motivation for that area. 

By reading outside of design and expanding your knowledge and research into different areas you can push the boundaries of your local maximum and continue to design better and better.

Learn to see the whole world and all subjects as fuel to your design fire and go kick some ass!

The top areas around design I highly recommend exploring:**
Business, Marketing, Psychology, Sociology


Book recommendations:

Thinking fast and slow — Daniel Kahneman

blink — Malcom Gladwell

Both of these will help you understand how the mind works and understand how design works in relation. The way we process information, see patterns and interpret our surroundings (in which your design must stand out)

Start with Why — Simon Sinek 

Dare say you’ve seen the TED Talk, but always worth re-visiting.

The Personal MBA — Josh Kaufman

Best way to get a broad understanding of complex business functions without all the heavy facts and maths. Easy to read short chapters, summaries and quotes. A great book for the ADD readers!

The four Hour Workweek — Tim Ferris 

Horrible cover, so an initial lesson in content is King. Secondly, his whole ideas are based around challenging the status quo, thinking differently and being more efficient. Those are skills everyone needs, so read between the lines and learn the big impacts.

Where you look is where you go

If you’ve ever ridden a motorbike, tried ice skates, or been surfing you’d know how this feels. We have a tendency both mentally and physically to go where our eyes are looking. Where our head is tilting.

So how do we know where to look? Well I don’t know where to look, but I know not to look in the same place too often. The more we look at something, the more we internalise it, the more we subconsciously re-create it.

Look far and wide, read surf magazine, fashion blogs, classic books. Go for a walk in the woods, at the beach, in the suburbs. The more we look around, the more we’ll see the real world, the real people, and the real needs.


If you want any more recommendations, or fancy some good articles or audiobooks, then hit me up in the comments below, on twitter, or instagram: @peteadamsdesign and I’ll try and help out!

**I’m in no way discouraging or downplaying the importance of reading books about Design. I’d highly recommend anything by Steven Heller, Debbie Millman, and Paul Arden to name a few