I wish I was a good designer.
I'm not bad...I can put together a balanced page that isn't ugly...but I just don't have the skill to take a good but pedestrian design and make it eye-catching. Wish I did.
But I do know good design when I see it.
And just as important, I know a bad design when I see it too...and I can usually figure out at least part of what's wrong with it.
I never took a class in graphic design, although I did take undergrad classes in drawing and photography, which probably helped. But I owe most of my "design eye" to three women: Robin, Molly and Pam.
Robin is Robin Williams, author of The Non-Designer's Design Book; Molly is Molly Bang, author of Picture This: Perception & Composition; and Pam is Pam Linwood, a friend and Kansas City-based direct marketer and freelance writer.
In my PR 191 -- Strategic Writing class, I make Robin Williams' The Non-Designer's Design Book a required text. I figure that, at some point in their careers, most PR practitioners will end up working on print pieces or web pages, either doing it themselves (in small shops/offices) or working with graphic designers. And that means it helps to have an understanding of the basic principles and lingo of graphic design.
In yesterday's class, I reviewed Robin Williams' four basic principles of design and Molly Bang's 10 principles of perception and perception, and had my students tackle one of Robin Williams' graphic design exercises. I also assigned my students to find two print pieces or web pages to critique -- one they like and one they don't -- based on these design principles. I call this assignment "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," and I find they learn as much from bad examples as they do from good ones.
Once you start looking, you start seeing...whether you're looking for typos or good design. For example, as I was reading the newspaper today, I found a great example of one of Molly Bang's principles in a comic strip (you can read about that in this post in my PR 191 class blog).
That's one reason why I encourage my PR students to start filling an "idea file" (sometimes called a "cheat" file) with examples of good design. When you've got a project and you need some inspiration, it always helps to have a file full of great examples to draw upon. That's something I learned from my friend Pam Linwood, back in the day when we worked together at the Livestock Marketing Association (no kidding!), planning and publicizing the organization's annual conference.
Another thing I learned from Pam is the value of being a motivated learner -- of being willing and able to teach yourself new skills. In an era when so much is changing so fast, that's probably the most important skill of all. I hope I can help my students figure that out too.