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I'm a full-time professional designer in the early middle of my career -- I have been working as a designer full-time for 15 years.

I create lots of work that I am very proud of. However, when I look through something like a design annual, there is so much beautiful work that it makes me want to improve even more.

I've been thinking about this, and I think I mean that I want to improve in an aesthetic sense (which I know is subjective). I want my design to look more beautiful and pleasing. I'm very confident with achieving the communication goals of my design, and I even like how a lot of my design looks. But I would love to reach that higher level of beauty the masters seem capable of.

What should I do? How do I take my daily work to what I consider the next aesthetic level?

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Welcome! I'm not really certain how anyone could answer your questions. I don't think it's possible to merely explain on any web site how to have a better sense of aesthetics. Realize that 50% or more of the work in design annuals are not client based design. They are very often free-from-restriction self promotional pieces which eliminates the "the client wants this" aspect and allows for better design. If doing client-based design, you'll unlikely ever have the same freedom. –  Scott Jul 3 '13 at 17:10
    
This is kinda the "holy grail"... Aesthetic sense is one of the bigger parts of what gets called 'Talent' in arts&design and is very, very hard to improve. If there was an easy answer, everyone would do it! I hope you get a good answer though :-) In the mean time, try a mix of breaking out of current mindsets and being aware of the exact objective quality of your work, plus a mix of good old fashioned practice, plus making and learning from lots of mistakes.... –  user568458 Jul 9 '13 at 15:11

3 Answers 3

In addition, I'd say that to get off a plateau, it helps to get out of one's comfort zone and do some serious perspective changing. Engage (at least for a while) in something you'd hardly consider doing under normal circumstances. It does not need to be anything purely contrived for the sake of exercise. Instead if there's something you never thought you would or could do - give it a go. I'm talking about physical activities as well (if not mostly). Wanted to try flying? Sign up for a 'solo course'. Scuba diving? Are you predominantly a '2-d' artist? Take a sculpting or pottery class. Do you paint? Pick an artist you love to hate and give their style/methodology an honestly fair shake. Architecture? Computer programming? Last but not least, if you can find a mentor. That can have the most significant and most long reaching impact.

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Keep designing, keep viewing those showcases of other's work. As someone commented, a lot of what I see being shown off are designer portfolios and personal branding. In other words, rarely do I seem to flip through netmag and see anything more than interactive poster like micro sites for movies or a large brand in terms of client work.

That said, I view showcases and analyze effects, compositions, etc. Especially if anything catches my eye that I haven't noticed before. Aesthetic taste might be hard to improve, but if you feel like you're plateauing, you can compensate some with paying attention to visually pleasing patterns or effects and implementing them yourself.

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I think it just comes down to practice. Challenge yourself. Come up with some person projects to work on to push you in directions your normal paying work doesn't take you.

If you have the time/money consider picking up some classes or going back for degree/continuing education.

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