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Why Designers Collect

How you go about educating yourself as a designer is a highly personal affair. But if you want to improve constantly, there are some things you can’t do without. Mostly, this means practicing an awful lot, and knowing how to take in all the stuff you see around you, and turn it into something that is original, beautiful and effective. I will explain how collecting design elements helps designers do these things, and improve their skills.

Designers collect to develop their taste, to keep up with design patterns (and to stay critical of them), and to help them create.

If you are a designer, chances are good you had an interest in the design of others well before you started out for yourself. When you started to design, you started to use your taste to judge your own work. For a while, your taste might be better than your skills, which can be disheartening. What you make doesn’t live up to your own standards, which might prevent you from asking for feedback by fellow designers and communities like Behance, Deviantart, and Dribble. You have the possibility to ask for feedback all the time and learn from it. You can trust in the fact that with practice, you get better. Ira Glass from the radio show This American Life gave some very good advice about this in an interview:

Your taste doesn’t exist in a vacuum, however. It needs to be fed and developed. An important part of this is to be aware of your environment and what goes on around you. A good designer constantly takes in the world around him and collects anything that stands out. By collecting things that speak to your taste, you make your taste more tangible, and you can not only explain, but also show to others what you like and find interesting.

Web designers create a part of a product that is mostly functional and interactive. This difference with artists makes it even more important to discover and collect. Users expect sites to behave in a certain way, so they can achieve certain tasks. Designers need to know these design patterns. You don’t always have to adhere to them, but you can only break rules well if you know them.

Knowing how to steal things around you in such a way that you still add value is a crucial skill for designers, and also something that requires to discover and collect work by other designers. Austin Kleon’s great post How to steal like an artist deals with this in a wonderful way.

The movie director Jim Jarmusch says the following about stealing like an artist:

Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. […] Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul […] In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to.” — Jim Jarmusch

With the question of why designers collect out of the way, we are left with the question of how to collect as a designer. This is of course a topic that is dear to us. We have developed Usabilla Discover to make collecting design elements far easier and more effective than current methods. It’s also a place to turn to for inspiration. Of course there are many ways to collect, but if you want to give our way a try, go ahead and request an invite for our beta.

We will touch on the subject of collecting more often on this blog. Until then, I recommend the interview with our designer Yoeri for tips on places where you can find great things to collect.

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