Design Workshop: DESIGN IT RIGHT NOW.

While you were rolling in bed on a lovely lazy Sunday morning last weekend, the Dwelling team and participants were having a blast at our latest workshop, Design It Right Now. And if you’re lamenting over having missed out on all the fun, here are the highlights!

The workshop trainer, Julia Ng, a passionate and experienced designer of 23 years, shared with us that good design communicates its essence simply, and just like Mies van der Rohe said, “Less is more.” So design is more than beautifying something, be it a brochure, poster or a physical product. And even if we have a lot to say, understanding how graphic elements work—such as lines, shapes, colors, textures, and space—can distill our communications into the bare essentials needed to get our message across.

To illustrate the point, Julia had the participants begin with a simple exercise, to draw a cat, a mouse, a church, and a house in 30 seconds each. That had some participants caught off guard, thinking that 30 seconds was a very short time, especially since many of us had forgotten how to draw. With peals of laughter and surprise, participants realized that their mouse looked too much like the cat they just drew, and their drawing of a house looked like that of their church, sans cross. Everyone used up the 30 seconds they had and added details in a determined attempt to illustrate the subjects clearly. Although they managed to communicate what they were, the excess embellishments were totally unnecessary. In comparison, Julia drew the same items in just 2 to 3 strokes each and they could be identified more clearly than everyone else’s.

Julia showed us many examples of the importance of knowing how to use lines, shapes, colors, textures and space in design. Participants learnt that lines can be sensuous, speedy, calligraphic, or energetic. We also had an interesting observation of how colors and shapes are associated with different meanings and moods, and how culture plays an important part in communicating: For example, red in the Western world is associated with warnings and danger. However, in China it is a symbol of fortune. Hellen shared that if you are reading the stock market in China and think that a stock you’re looking at is ‘in the red’, you’re reading it wrong—that stock is actually doing well! Quite the opposite if you were looking at the stock market in the USA.

We went on to the subject of typography, a large part of visual communication we cannot ignore. Most people see type as type—a bunch of words limited to the standard typefaces on our computer, and boring text on a page. On the contrary, Julia shared that she sees type as image, pictures she can play with in different arrangements to communicate her message and the essence of the subject matter. We saw many examples of how type talks and could bring any piece of communication to life, and how text and image can be combined seamlessly into a dance to enhance mood and message. And on the point of images, Julia shared the principle of having a large, impactful picture that grabs you rather than little postage stamps for pics that you might as well not even show because you can’t distinguish anything in them.

Now, with lines, shapes, colors, textures, space, text and image as visual tools of communication, just how do we lay them out to create well-balanced and visually interesting designs that don’t end up looking vanilla or like a circus? That is where grids come in. We learned that the Golden Ratio and the Fibonacci Series are proportions found in nature, like the Nautilus shell or a flower, that we find naturally beautiful. Never thought of that when you looked into a rose, right? Another way to put everything together would be to use the Rule of Thirds. Julia showed us the difference between having the focus of an image in dead center and having it in a third of the space, and we saw just how something so subtle could make a big difference in whether a poster looked interesting or boring.

With a million and one ways to design something, how would we know what’s right? Julia gave everyone an overview of how to position a brand, and an example of one she worked on. If you thought visual communication was just limited to 2D graphics on a page, Julia illustrated how the brand promise could communicate through a dimensional experience, involving music and sound.

Said Julia, “You have to be a rebel to take something that exists and push the creative envelope to breathe life into things we see everyday and take for granted.” To which she showed how A4 paper could be used as part of the content, not just to contain it.

Once armed with this knowledge, participants were ready to create their own designs! Everyone came up with ideas for their posters, websites, banners and logos. When it came down to creating it on their laptops, many found that design was harder than they realized! It was a visual treat as Julia showed pieces of her work done over the years for clients in various industries, and her thinking behind them. Looking at the wonderful examples that Julia showed was one thing; doing it themselves was another. So it was a great relief to have Julia near by to learn under her guidance and get something accomplished at the end of the day!