What on Earth is A Design Aesthetic & Why Do I Need One?

By on May 2, 2016 in How To
What on Earth is A Design Aesthetic & Why Do I Need One?

Aesthetics is a study of the mind and how our brains interpret something as being beautiful or ugly. It is crucial for design because our first interaction with almost anything is based on how it looks. Judging books by their covers — we all do it. A “design aesthetic”, therefore, is a style.

What Sort of Styles, For Example?

Here are a few that I know you’ve heard of:

  • Material design
  • Flat design
  • Skeuomorphism design
  • Vintage design
  • Minimalist design

What actually constitutes an aesthetic style is highly debatable, since some of the examples above, Material Design especially, have a rulebook that outlines the basic rules of legibility, usability and design. If you wanted to be technical about it, you could call Material Design’s color schemes an aesthetic style, but its concepts a way of designing.

Google’s Material DesignPin It

Does Every Designer Need Their Own Style?

With all that in mind, my answer is yes. Your aesthetic style adds to your identity and brand, but that doesn’t mean that you should tie yourself down to either Apple’s idea of minimalism or Google’s view of Material Design. You should consider the design brief at hand and decide upon a solution by yourself - one is not better than the other. Back to aesthetics, though…

Some of us resonate with a specific style of visuals. Back in the day I adored vintage design (and I still do), but over the last few years I’ve become deeply interested in typography and I love the concept of minimalism. I think I’ve been exceptionally efficient at understanding minimalism, so many of my designs are created in this way, but I also love bold colors, so I combine that with minimalism and creative typography.

You don’t have to choose an aesthetic, you can curate one.

A Jack of All Trades

I’ve always thought that it’s better to specialize in a certain area, or style, than to be mediocre in several styles. Have you ever thought “If I do all of the things I’ll attract more clients”? This is nice in theory but rarely works in the long run. Here’s an example:

If I wanted to hire somebody to design an album cover for my rock band, I’d look for a freelancer than specializes in understanding the look and feel of the rock genre, and by look and feel we mean aesthetics. By choosing this business model, a client may say to another rock band, “I hired this guy to design our album cover, you should hire him too — he specializes in it!”.

From this dialogue, we can see that this freelancer has begun shaping his identity as “the guy who understands rock”. He may design album covers, or band t-shirts, or craft websites, but he loves rock and he’s really awesome at designing in that style.

Design Aesthetics and Branding

You could say that this guy has a design aesthetic. Sadly, that dialogue between the two clients may never have happened if the freelancer hadn’t specialised in rock themes or album covers.

Here’s another (but slightly odd) example.

If you had an uncontrollable craving for an american-style gourmet burger, you wouldn’t go to McDonald’s. Sure, they do burgers, but won’t be as delicious as Gourmet Burger Kitchen will it? I mean, the name says it all really - there’s no shame in focusing on one aesthetic and being alarmingly obvious it.

DesignForMusic focuses mostly on rock-related album covers, images and artwork.

Album Cover DesignsPin It

Search Engine Optimization

I absolutely detest those words, and I must confess that I don’t spend much time optimizing websites anymore, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon it completely. If you didn’t have a design aesthetic, how would you describe yourself? Just…"designer”? Web designer? Well that certainly won’t help you appear in search engines. “Rock & Indie-Style Designer” is much better.

Conclusion

What should you do when approached with a design brief that’s beyond your skill set, or outside of your interests? Say no. It’s completely okay to turn down work. After all, if you know that you won’t enjoy it, or you won’t be able to work to your usual level of standards, then that’s a lose-lose situation for both of you. Instead, be true to yourself, and explain the situation; use this time to explain what you do do, and not only will the client respect you for your direct honesty, but they’ll keep you in mind when somebody asks about album covers.

Don’t work hard, work smart!


Daniel Schwarz is a full-time design writer and digital nomad. When he’s not writing about design and code, he’s actually doing it (sometimes) at Airwalk Studios, a creative studio of which he’s the founder. 24 years of age, originally from London.

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Daniel Schwarz

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I\'m a designer and digital nomad. I started a content company called Airwalk Studios—I\'m co-editor of design at SitePoint, writer at Creative Market and .net Magazine and 4x author. Currently selling .sketch resources and unedited photography at Creative Market.

4 Comments

  1. Graphic design is not art, where an artist must pick a style or be ridiculed or banished. To think a designer can only have one aesthetic is naive. Do you think musicians can only play one style of music? Do you think carpenters can only build one style of house? Do you think font creators can only create one style of font? Good luck getting work if your aesthetic is vintage design. Good luck getting work these days if your work isn't minimalist, one-color, and flat design.

    I have been turned down from jobs simply because my design aesthetic doesn't meet their's based on my portfolio. My portfolio is, unfortunately, a lot of work I did for an employer whose aesthetic was big pictures and lots of text crammed into the allotted space. The rest of my portfolio is freelance work that is a more breathable aesthetic. Do I need to create one portfolio site for employers who like what my employer preferred and one for my freelance work, so I can trick people into thinking I have tunnel vision and only know how to design one way? Should I split up my freelance portfolio into different sites for each specific aesthetic for each piece I did? One for the rock band, one for the charity, one for the fun clients, one for the serious businesses, etc? BTW, there are different aesthetics within the rock genre because there are different subgenres of rock.

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