I learnt design by copying, transforming & combining ideas from people much better than I was

Everything is a remix is a very interesting and insightful video by Kirby Furguson. It encapsulates so much of what I want to say about creativity and my own experiences. Looking back on my own career everything I’ve created whether consciously or unconsciously has been the output of copying, transforming and combining works of people I admired and my own life experiences. Using the experiences of those who have come before me as building blocks to build on top of.

I truly believe our work and the way we solve problems is the by product of our influences and our experiences in life. Even when we are looking at user data and user insight, the way we will interpret and synthesise that information will be different from person to person. And I have no disillusions that “I am standing on the shoulders of the giants who have come before me.” 

I think being a designer is similar to being a chef, we are learning recipes and flavour combinations over time. Like how tomato goes with basil and ham goes with cheese. We learn that Helvetica goes with swiss design and black goes with red. As more time passes you naturally build up a repertoire of ideas and recipes that you use when the right project presents itself. Your library of ideas and thinking becomes much larger allow you to mix and remix different solutions effortlessly. You have the ability to come up with a lot of concepts easily.  I learnt by copying, remixing and combining ideas based on the work of people and agencies that I admired for many years. I think copying to learn is a great way to grow. I copied not just from designers but from artists, photographers, videographers and industrial designers and a whole gamut of other influences to synthesise my own ideas and points of view.

Don’t copy work like a poor knockoff but breakdown and take the essence of what makes something truly great. Perhaps it was my own incapability but I’ve never recreated things 1 for 1 even when I was just learning privately. I just found it too mundane and boring that I would always veer off the initial piece and naturally inject my own perspective. I think constantly creating and making things is a great way to really internalise ideas. I create a lot of half baked things for myself that sit in an ideas graveyard. Eventually though some of these ‘half baked concepts’ blossoms into fully fleshed ideas when the right projects come along. I just internalise things easier when I’ve created it already. 

 Life itself has so much you can copy from, I used to look at cars and try to copy certain ideas that could translate well to screen. So learn to copy from a wide ocean of materials and not from the same pools that everyone gathers to. Leverage the individuality of your own life experiences to solve problems in a way that is effective but also unique. After years of doing this I eventually found my own voice and a way to approach problems. Much like a seasoned chef learns to work with ingredients and a mastery of techniques. I learned to look at design from a lot of different angles, from design thinking and being user centric with my work. To being extra scrappy and iterating with prototypes and using the work to drive the conversation with clients for example. And the list goes on...

Much like cooking once you understand the basics, you have a great foundation to build upon. You can experiment with different ingredients and techniques to create harmonious results, by remixing and combining classical flavours to create new ideas. These ingredients in design are learning about type, copy, proportion, patterns, scale, hierarchy, colour by learning from the masters who have come before you and copying the work that speaks most to you. That is how I learnt to improve.