Designing Experiences You Can Feel

One of my favorite parts of being a designer is picking out paper. Just thinking about opening a Mohawk sample book and feeling each and every swatch between my thumb and index finger heightens my senses. Considering the weight, the texture, the coating. Imagining not just what a finished piece will look like, but what it will feel like. There is just something so fulfilling about holding a completely realized package in your hands. It’s a high, really. And yes, I’ll admit it – I have an addiction.

It’s why I started making books. Not only to fund my paper addiction but to consistently make something with my hands; to hold and feel a beautifully bound creation at the end of the day. It’s cathartic. It’s motivating. It’s inspiring. Making books changed how I think about the way we design in today’s world.

The Tactile Experience

Not one single part of my bookmaking process is done on the computer, or with any kind of machine for that matter. I draw specs with a pencil in a notebook. I measure with a ruler. I cut with an
X-ACTO knife. I paste with glue. I bind with a needle and thread. It reminds me of how simple it is to forget about one of the most important tools we have as designers – our hands. When we can do just about anything working with the Adobe Suite, why are our hands so important? Because they bring life to our work – texture, emotion, empathy.

Design Trends

In recent years, we’ve seen minimalism and flat design take over design trends. Sans serif fonts. 2-dimensional icons. Clean, perfect shapes. We’ve seen brands simplify their logos and branding, many to the point of having no character left whatsoever. But it makes sense. Our life revolves around technology; our phones are glued to our hands. And simple, monochrome design functions very well in low-pixel environments. It’s more responsive. It loads faster. It’s quick to create.

But it’s lifeless. And from a designer’s perspective, it limits artistic freedom. Luckily these movements work like a pendulum and already designers are pushing back with a new generation of trends: analog meets digital. Warm color palettes. Brushstrokes. Textures. Freehand illustrations. Serif fonts. Dimension. All within a digital space. After all, we don’t just design for computers. We design for people.

Time to Play

I love Adobe products just as much as the next designer. They provide the potential to play in a way you can’t with pen and paper, with paint and canvas, with a camera and a darkroom. One of the biggest reasons is time. When you’re on the clock, time to play is a luxury. And what would take hours by hand could take only a few minutes in any one of the Adobe programs.

Today, making a mistake means a quick click of Command+Z, not crying until you come to terms with the fact that you really do have to start over. I wasn’t around in the olden days when designers had to literally cut and paste type onto their layouts. But I’ve heard those horror stories. Considering this, it’s only logical that the first tool we turn to is digital.

But maybe it’s not the first tool we turn to. Maybe we create a typeface with an actual paintbrush before scrolling through font libraries. Maybe we create a physical brochure mockup before firing up InDesign. Maybe we sketch some logo ideas with a pen and paper before jumping on Illustrator.

Bringing Human Back

The truth is making an imperfect circle in Illustrator is actually more difficult than making a perfect one. When it’s so easy to make something perfect, the challenge becomes making it imperfect. Making it real. Making it human. With the often cold, disconnected reality of the digital world, we just want to feel something. And as designers, it’s our job to make you feel by merging worlds. Bringing watercolor to a website. Animating hand-drawn illustrations. Creating an experiential print piece. Our creativity is invigorated when we physically interact with materials; incorporating traditional artistic techniques in the work we design makes an entirely unique experience that can be felt, an experience that ignites a sense of humanity and nostalgia. And at the end of the day, this is what we remember, this is what we hold onto.