It’s important these days to stand out in the current competitive environment and so most successful artists and designers develop their own style. This is no accident. This is a conscious decision by these artists to choose certain ways of working and particular tools that help them create that style. This can take a lifetime of practice and dedication to refine as you’re always adding bits or taking things away from your personal style until you’re happy with its current incarnation.
I just thought I’d share five quick tips on how to develop your own design style and your own working methods.
Limit your tool-set
It is well known that a designer’s best work comes out of creating in a restrictive environment. It helps you think more creatively when overcoming obstacles or making design decisions.
So limit the amount of tools that you use. The more limited your tool-set is, the more obvious your design style is. Why use Photoshop and Illustrator and Rhino 3D and After Effects? Look at what Timothy J Reynolds can do with a copy of Cinema 4D and PhotoShop.
Why have Painter, PhotoShop, Paint Shop Pro, GIMP and Krita installed when Krita will do most of what you want and if it can’t you’ll have to think of creative ways around this. David Revoy only uses Open Source software and you can recognise his style anywhere.
Delete all the creative software off your computer and only re-install a bare minimum. Better still, only install one piece of software: Tom Hughes only uses Illustrator and creates great results.
Limit your assets
Now you have a smaller selection of tools to use, we are going to restrict them further still by removing everything but the most essential of your assets.
Limiting the colours you use helps define how you look. Take Shepard Fairey for example. You can recognise his work anywhere and he usually only uses 3 colours in his images.
Create yourself a limited colour palette and only use those colours.
Fonts and typefaces
Our computers are full of typefaces, most of which remain unused. Delete them all. Select 10 typefaces and only use them. Or less, maybe only five typefaces. Again, the more limiting you are, the more defined your style will be. Ensure that you have some serif, some sans-serif and a few others that go well together.
Delete all your brushes and only rely on three, say: a line, a block and an airbrush. Or perhaps: a thin brush, chalk and charcoal. Using only three brushes means that you might have to learn how to create results in different ways. This all adds up to defining your design style.
Textures, styles, patterns, etc.
Remove them all. Choose just a couple and use them. You get the idea.
Limiting your tools means you can get better at them quicker, helps you find more creative ways to do things which can make your work feel more unique, and it makes your work look more familiar.
Reuse, reuse, reuse
If you’ve making a 3D scene and need a tree, don’t model a new one if you have one already created. Just use that one again. This will not only save you time, but will also start giving your work a similar feel and help it become easier to recognise.
Start developing your own elements files and folders. Fill them with assets you have already created so when you start working on new projects you already have a large selection of pre-created assets that you can dip in and reuse.
This helps reinforce your visual style and gives a familiarity to your work.
Understand your processes
Write down your working methods. Instead of having a deck of cards that aids creativity, create a deck of cards that nails down how you do things. It might be techniques like “draw lines one one layer and fill on another”, or it might be more detailed instructions like “how to optimise images for CMYK printing”.
Understanding your own design procedures shows the way you work and, in turn, affects the work that you produce. You can also identify problems in your processes and streamline your methods to be more effective.
If you can apply these design patterns consistently across all your work, it can only reinforce your style.
Master your tools
Now you have less tools to play with and you understand how you do things, its time to get better at them. This will be easier because you’re not spreading yourself so thinly across a larger tool-set.
Give yourself a challenge to create something new once a day for 21 days. For 50 days. Longer. It doesn’t have to be a big challenge, just be consistent with it. After that, give yourself a different challenge for another period of time.
Keep these challenges up alongside your regular work for the rest of your career and it will help you refine your creative techniques and hone your design skills into creating something familiar and easily identifiable.