The Creative MBA #1
Kickstart the growth of your design toolkit in 2023.
“Design is not a thing you do. It’s a way of life.”
If you get one percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done.
While the digest will be delivered weekly, each edition will function like a daily devotional for your design toolkit. The content will cast a wide net over concepts that have shaped my approach to design and life as a creative person: from design and technology to psychology and philosophy to business and art. It’s a curiosity-based curriculum that I’ve used to educate myself over the last decade, making it one part “everything I know” mixed with one part “everything I’m learning right now”.
Because the Better by Design community is represented by many fields and experience levels, I suggest you approach the Digest a bit differently based on your background:
For seasoned designers
The Digest will be a useful tool for spaced repetition: periodic reminders of useful concepts to help engrain what you’ve learned. While you likely have some familiarity with most of what I’ll share, I hope to pique your curiosity in some areas where you’ve perhaps spent less time and help guide your continued growth.
For less seasoned designers
Modern product design is a vast discipline. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything, but it’s important to get familiar with as much as possible. I hope the Digest introduces you to concepts that help build a more well-rounded skill set and serve as a jumping-off point to discovering the parts of design where you really want to dig deep!
For non-professional designers who still want to make nice things
The Digest will give you ample opportunity to discover concepts to clarify your creative thinking and improve your ability to bring ideas to life. My goal is to help you build a foundation of creative principles that will enable you to better express your ideas regardless of whether or not a designer is present.
Outside of using the digest as a solo tool for self-improvement, I’d also suggest sharing concepts that catch your eye with your colleagues, classmates, or collaborators. Building a shared vocabulary goes a long way toward making better creative spaces and the best insights often come from discussion and being able to compare others’ experiences with your own in a given area. An easy start would be to simply leave a comment on this post to open the conversation with me and the hundreds of other smart creatives who subscribe to Better by Design.
Finally, one quick operational note: while you’ll receive all formats of Better by Design by default, you can now toggle off individual sections in your subscription settings if one of them isn’t your cup of tea. Of course, I hope you get value from all of them, but I also want to respect your inbox and preferences.
Here’s to a 2023 full of creative growth!
Happy new year,
Monday – Social & Behavioral Science
Spaced repetition is an evidence-based learning technique that involves increasing the intervals of time between reviewing previously learned material in order to increase retention and recall.
It’s based on the idea that our brains are more likely to remember and retain information that we review multiple times over a period of time, rather than trying to cram all of the material at once without revisiting it.
Consider leaning into the spaced repetition delivered by this digest to help you regularly review and reinforce your own knowledge. I believe this approach will help you better incorporate the principles you learn into your work and set you up to create higher-quality products as a result.
Tuesday – Design Principles
Dieter Rams’ 10th Principle of Good Design
Good design is as little design as possible
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
I love the last of Dieter Rams' ten principles because to me it expresses something universal about craftsmanship: as you become more skilled and more seasoned you improve the economy of your efforts to achieve outstanding results.
Despite the complexity at hand, you're able to focus on the essentials.
Whether you're a software engineer who has learned to reduce your algorithm to its essence, a product manager who has learned to see through market trends to the key insights or a designer who has learned to employ only the most necessary methods to solve the problem at hand, the development of your craft is the same: less distraction, less waste, more intention, more impact.
Wednesday – Strategy
The Single Most Important Thing (SMIT)
Most people spend a lot of time debating what they should do.
But counterintuitively, defining strategy is more about what you don't do.
It's what's left after you intentionally rule out the other 99%.
In my time crafting ad campaigns at Leo Burnett, I learned to be militant about defining what we called the SMIT: the Single Most Important Thing a consumer should remember after seeing our ad.
We were militant about defining it because trying to communicate more would water down our message and increase the odds our intended audience would either remember nothing or, worse yet, remember the wrong thing.
No matter how much context we placed around it, the SMIT was the strategy.
While we applied this practice to designing advertising, you can apply it to designing just about anything.
Creating a brand?
What's the single most important thing you want someone to feel when encountering it?
Designing a product feature?
What's the single most important thing your customer needs to accomplish when using it?
Giving a presentation?
What's the single most important thing your audience should take away after hearing it?
Thursday – Execution
Primitives -> Components -> Patterns
Pretty much every good UI library for digital products puts some of its content into these three buckets. They aren't the whole design system, but they form the core.
Primitives are the most foundational, shared design values.
They’re the core of your visual design toolkit and are sometimes also referred to as "Foundations" or "Theme".
Examples: spacing values, type styles, color styles, and effects.
Components are the catch-all for every UI element.
They start with simple, low-level elements (that often map directly to official HTML elements) and become progressively more complex as they are composed together to make more specific, larger elements.
Examples: buttons, inputs, dialogs, etc...
Patterns are compositions of components put together to resolve common problems.
They are standards your team has aligned on in the context of your product (often reflecting industry standards, but not always). The key distinguishing factor between a Pattern and a Component is that a pattern is not enforced with code (aka. it is not programmed into an individual component).
Examples: Form structures, page layouts, messaging...
Friday – Technology
HTML Content Categories
HTML categorizes most of its elements into high-level groups called Content Categories that represent shared characteristics.
While not a silver bullet, leaning into these groups and sub-groups can help you drive alignment on the basic elements you need to cover in your UI system and also consider how you might treat similar elements.
Modify the presentation or behavior of the rest of the document (
<link>, <meta>, <style>,etc…
Most of the elements that go in the main body of your HTML document
<header>, <footer>, <nav>,etc…
A subset of Flow elements related specifically to Forms
Listed (Literally listed in the
Label-able (Can be related to
Submittable (Can build form data sent when the form is submitted.)
Resettable (Can be affected when the form is reset)
Don't directly impact document output, but support scripts.
Saturday – Career
Ikigai is a Japanese concept that refers to a sense of purpose or meaning in life. It is often used to describe the reason that someone gets up in the morning and feels motivated to live their life.
Ikigai is often described as the intersection of four key elements: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for. It can be particularly helpful in guiding creative careers because it can help you distinguish between what should become your work and what should remain your hobby.
For me, this reflection meant leaning into design as my work and becoming content to protect my other creative expressions (like music) as hobbies.
Sunday – Craft
The difference between a probationary artist and an experienced artist
In this video, Van Neistat offers a simple, compelling, and visual summary of how two levels of artist approach and experience the creative process.
The truth is that the creative process never gets easy.
You just get better at weathering the storm and navigating its inevitable ups and downs.