Setting aside whether the aesthetic or style of my design is particularly original or not, I have a way of solving design problems that’s predictable, at least. For better or worse, there are certain tropes, tendencies, tricks and clichés that I repeatedly enlist in the pursuit of a design solution. I thought to myself the other day, wouldn’t it be fun to list them all out?
Five Ways to Design Like Me
Here we go, then: a five-step program to design like me…
- Use a grid, specifically use this grid. On this subject, I’ve already said plenty, so I won’t expand too heavily on it here. Though it’s worth saying that I’ve been using this same eight-column grid for more projects than I care to admit to over the past few years.
- Left-aligned, top-aligned and nudged elements, please. I tend not to center text blocks when I can left-align them, and I tend to ‘pin’ items to the top and let them dangle below, too. I like the way that this regimented yet perfunctory placement of type within an area can still define the space; the text ‘owns’ the entire area without having to visually occupy the whole box. Of course, this technique goes hand-in-hand with nudging one’s elements.
- Flat, simple and geometric. Aside from those pesky buttons at the bottom of each post on the Subtraction.com home page, I generally avoid drop shadows, gradients or dimensional rendering. I like everything to be reduced to its least superfluous essence, and rendered by the browser (rather than as a JPEG or GIF) if possible. That same impulse leads me to use a lot of one-pixel rules, rendered by CSS as borders, too. You’ll find those everywhere.
- ‘Hang’ meta information in a left-to-right hierarchy. This is a design conceit I’ve been using for years and years; mostly because its highly structural aesthetic is very pleasing to me. But beyond that, I find the look to be very usable; having meta-labels visually separated to the left improves scannability. Moreover, dedicating practically a whole left-hand column to meta-labels is a handy excuse for creating narrow text columns, which of course mean shorter lines (a “shorter measure,” in traditional design jargon) which are much easier for the eye to traverse.
- Use Helvetica. If it’s not already obvious, this is the workhorse that I return to time and time again. There’s nothing that works quite as well, in my book, though once in a while I’ll quite unexpectedly decide to branch out a bit. Not often, though.
I’m not pretending I’m special for having a set of rules like this. In fact, it’s probably no exaggeration to say that every designer is working with a set of design principles of their own, right? I’d be keen to read similar lists; readers can post them here in comments or, if you’re blogging them yourselves, link to them below.