10 lessons I learnt as an artist that help me be a better designer

June 02 2023

Unlike other brand designers, I’m a self-taught designer who originally trained as an artist. Every day, I utilise skills from my art background that help my clients connect on a deeper level with their audience to build trust and, ultimately, revenue. 

One of the most terrifying things about art school are group critiques (crits). As anyone knows who has made something and asked people what they thought, it can make you feel vulnerable. Add in academic lecturers who push the group to be honest, and it’s enough to make the artist want to hide in a hole till it’s over!

Here’s 10 lessons I learnt as an artist that help me be a better designer:

Photo of candice holding a colourful book open in front of her face

1. How people interpret colour, texture, form, line, size, contrast

Art and design are similar, in that they cause a reaction in the viewer that is a feeling and or thought/association. The difference is, art is driven by the artist’s interests or experience, and design is driven by an end purpose or result.

Being in a room, every week for 3 years and hearing how different people respond to all the elements of a variety of artwork (made by students as well as in galleries, architecture, design, etc) was an invaluable education. I now draw on this first hand experience to ensure the right feelings and associations are created by your branding and website.

2. Feeling comes first, then thoughts/associations

Intentional branding means you are choosing your target audience’s first impression of you and your business. The first response is always a feeling. It may be hard for most people to describe, however it is there, even if it’s lacklustre. After the immediate feeling, comes the thoughts and associations the person has with your brand colours, shapes, fonts, illustrations.

3. Culture impacts how art and design is interpreted

It’s important to understand the cultural heritage and societal context of your branding and audience. Certain colour combinations will have different meanings to footy fans compared to gamers. 

Indigenous Australians will have different interpretations of some patterns than others. Gender can determine how some will see your brand colours. Hint: not every woman loves pink! Sometimes out of pure defiance of the norms!

4. There is power in subtlety

It doesn’t take much to change how a piece of art or design is perceived. Taking black down by 20%, reduces the contrast making it feel more refined than pure black on white. 

Likewise, an off-white or warm white is easier on our eyes, especially on screens, so this feels more welcoming and nurturing to the viewer. It has associations with paper, clouds, cotton, soft things.

Keeping a logo, and changing the font to a slightly thinner, more interesting one will add a sense of luxury and quality.

There are a million ways to maintain your brand core, while updating the colours and shapes to appeal to your ideal audience more clearly (based on research during the strategy phase of course!).

5. Simplicity takes a long time to get right

Because the less colour, decoration or detail, the more responsibility and weight is put on the text or colour that remains. So while minimal logos can look good, it’s also a skill that takes a very long time to learn!

Woman's hand sketching illustrations in a notebook

6. How to talk about art and design

And no, I don’t mean ‘art speak’, although I did learn that too. 

I mean how to use language to describe artworks or design or architecture and figure out which parts make me feel what.

Why is this useful? Because most people don’t confidently talk about art and design. Part of my job is translating what brand concepts are ‘saying’ in a way that makes sense to you. You can disagree and that is ok. But at least we have a starting point for discussion.

Once you hear how I talk about design, you’ll realise you can too! 

7. Receiving feedback isn’t scary 

Some designers may disagree with this. But I love getting feedback from clients! Because it means we’re getting closer to the winning idea. While I put love and effort into every part of every project, after 7 years of graphic design (and 3 years of art school crits prior to that!) I know that feedback isn’t personal. The research phase creates a clear brief, so we keep coming back to the purpose of the logo/brand/web design. Will it appeal to the right people in the right way?

8. A restricted design brief means more creativity 

The thing with being an artist is that you have to think of things to paint. Or sculpt. Have you ever sat down to draw a picture, and spend ten minutes wondering what to draw and then give up?

Well, a nice tight design brief puts strategic boundaries around what the end design will look like. And as a creative person, boundaries equals possibilities!

9. You can cultivate inspiration

This is tied to the point above. Artists are known to spend time waiting to feel inspired. Once when I was waiting around in the art school studio for inspiration to shoot out of the sky, one of my favourite lecturers at art school said go out and do something for fun! Read a book, go for a walk, talk to a stranger, anything.

A design brief and purpose is a bit like this. The brief can generate inspiration if you dive in and discover all about the business, purpose, audience and competition. If I’m designing for a cafe, I’ll go to cafe’s. If I’m designing for a creative, I’ll learn about their craft. There’s rarely need to wait for inspiration, because the research phase finds it for me.

10. People make the creative process more fun!

I loved art school. Absolutely soaked it up (yes I was a mature age student if you’re wondering!). But once I left, and starting painting on my own at home, I missed the people aspect. So I knew that whatever creative career I pursued, it had to involve working closely with people. The bouncing of ideas and debating the shade of a colour or shape of a petal brings me more joy than you know!

I'd love to help your business connect more deeply

Photo of Candice leaning against a textured white wall in the sunshine and smiling. She has long curly hair and a colourful jacket on.

Candice is the founder of Design Salad, a strategy loving design studio helping climate-consious women business owners shine brighter than ever before.

Design Salad specialises in thoughtful brand strategy and unique brand identities infused with artistry. 

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