Designing like a kid

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My 4-year-old daughter just entered that stage where she constantly asks “why?” No matter how much clarification I provide, she still demands further explanation.

I fear that as adults, most of us lose this questioning nature. That’s a shame since it’s at the heart of creativity, awareness, and critical thinking.

So much is new to a toddler. In those formative early years of our life, we ask why repeatedly in our thirst for knowledge and finding the significance in everyday things.

As adults we somehow become educated out of the habit. As we grow, many of us are intimidated to admit what we don’t know—even to ourselves. Maybe the busy pace of our world convinces us we don’t have the time to question or evaluate. Perhaps we see the gap in our understanding as a threat to how effective we are as professionals.

“When it comes to design, asking why reveals the Legos that make up the castle.”
Photo by eric. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

Photo by eric. Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.

But how necessary is it for us to have a fresh look and see the world through the eyes of a child again? Otherwise, we take people, objects, and ideas at face value before assigning them a label and storing them away in the stale corners of our minds.

Creativity is when you see the mystery in everyday things

When you look at a logo, ask yourself why it has that shape, color, and size. When we ask why, we spark a conversation within our mind that seeks the purpose and creative process behind why something was designed.

This internal dialogue may trigger a thought toward how you feel you would have designed it differently. It may bring attention to missed detail, even in a logo you’ve seen thousands of times.

“Creativity is when you see the mystery in everyday things.”

Revelations lead to new ideas that you can use in another project. Do you see a design strategy you can use? Would you have come up with that creative nugget without asking why and delving deeper? Think of it as mental free-writing to help against designer’s block. When it comes to design, asking yourself why reveals the Legos that make up the castle.

Create your own designer’s block survival kit

When an example of design impresses you, clip it out, take a photo, study it in detail, and then store it in a folder (paper or digital) for one of those “rainy” days. I have a box of magazine clippings containing examples of beautiful layouts: anything that’s made me stop, look twice, and feel inspired. When I feel uncreative or blocked, I take a look at these images.

A simple creative exercise for designers

The next time you go out to eat, try this when you sit down: open the menu and ask questions about all the design choices you see:

  • Why’d they go with a 2-column layout?
  • Why’d they use a faded wooden gradient for the background?
  • Why are the names of dishes in a sans-serif font while their descriptions are not?
  • Why are the images rounded and nudged at an angle?
“Lose the habit of cursory viewing and see design with a fresh perspective.”
Photo by Matthew Rutledge. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

Photo by Matthew Rutledge. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

In other words, don’t just glance at design: lose the habit of cursory viewing and see it with a fresh perspective. Seek the details, see the process, seize the opportunity to glean great ideas.

This works with writing, too

Until now, I didn’t realize I used a similar strategy when editing. Editing your own writing can be difficult. Since you know your intended message, you don’t always note how each word joins the orchestra of our manuscript. The words in a sentence almost melt into inseparable clusters, leaving you unable to see the trees for the forest. Asking questions like “Why is this word necessary?” allows you to make effective, stylistic decisions. That extra attention makes a good sentence a memorable one.

As designers, we look for inspiration. While that comes in all forms, the innocence of a child offers a lot in what we have innately within ourselves.


Jason Winter, Owner of WinternetWeb Technologies, LLC
Jason has a unique background of technical skills and programming merged with an English degree from Virginia Tech, a Master of Science degree from N.C. State in Technical Communication, and several years as an educator. His blog posts typically surround technology, history, and societal trends.

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