A Subconscious Designer

I want to write about design, but I don’t know where to begin. I have been a designer for 20 years and received an MA in graphic design; therefore, I am conscious about design. If I were to start now, I don’t think I would even get into design.

Like most kids who started college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I went to La Salle University and major in communications because my cousin thought I was skillful at broadcasting, which I had never done anything with it before. It turned out communications had to do with writing and public speaking. I was terrible at both. Within the first semester of my freshman year, I knew I didn’t want to major in communications. I quickly switched to digital arts and multimedia design, which I also knew nothing about, but I didn’t have to speak in front of the class.

One of my first classes in my new major was learning Photoshop and I was hooked. In class, I just opened up Photoshop and played. Occasional my professor dropped by and said, “That looks cool.” I had no prior training in design and I can’t draw. I did not understand anything about design. The first webpage I made filled with blinking text, animated gifs, and colorful Comic Sans on black background. When I showed it an art history professor, she shook her head in disbelief. My design was driven by the software programs I had learned instead of the other way around, but I was not alone. The digital art and multimedia design program was brand new; therefore, many of the students including me did not have any design background.

The art history professor had to stop us from using the computers. She required us to buy sketch book, color papers, and glue. I still remember cutting out circles and squares from a piece of black paper and glued them into our sketch book. I did not understand the purpose of the exercise and thought it was a waste of time. I had no clue about composition, color, and design theory. Typography was not even taught in the program. I was not even aware of typography because we can only use a handful of system fonts for the web.

In retrospect, I would cringe at the design I did back then. If I were conscious of how terrible I was, however, I probably could not have become a designer. I came into design from a subconscious view. I thought I was good at it and I did not know how bad I was. I was like those aspiring singers who thought they are good at singing but they sound terrible. Then they would eventually sing better if they keep doing it.

The entry into design is low, but continuous learning is required to get better. My fifteen-year-old nephew Eric Trần is a good example. He started by using whatever tools available to him. He created his website using Wix and continued to hone his design skills. I don’t even know what tools he uses for photography and what typefaces he has access to, but his designs look much better than mine when I first starting out.

Like everything else, you just need to start somewhere. Don’t worry if your design isn’t good. You’ll get better eventually. Just don’t be too conscious about it.