Robert Bowen October 11th, 2011

The Keys to Organic Designs

In the world of design we all tend to have our processes and approaches that rule how we craft our work. This is essential for most of us in the field to have in place. Our own systems that we have spent years honing and developing down to less of an art, and more of a routine. We do this so that we have an order by which we can methodically craft our designs without letting any little things slip through those proverbial cracks. Our processes tend to be a series of steps that help us cover all of our bases. But this can also prove to have a negative impact on our work. Over time, our design processes begin to take on somewhat of a puzzle feel. The routines dissect the design into different pieces, and each element gets handled on an individual basis by and large. This can leave the various elements feeling disconnected from each other rather than having that uniformity and complementary flow we tend to be going for. This is not to say that the designs will be ineffective or lack any sense of unity, just that there will be some element of clunkiness to it as the elements more fit together like pieces of puzzle than flow together. But how do we find our way to those more organic designs that come together with this sense of complete unity? Hopefully this post can help. Below is a discussion of tips that one can follow which can lead our designs towards these paths of elevated potential.

The Flow

The main element to working organically when designing is the flow. Having the design come together in this fashion allows for this feel to transfer over into the piece itself. So we need to find this flow and tap into it for the benefit of our design. We need to go with it and not force it, or we risk compromising the free and completely connected organic structure that will make the design stand out and communicate more freely with the viewer. The more this flow is nurtured, the better it will serve the design. And there are a few ways that we can help foster this flow throughout the design process. Ideally, our work should maintain a constant flow of communication and interaction with the users much like the uninterrupted movement of a stream always rushing towards its goal. The communication assist offered by this flow is really one the main benefits that cause designers to focus in on this more organic approach. Given that design is such a communicative artform, any aids we can equip the design with can make the piece that much more effective. With each element within the design having a more natural connection to each other, the entire piece is more likely to communicate the message easier to the viewer. Not to mention more completely. So the importance of this connection throughout the design that links all of the various elements should not be devalued. And the best way to instill it in the work is to let the design flow organically together, do not force any aspect of it.

The Doodle Way

Now many designers swear by the power of the pen and paper for getting the design process underway, but not many of them hype the help it offers in keeping the flow in your work. By starting off on paper, it allows us the overview where we see the design as a whole right from the beginning, instead of jumping onto the computer and taking the design piece by piece. And this powerful means for tapping into the flow and elevating your designs, starts by just sketching. It is as simple as that. You just doodle your way to the design, so to speak. Let your mind run through the brief points provided by the client as you put pen to paper and let the ink flow freely. Whether it is specifically related to the project or not, just go with it. You might just find you are on the road to discovery.

Off-Topic Tours

Finding the flow is not always as easy as just putting the pen to the page and seeing what comes from it. There are times when we need that inspirational kickstart to get us flowing. Going off-topic can assist us in these efforts. By browsing through galleries of unrelated artistic mediums we can often find our way into that flow that we need. Even if it feels like a waste of time, we have to understand where it can lead us. We could be taking virtual tours of photography portfolios and find that the composition of a particular photo or its color scheme flip that proverbial switch in our minds giving us a rush of ideas for our own design.Even in the simplest, most unrelated of photos we can stumble onto a trigger that will get the flow going once again. Like in the above photo where a site layout comes forward from the subtle trespasses onto the lightly textured white space of the sky by the trees.  This approach also gives us somewhat of a creative reset, taking our minds out of the boxes we can find ourselves in when we begin a new project. Our routines tend to keep our minds in a design holding pattern when we get started, and this can be hard for us to break out of. Allowing our creativity to flow freely without being hampered in any way by our usual processes. Unplugging from these routines and venturing off-topic might be the best way to allow our minds to organically find their way to the design we were looking for in the first place.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Sometimes the flow does not find you right away, and with the deadlines looming it may be important to go ahead and get started without exactly being tapped in. Again, forcing the work tends to be a bad idea, though there are times when we do not have a choice and we have to start showing some signs of progress. In these instances, the flow is not necessarily to be written off, but simply tapped into in a different manner. Start by sweating the small stuff. Work with the minor details, the little things that tend to not take much to sort out. As you begin to provide solutions for these more minor details, other larger solutions can begin to blossom and come into focus. So if we have to force any aspect of the design to get things started in the beginning, then keep it small. As we provide these smaller solutions within the design they may lead us to or even mirror larger ones that we can implement. In this manner, the flow finds us, just not right away. This can be a scary start to the project, especially if we believe it to be indicative of the way the entire project will unfold. However, this is not always a recipe for truly organic work as there may be elements that were not as much inspired as they were demanded. Which actually takes us to our next friend of the flow, the evolution.

Allow the Evolution

It is easy when we are feeling the pressure, to create certain elements for the design and then set them aside as they are completed. And given that we can tend to let the pressure put us in a sort of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mental state, once we have these elements handled, we effectively forget about them. Not saying that we forget they are finished and we end up repeating ourselves, but more that we get to a place where they are no longer up for consideration. We have those solutions in place, and we refuse to revisit them for fear of wasting time that we do not feel we have. This is a huge disservice to the design and to the flow. We allow ourselves to get into that place where we never look back, or return to the elements we consider done. But as other elements are introduced and the piece evolves we must turn back and examine how this evolution impacts what came before it. When we are attempting to work organically, we have to let the flow evolve the design in whatever ways it sees fit as the process is carried out. Even if the solutions have already been put into place, if we are working on another aspect of the design and suddenly feel like we need to revisit those that we deemed done, then we must. Especially if they were smaller elements and they were forced in order to get things flowing in the first place. But no matter the case, if the flow that you are feeling tempts you towards this evolution of any element you need to listen to it and allow it to happen. Otherwise you are risking the effectiveness of the flow, and the organic feel of your work.

Outside In or Inside Out

If we view the design during our process as more of a connect the dots and less of a puzzle that we must piece together, then we are more likely to connect with the organic nature of the work. And like with a connect the dots picture, the image is there we just have to connect all of the various elements together to really bring the piece into focus. Meanwhile if we are looking at it as a puzzle we begin to take it in pieces, rather than viewing the entire piece as a whole. We begin trying to identify smaller images and identifiable aspects that we can use to get everything placed. With a connect the dots image we tend to start at either end and work our way towards the other. And to get a more organic design, this is how we should approach our work. Start at one end and let the image come into view as each connection is made, so to speak. To do this simply start working from the outside of the design to the inside, or even vice versa. Let the design naturally progress through the process smoothly, without jumping around from one area to the next. This is another instance where the pen and paper approach wins out. It gives us that ability to work on the design as a drawing, which can prove invaluable here. This will also tend to create those seemless connections between each of the elements that really brings the organic nature of the design home.

A Matter of Time

As we have already kind of touched on, one of the biggest barriers to being able to allow the designs to happen organically is time. In more ways than one, this enemy of organic designs can rob you of your flow and add stress enough to stifle your creativity. Forcing our hands, and unfortunately, all too often, our designs as well. So with this proverbial wild card hanging in the air over our heads, we have to find a way to keep time on our side throughout the design process for the sake of the project and our reputations. And there are a couple of ways in which we can do this.

Schedule With Care

First and foremost, when we can help it, we need to schedule with care. Now we do not always have the benefit of being able to set the deadlines for a project based on our own variables and preferences. Generally the client has a timetable of their own that they are dealing with as well which must be taken into account. So when it comes to the project deadlines there is often only so much we can do to ensure that we allow for ample time and room for the design to organically grow the way we would like. This is not to say that the timetables are totally out of our hands, as we can easily pass on a job if we feel the deadline is too constrictive; and some clients will grant us more time if we say it is needed. If we get a bit over-eager with our scheduling, then we may find that we are juggling too many projects at once for the organic route to be taken on any one of them.  One thing that we should never do is simply ignore the timetables the client introduces and decide that we are just going to get it done when it happens. Plan ahead and seriously consider how much time you feel the project will take to complete organically before you commit. One way to help gauge the necessary time you will need for a more organic design is to consider the amount of inspiration that you get when the project is presented. If you immediately feel a connection to the project and the ideas are sparking from the jump, then it might be a safe bet that the project will run smoothly and quickly. If you have no ideas or very little inspiration strike from the outset, then chances are you will need more time to connect and make the design happen in an organic fashion. So plan for it. Another scheduling concern that can work against us in this organic arena is more the result of overextending or committing ourselves. Do not misunderstand, it is certainly a good idea and sound practice to have more than one iron in the fire, so to speak. This way we can bounce back and forth between designs when we are not necessarily feeling inspired towards a particular one. However, we need to be careful not to take on too much so that our schedule becomes overloaded and time is no longer on our side or working for us. Suddenly it is working against us and that is not good for the projects or anyone involved.

Keep Your Eyes Off the Clock

Another way that time can impact our ability to organically grow our designs is by effectively psyching us out. When punching a clock it is easy to get sidetracked by the clock on the wall if we are not completely inspired, or worse, phoning it in. But if we are wanting to create a more naturally flowing and communicative design, then we are going to have to keep our eyes far from the face of the clock. This is something a given. For if we are keeping one eye on the clock while we are designing, then it holds true that we cannot be fully focused on the task before us. This consistent time-check sidetrack completely breaks our concentration, even if it is for just a moment, and that is unacceptable for this organic approach. It is simply not conducive to the flow. Time is never your friend in the organic design process when you are constantly keeping one eye on the clock, and dividing your focus from the project.  If we need to be aware of the time while we are designing so that we do not miss a meeting or anything of that nature, we can easily set an alarm for ourselves and then go ahead and dive right on in to the project. We do not need to be so focused on the clock then as the alarm will alert us as to the event that begs our attention. Our minds can be completely given over to the project at hand, and the clock can essentially keep an eye out for us.

How to Keep it Organic After Feedback

Now it is one thing to be able to craft the design in a completely organic fashion, but if you are working for a client then keeping it that way is something else entirely. This is a sad fact of the design field, that clients tell us what to keep and what to cut (or even worse for the sake of the organic flow and nature of the design, what to add). And it is certainly within their right to do so. But in the interest of keeping that organic harmony within the design, the client’s wishes are not always going to work for us. So that raises a couple of questions. How do we ensure it stays organic after their demanded cuts? Or how can we implement what they said organically?

Duck and Cover

One way that designers have found to somewhat guarantee that the necessary elements and thereby communication of the piece remains intact after the cuts have been handed down, is to strategically employ ducks throughout. This simply means to add obvious purposeful elements or additions to the design that are intended to draw the client’s eyes for cuts, so that the organics pretty much stay in play. This is not always looked on favorably, but if we are concerned that the client may cut some vital solution from the design thus compromising its effectiveness, and we feel they will not be swayed by our arguments then this may be the route to opt for. This way we can at least offer some coverage to those aspects of the design we feel it would not be the same without.

Look for Links

The often more difficult hurdle that the feedback stage can place in our paths, especially with regards to maintaining our organically designed structure, comes with the call for additions to be made. Given that so much effort was put in to having the piece come together as organically as possible, any additions that are asked for could potentially compromise the integrity of the organic flow of the piece. So when implementing feedback, you may want to try and find links to other elements or aspects that are already present in the design that these additions can be tied to so you keep that organic feel. This way the additions are woven into the organic fabric, and they do not feel like they are out of place or merely afterthoughts. Or at least, that is the hope.

Fill the Gaps

Another problem that can be created by this stage in the process, are the gaping holes that could potentially be left behind in the wake of it. If any cuts are demanded that leave the design feeling somewhat disconnected in areas and not as organic as it was, this needs to be addressed. These gaps can effectively compromise the design’s ability to communicate as it was intended, and as such, they must be tackled. This can be difficult to do, but if the gaps cannot be patched together and still convey what the design must, then we owe it to the project to attempt to repair the breaches. If we want to maintain that organic composition and flow of communication in the design then we have to find ways to bridge any of these gaps rather than leaving them as somewhat of an impasse in the design.  When it comes to these gaps left by the client’s cuts, we need to try and fill them as unobtrusively as possible so as to not draw attention to the ‘fillers’. Lest they end up on the chopping block as well once the client has a look at the revisions. So the more we can bring these gap repairs in under the radar the better. If we feel like masking them, we can opt to add a duck or two in the revision as well to more safeguard those additions we included for the sake of the design and its overall effectiveness.

In the End

Hopefully this post proved helpful in finding ways to grow more organic designs by approaching and viewing them as a whole right from the start. And for allowing the designs to happen with that flow of inspired effort, rather than forcing it via that stressed and breathless rush towards a deadline. In the end, there are other things that we can do to ensure more organic growth for our designs, it’s just that we tend to have to find ways that work for us on a more individual basis to get there. What ways have you found work for you to allow your designs to grow in a more organic manner? Let us know in the comments section below. (rb)

Robert Bowen

Robert Bowen is an emerging author, celebrated podcaster and poet, and most recently the co-founder and imaginative co-contributor of the creative design and blogging duo at the Arbenting and Dead Wings Designs.


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