An Event Apart: The Experimental Zone

by Luke Wroblewski May 3, 2011

In her presentation at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2011 Veerle Pieters talked about how you can experiment better to expand your design ideas. Here's my notes from her The Experimental Zone talk:

  • How do you come up with new design ideas? There isn’t a single answer but the process of experimentation can help. Just trying out things can help you find interesting approaches to design.
  • Inspiration exists but it has to find you working. –Pablo Picasso
  • By trying out different things you can end up with effects that you like. Play with layers, rotations, colors, etc. in Photoshop. For example, spirographs can be created by adjusting a few simple rules and can result in lots of unique effects. Sometimes just overlapping geometric shapes make awesome designs.
  • 99% of what you try might not be what you are looking for. But 1% might be exactly what you want. Keep exploring.
  • When you start designing, you usually don’t have exactly what you to create in your mind. There are probably a few ideas you need to try out and explore. It’s ok to try out a dozen versions.
  • Every day spend 15 minutes doing something experimental to just have fun. It does not need to be for clients or work.
  • Maintain an inspiration gallery of your experiments. You can keep pulling it up to get inspired or apply something old to a new project.
  • Creating a mood board can be a really helpful way to experiment and get inspired.
  • Leave something alone for a day or to it really helps give a new perspective.
  • Jump between sketching, Illustrator, and Photoshop. Each medium can help you explore in different ways.

Practical Tips

  • Experimenting is great but it is really time consuming so here are some tips for doing it faster and better.
  • You can disable the default setting that adds “copy” to Photoshop layers. So you won’t have that on all your layers and they can have unique names.
  • Select the origin of a rotation on the corner to avoid blurring of pixel-specific images.
  • Pasting illustrator icons into Photoshop can result in blurred images. You can set 2x1pixel or 1x1pixel pasting options.
  • Tych Panel plugin allows you to arrange multiple images within a single image.
  • Guide Guide plugin allows you to create guides quickly within Photoshop.
  • Extensible Baseline Grids plugin allows you to create columns, rows and midpoints in Photoshop.
  • Quick tip: flipping text upside down allows you to see where there might be kerning issues in logos and fonts.
  • Color management: there is a big misconception that when people export images to Web. While they see a color shift, the colors are not changing in their image. It is their monitor displaying things differently. Calibrate your screen then set up color management in Adobe Creative suite. sRGB is the color set-up for the Web.
  • Conclusion: forget about what can’t be done and get creative. If you end up with something hard to build, just go backwards until get to something you can build or adjust.