How to become a better designer: analyze other designs
It makes sense to say that to become great at something, we need to put in the effort and time.
The same goes for becoming a better designer; we need to spend hours practicing.
But instead of mindlessly diving into our favorite design tools and start creating your weekly Dribbble images, I might have a more effective approach for you.
I’ve heard about this approach before, but it’s only recently that I applied the method and found it very insightful.
What I’m referring to here is to analyze a design from a visual perspective before creating something off the top of your head. Meaning: to look at someone else’s work and analyze the grid, the spacing, the balance, the typeface, the hierarchy, the color, everything, to really understand how something is created.
In this blog post, I’ll take you along this approach on how to analyze a design. So it’s going to be a bunch of images below. Hope you enjoy it and I hope you find it effective as well.
How to become a better designer: 4 steps
Example Design 1
Step 1: The Grid
This is the design we will be working with.
We know using grids creates better designs, often making them less chaotic. So, I wanted to discover the grid first. I’m usually using a 12-column grid, but perhaps this designer used something else.
I drew a rectangle over the left image, assuming it was placed on some kind of grid.
I was correct, and after moving some rectangles around, I discover a 12-column grid here. Unfortunately, nothing fancy here. But then again: nothing wrong with a good ol’ 12-column grid.
Step 2: Repetition of sizes
Using a limited set of sizes for all your design elements often results in a better-looking design as well. The eye unconsciously notices repetition, making it easier on the eyes, easier to perceive, and less heavy on our cognitive abilities.
I measured the size of the left image and some other elements to discover there was indeed a lot of repetition going on.
Step 3: What gridlines are used
Even if we have 12 columns available to use, it’s often better to limit where we align elements. Why? For the same reason as mentioned above: creating repetition is easier on the eyes: and less chaotic.
In the image below, we see 6 grid lines are used. A bit much for my taste, perhaps explaining my gut feeling that this design was a bit too chaotic.
Example Design 2
For this second example, I picked a more outspoken design. Because figuring out the grid doesn’t enable you to design in a specific style yourself. It’s also a question of what choices make or break this specific look & feel.
Step 1: Margins
To give you a better idea of what I’m talking about: this design used very minimal margins around the design. Interesting, because I’m used to the opposite: using huge margins.
Yet, I very much do like this design. So, an interesting discovery here.
Step 2: Grid
I was again curious about the grid and figured it’s again a 12-column grid. But as mentioned above: with very minimal margins: 8px all around.
While setting up the grid, we see most content is on the right, creating a sense of a-symmetry. Which is a good thing by the way. Perfect symmetry can be a bit boring. Just enough a-symmetry created a sense of tension, making it a bit more exciting.
Did you know my first article on Deesignre was about tension? You can read it here.
Step 3: Composition
While looking at that balance mentioned above, we also notice this diagonal line.
Step 4: Typography
Something we clearly cannot miss is the huge contrast in font size. Writing on top of this design I quickly discovered 3 font sizes:
- 425px for the heading (that’s huge).
- 18px for the menu.
- 12px for some small side details (right of the large image).
I quite recently discovered the advice to limit the number of fontsizes you use in your design, to somewhere around 3-4. So for example, 16, 24, and 72. You can read more about this and more typographic tips here.
Let’s put it into practice
As a final step I got a practice brief from https://goodbrief.io/, as a test (or exam if you will) of whether I could apply this style successfully and add it to my inventory of styles.
I was unfamiliar with the design choice to use very small margins around your design. I discovered this works quite well, but only when the whitespace is moved somewhere else to keep the minimal look.
While the second image is quite well balanced, the first clearly has some more tension: more elements are moved to the right side of the screen, but with the large font taking up some space on the left, the overall balance is only off by a bit: thus creating the desired tension.
I limited the number of gridlines I used to align elements. Even when transitioning to different screens I stuck to the same columns. Take a look at the paragraph for example, the text in the lime circle, and the paragraph and button on the next page.
I personally do find a design much more interesting with the added tension that arises when large and small font sizes are combined.
Besides that, I only used 3 or 4 font sizes in the entire design, which really helps to keep the minimal clean look.