Project Runway isn’t just a reality show. Ok, so maybe it is but it isn’t just a reality show. Project Runway is a boutique reality of sorts, featuring people with actual skills. They are designers who are forced to be innovative under tight deadlines and with shoestring budgets. They often have to design for clients with the most specific and (often) ridiculous demands. Sound familiar? The simulated Project Runway life is very similar to the designer’s life and yes, there are lessons to be learned. Naturally.
Simple doesn’t have to be dull
On Project Runway, simple silhouettes and design can often be a chance for designers to send boring or sloppy clothes down the runway. The same goes for “simple and minimalist” design. If your design is going to be simple, make it visually stunning. Make sure your design is really structural and clean. Add some bold typography in there or an unexpected pop of color. Anyone who has ever attempted to copy the simple and minimalist style realizes that it’s really hard work. You have to keep the viewer visually engaged despite the minimalist design. Nowhere to hide.
If you have ever seen Project Runway, you know that this is Tim’s favorite thing to say. If it can be taken out, take it off. Web designers need to take this to the bank. More is not equivalent to better. We all fall in love with the illustrative bits we add in places that might not need it. The best websites can be both illustrative and full of flourish while still being clean. That gradient not serving a purpose? Get rid of it.
Get a Tim Gunn
Find a person who isn’t your best friend and will tell you what’s up. Bonus points if you find a person who you are almost afraid of but still deeply respect. .A mentor, of sorts. Your Tim Gunn will be completely honest with you about your work and give you helpful hints along the way As a designer myself, I have a really hard time with self-editing. Especially when it is a job I am really enjoying working on. Keep in contact with old advisers or internship mentors. Send a pleasant email to a designer or blogger you really admire and build a friendship. Find a person who can be a constant source of both encouragement and helpful criticism. This is especially useful for freelancers who only answer to their clients.
Be inspired, not influenced
On project runway, there is nothing worse than Michael Kors looking at a garment and deciding it is a rip-off of another designer’s work. It’s even worse for a designer to be deemed purely referential, without any real point of view. It’s a shot in the heart for a creative. The same applies for web designers but going about it is way more difficult. A lot of the times, a trend takes over the web world and you see it everywhere. It’s all good but it isn’t as great as the first time.
We should approach our design work in the same way. If you want to make an attempt at a trend, make sure it doesn’t look anything like what you have seen before. If you are really in love with the idea,take the time to brainstorm and figure out how to put your signature style on it.
Fit is everything
Just look at someone who is wearing a pair of jeans that don’t fit. It makes the person look heavier or more sloppy. Designers have done a lot of bad things to models on Project Runway.
The same goes for your website. Don’t make sloppy mistakes. Make sure your website has some sort of visual structure and stick with it. Write all your copy in Word before you start to make sure everything is spelled right. Details are everything and people will notice.
The Project Runway kids are always a bunch of criers. It’s different then typical reality TV crying. No vodka. No bachelors with roses. When someone cries on Project Runway, they are crying because they love what they are doing so much and want this chance so bad that it makes them physically ill. They cry because they can’t creatively produce what they need to. A lot of the time they cry over the fact that they are poor and can’t afford to do this anymore if it doesn’t work out. Sure, sometimes they cry over stupid things too but for the most part they’ve got artist sickness.
As fellow creatives, we should feel the same way about our work. Just like a writer who writes because they can’t do anything else, design because you have to. If not, find something that would make you cry if you couldn’t do it anymore.
Stay innovative and fresh
This is all they talk about on Project Runway. Innovation. Fashion is all about it. I would venture to say that the design world should more readily adopt this point of view. A lot of us are also writers,musicians and artists but we forget to apply that some creative idea to our designs.
The difference between good designers and great designers is the ability to be innovative. If you line up a set of graphic designers, their portfolios will look more or less the same. We pay attention to the portfolio with ideas that transcend trends. It is easy to follow web standards and create perfectly competent websites but if you want to be great, you have to go further than competent.