Colors, pictures, creativity; designers are quite obviously a group of people that tend to gravitate towards using the right sides of their brains… right? Or is this simply a stereotype that doesn’t necessarily ring true?
Is design exclusively artistic talent put to productive use or is it possible that the industry is equally full of analytical problem solvers? Let’s take a look at how designers think, whether you’re a right brainer or a left brainer, and how I’ve struggled through being a left brainer in an industry of right brainers.
Fact or Fiction?
As you no doubt have heard countless times, there’s an old half myth, half truth theory that a person can either be left or right brain dominant based on the characteristics of their personality.
Left brain dominant individuals, it is said, prefer analytical thought, logic and reasoning while the right brain folks are creative and focus on the finer things in life such as art and music.
Often, the importance and literal nature of this theory is taken much too far by wannabe psychologists, which I am not. However, this concept of a person possessing a tendency to lean towards one of these two modes rings true for a great number of people, including myself, so we’ll run with it for this article.
Just know that the whole right/left brain thing is a useful construct for discussion, and is not necessarily backed scientifically (cognitive scientists say it’s bunk). So if you’re into neuroscience, forgive my indiscretions.
I’m Right-Brained, Right?
You don’t know me, so I’ll tell you about myself. I’m a designer, musician and photographer. A strong sense of aesthetics is one of the things that I consider a core element of my personality and character. It’s who I am.
Now, I ask you, am I a left brainer or right brainer? The answer here is an obvious one. We look up at the chart in the previous section and immediately assume that I’m a right-brained individual. All of the things that I love and pursue in my professional life are seated neatly into that category.
Left of Creative
You would think that, you lucky right-brained bastard. Unfortunately, and trust because me because I’ve struggled with this identity crisis for the better part of my life, it’s not true.
source: Richard Eriksson
To be honest, I’d love to be a right brainer. I’d kill for the chance to be one of those individuals who secrete artistic talent from some special, hidden Van Gogh gland. The truth is though, I’m simply not.
Designing With the Left Side of My Brain
So why in the world would I claim to be a left brainer when I’ve structured my life around right brain activities? Maybe I’m a poser, or maybe designers don’t fit into the little box that you try to keep them in.
I ❤ Problem Solving
At heart, I’m an analytical thinker. Problem solving, language, puzzles, logic; these are the things that really interest me. Beyond that, they’re the things that I’m actually good at.
Interestingly enough, these are the skills that I bring to a design project. Every design is a problem to be worked out, a puzzle to solve. Just read through my articles on this site and you can clearly see that this is how I think.
An analytical look at how to solve some common design problems.
I talk about design theory, I communicate simple and practical principles that you can use to improve your work, I analytically critique designs and suggest how to make them better. What I rarely or never do is start with a blank piece of paper and let you watch me create some amazing work of art right out of my head.
As much as I love it when people call me “creative” and as wrapped up I am in that as a part of what makes me who I am, I’m not sure that’s it’s an entirely true statement.
Layout, CSS, & Sass
This idea makes more and more sense when I think about the specific areas of design that tend to interest me. I love discussing page layout, mathematical grids and common design patterns. Sounds pretty left-brained doesn’t it?
One of my many, many articles focusing on layout and/or CSS.
Further, my favorite part of web design is CSS. I love the ridiculous nature of making pretty pictures through writing code. True right-brainers might shutter at the thought. Even better, I love using tools like Sass to turn CSS into a sort of faux programming language that’s even more mathematical and logical.
This same argument can be applied to all of my creative ventures. Take photography for example. For me, photography is all about tinkering with my camera. I love the challenge of juggling shutter speed, aperture and ISO to create the perfect exposure and using ideas like the rule of thirds to crop an image in a well-balanced manner.
Dirty, Ugly Jealousy
I’ve come to realize that this is the true nature of my love for creative ventures. Do I find identity and comfort in this realization? Sure. Now, do I envy and hate all you truly creative people? Absolutely.
I often feel like I’m a left-brained spy, hidden in an industry full of right brainers, hoping he doesn’t get found out. Some of you crack open Photoshop or pick up a pencil and absolutely amazing things fall out.
Guys like Fabio Sasso from Abduzeedo piss me off to no end with all of their talent and creativity. I see all you jerks on Dribbble who can sketch the craziest things and I curse your names, coveting your skills and shunning my own.
In reality, this is a classic “grass is always greener on the other side” scenario. I think (hope) my situation of being constantly jealous of the talent of my peers is pretty typical for all types of designers.
Which is Better?
So when it comes down to it, which mode of thinking is better for designers? If could choose to be left or right-brained, which would you be?
Here’s the catch: This is the wrong question. What you should be asking is, which are you? The truth is that the design industry needs both.
Some clients want you to think outside of the box. They want a truly creative, original product that catapults them to fame and fortune. Others, are simply looking for an attractive way to display some information. They don’t want or need someone who’s going to reinvent the wheel and attempt to launch some major paradigm shift. They just want a dang website.
Creativity can be chaos, analytical problem solving can be boring, it’s when they come together that great design truly takes place. The mixture of how these forces work together is different of each individual.
Your challenge then isn’t to attempt to be something that you’re not, but to identify how you work best and leverage those skills to be a successful designer.
Is this all a pointless intellectual exercise or is there a point here? Don’t worry, here’s where it gets practical and applicable.
Given the knowledge that I’m primarily a left-brained designer in my thoughts, actions and interests, I can construct a basic pattern or process that tends to lead to success (in itself a very left-brained thing to do). Here’s what I came up with:
Observe, Absorb, Remix. We left-brained designers constantly observe everything around us from a design perspective. What works, what doesn’t and why. We notice trends, follow what’s popular and think about how things are built (fonts, CSS effects, etc.).
All of this takes place, nearly without our intention. It just happens. We take it all in, absorb it and file it away deep in our brains under the “design inspiration” category. Then, when it comes time to design something, we pull from that file, remixing and reworking all of those ideas we’ve been absorbing to create something that’s original and useful.
The Other Side
Compare this with how right-brainers work. Right-brainers require less input per output (or perhaps their input is just more varied, it can be anything). They have this natural, innate ability to create something amazing and truly unique using only the tools available to them and the head on their shoulders.
source: Ian Norman
A sample right brainer process might be to shut out all distractions, silence their web connection, crank up some music and crack open an empty sketchbook. That’s not as concise as “Observe, Absorb and Remix” but by this point in an article my cleverness is waning, so cut me a break.
How Do You Work Best?
Right brainer, left brainer, it doesn’t matter. If you’re a designer, odds are you’ve struggled a time or two with the creative process. You get stuck, used up, the Van Gogh gland has shut down and you’re not sure how to get it working again.
In those instances, think about how it is that you work best. To do this, consider whether you’re the fantastically creative type of designer or the analytical problem solver, then approach your project with this information in mind, constructing a workflow that caters to your specific needs.
Now that I’ve got you thinking, leave a comment below and let us know which description fits you best. Are you a gifted problem solver or a creative genius? I want to know!
Awesome cover photo provided by Bigstock.