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Developing your critical design eye

Title of podcast episode. Developing your critical design eye. Girl standing looking at artwork



If you want to be a successful designer one of the most important things that I believe you need is to develop your critical designer.

So what is your critical design eye and why is it important?

It’s so easy to learn how to technically create a pattern design. We can all hop onto YouTube. We can hop onto Skillshare. We can learn the basic processes to create a repeat, that part is easy to do but what is much harder is making sure that you’re creating a design is really successful and that’s what’s going to take your designing to the next level.

So if your goal is to put your designs out in front of people and have them purchase your designs then I want to encourage you to start thinking about how learn how to critically look at your designs.

This can be hard to do when you’re first starting out and this is something that I commonly see when I first start working with my Pattern to Product mentoring students. Commonly my students may create designs that may include some beautiful elements and they can see that the design isn’t as good as it could be but they find it difficult to know how to fix it or what to change to make it better. Developing your critical design eye is something that does take experience and practice. As I mentioned, it’s easy to piece everything together and learn how to technically create a pattern repeat and learning the ins and outs of the design software and that’s something that you may even be doing right now.

I liken this to taking a photo. Everyone can take a photo really easily these days especially having a camera on your phone but not everyone’s a great photographer who really considers things such as the composition, the light and the framing, etc.  That’s the same for pattern designs. I see a lot of people creating pattern designs that are technically correct technically but the pattern itself is lacking and that is why the person is finding it hard to be able to sell their designs.

So in order to be able to create successful designs and your collections you want to ensure that you are developing your critical design it. This is being able to objectively look at your design and see what you need to fix in order to make it better. So when you are looking at your designs, ask yourself, is there something I need to add or remove? Is the color palette working? Does the balance feel off? Are the elements working together really well? Being able to pinpoint which elements are not working, which elements are working, what you need to add more of what you need to add less of or remove is really crucial. Learn how critically assess what you have in front of you so you can make it the best it can be. Sometimes it’s just the simplest of tweaks that can really help elevate your designs.

Individual and bespoke critique is something I offer my Pattern to Product mentoring students and it’s something that I have the most joy in doing. I love seeing how elevated their work becomes once they’re given critique.  I do highly recommend having someone that’s more experienced than you give you critique on your work if you are given the opportunity as this will help you grow your own critique skills quickly. You can also get feedback from peers too but one of the things that I would caution you against is that if you are asking for feedback from someone who is learning at the same level as you, they can only give you feedback with the experience that they have. If their experience is the same as yours, then you’re unlikely to get the feedback that you require.  So I really highly recommend, if you can work with a mentor in this process to take advantage of that as it really will help you fast track your results. Having someone point out to you exactly what to change will make things become a lot clearer. When I work with my students the response I often get is ‘ thank you, that makes total sense now that you’ve pointed it out.’ It’s amazing to see how with just a few simple little tweaks how much more elevated their designs become.

If you are just getting started with this process and you want a few little tips to think about in terms of what you can look for in your design if you think something’s not quite working and you can’t figure out why, then something I most commonly see with my students and probably the biggest piece of feedback that I give is lack of intentional placement of their elements. People often look at the repeat square that they’re filling and feel like it has to be filled with elements. Rather than thinking about the elements and the way they work together to tell a story, they think about the space and filling all of the space and this is usually why their design isn’t working. That is because they’re not thinking about their design intentionally. So what I’d recommend do if you’re seeing something’s not working is asking yourself these questions. Have I thought intentionally about the placement of my elements within this design? Is this design telling a story or does it just look like it’s filled with elements with no real sense of place or importance within the space? And what I mean by that is just randomly adding the elements in there without thinking about how each of those elements works together.

There’s no point in just adding a whole lot of elements just for the sake of it. Each element should elevate the design in some way. So make sure you’re thinking about that when you are putting your design together. To help with this, I really recommend that when you’re creating your pattern repeat that you begin with one element that you repeat out, and then you gradually start adding in other elements so that you can really objectively add to the design rather than just filling the space and hoping for the best. Like I mentioned, anyone can create a design, but the next and the most important step is learning how to develop your critical design eye so you can really elevate your designs to the next. You want to make sure that you are critically assessing your work so that you can create beautiful designs and have them stand out and be noticed, and also so that you can sell your designs successfully.


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