On Designing By Hand

On Designing By Hand

Nick Meccia

August 08, 2014

With great power comes great responsibility. And as our lives become more entwined with technology, it’s a designer’s responsibility to ensure that each experience remains impactful on a human level. The most important thing to consider as a designer is the message, and how to effectively communicate that message visually. Unfortunately, sometimes the convenience of technology can get in the way of expressing that message. Creating assets by hand instead of relying on the convenience of technology can clarify and enhance your message.

On Editing Photos

Photoshop Actions are a great way to save time when processing a batch of photos, but be wary of leaving the fate of each image in the hands of automation. Even though the example shots in your favorite photographer’s portfolio look fantastic, their workflow can’t account for the lighting or subject matter of every conceivable photo. Using actions is a great place to start visualizing a concept, but invest some time to finesse the details by hand so that the design isn’t lost in someone else’s message.

The rest of the actions in this set looked pretty good; why not this one? Not to mention how it completely changes the mood I was going for.
After making adjustments to some of the steps, it looks a little less death metal.

Instagram is another easy tool for altering photographs, but don’t allow its simplicity to override the meaning of a design. Create something that uniquely suits the content, and allow it to stand out from millions of other photos with the exact same style.

This one is too retro for the type of music I play.
Much more modern, and allows the colors of the band identity to stand out.

The problem with automating image processing is not borrowing from existing work, but failing to achieve the right effect. Take the time to find an option that works for the design—or better yet, create something totally original—and the message will stand out.

On Mocking Up

When a product is digital, it’s easy to Save For Web straight to the public folder of an app and call it a day, but a simple mockup doesn’t often tell the story of the brand. Photographing digital assets can allude to the process, and can help the audience imagine what a future experience might look or feel like.

The browser at the top gives me a hint of what this will look like on my computer, but it's not enough.
Not only can I better visualize the final product, but also my relationship to it.

Photos represent physical objects especially well, compared to mockups. Rather than show customers what a product could look like, take the time to shoot images that better represent real life.

I mean, it's a t-shirt, we get that.
Now, this shirt I can see myself wearing.

It’s easy to think of mockups as the destination, but going the extra mile toward delivering a more accurate message with photos of the experience will solidify and strengthen the design.

On Illustrating

Photography is great for a lot of things, but sometimes it’s impossible to capture the right image through a lens. Instead of forcing a comfortable process to fit the content, consider branching out to a different medium to more clearly express an idea. Illustration, for example, has a very different vocabulary from photography, and can possibly phrase an idea in ways clearer and more appropriate than any photograph could hope to achieve.

Quaint, but not exactly what I'm going for.
Same concept, but very different feel.

In the same vein, designing a website with code as the only visual input lacks the expressiveness that other mediums can offer. It may be easier to stick with a known and simple tool, but spending the time to address certain details with a different process can do wonders for creating a more unique and suitable impression.

These exact buttons appear on six other sites.
Hand-lettered links have much more personality.

Sometimes, taking the familiar path produces familiar results. Branching out to different methods of making images could be just what a design needs to gain a sense of individuality.