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23rd of Feb. 2010

Personal Style

By Yaron Schoen


Related links that inspired or helped me create this article.

L ately I have been very busy working on a few new projects for some amazing clients. About 90% of my new clients come to me because they’ve seen my previous work and like my personal style, which is a fantastic thing and I am very thankful for it. But what happens when I become bored with the design style I am known for? As a commissioned designer I am unable to create whatever comes to my mind, I have an obligation towards my client to keep up with the brief and desired look and feel. So am I doomed to stick only to one specific style for which I am known?

Recently I stumbled upon an interesting article, written by fellow designer and buddy Darren Hoyt. In his article, titled “Design Versatility”, a very interesting question came up:

Is it more attractive when designers can…

a) Design like a chameleon in any style or genre appropriate to the project, or
b) Design over a period of years in a consistent, signature style

The topic which was very relevant to me, gave me fuel for thought. I am really not sure if there is a right answer for this one. There are great examples of designers who match both options perfectly. But here is the thing, I don’t think these options are the exact opposites. A designer can keep his/her signature touch and still design in different styles. At the end, every designer (or any creative person for that matter) establishes a personal style, uniquely their own, even if they themselves cannot recognize it.

I have a feeling we are confusing ourselves with what we consider “style”. I think it is safe to say that for web designers, there are two types of style:

These are two completely different things. I would like to think that we, as a web design community, are at a point where personal touch is what makes a designer unique, and not how he/she chooses to create a certain project, which could be minimalistic or graphically heavy. I mean, Smashing Pumpkins produce kick ass rock songs, but they also have some amazing ballads, don’t they? (Smashing Pumpkins, you ask? As we speak I am listening to 1979 on the radio so…)

Naturally, as designers, we can be better at one design style over the other. But I think that is only because we get stuck in our own comfort zone where we get good at one design style and keep on creating it. It has a catch 22 quality to it - we get commissioned to create within a certain style, master it and then get commissioned to do the same thing over and over again, because of our mastery. After a while though, personally I tend to get bored of a design style that I master, since there is no real challenge in creating that certain style. This can be very dangerous for a creative.

The tough part is breaking free from that cycle. Finding a client who will be willing to gamble on your talent and ability to produce a design style that is not shown on your portfolio isn’t easy. Only a hand full of them will have the courage to take that gamble, and rightfully so, they are paying good money.

The only way to really master a new style is to either create personal projects (which I’m all for), do something for free (which I am 99% against) or find good clients. This is where the saying “The best designers are the ones who find the good clients” comes to play. I am so grateful for my clients who have let me go wild. Theirs are the best project to ever come from under my hands. That said it isn’t easy finding those clients. Maybe this is why so many designers have started releasing personal projects and apps lately. No one other than themselves can tell them what style to design in.

At the end of the day, we all have our personal preferences. Some just really like minimalism others have a fetch for textures and basically create most of their designs in their personal favorite style. This is all good, but it is healthy to take some risks or adventures in what we create. If we all stay in our comfort zones how would our industry evolve? Usually new and revolutionary art and design are blends of styles coming from a need to break the mold. Just imagine if the Beatles would have stuck with the same style they started with, we would have 12 albums all sounding like Please Please Me. That would have sucked.

Comments (16)

So what do you think? The world wants to know!

Ben Bodien
February 24, 2010

Bang on the money, sir. This is something I’ve been considering recently as we’ve been talking to various designers to contract work out to for our client projects. 

Going through portfolios and having worked with a number of designers I’m now developing the ability to categorise designers into A or B above. Projects come up from time to time that demand a certain style, and so type A designers come into their own there. But really we’re working more and more with people who fall into type B who are able to let the content and function drive the core design, but still be able to lay personal touches over the top.

Superb post! (would read again)

Christopher Meeks
February 24, 2010

It certainly is a challenge, Yaron, isn’t it?

You are absolutely right that it is a catch-22. I would argue that if a client asks a designer to “do whatever style you think is best” and that designer blindly turns towards a look he has done 1,000 times before, he/she doesn’t really push themselves. He/she likely is behind the curve.

I know that is a broad generalization, but if a client let me try something new I would take that as an opportunity and challenge to create a kick-ass design in a style that I admire (and is appropriate).

And you are right that personal projects are a great way to try new creative things. I’m 100% for it and recently released the site that is a challenge to myself as a designer.

Daily Layout (Not spam, I promise. But feel free to delete it if you don’t like links in your comments)

Yaron Schoen
February 24, 2010

@ Ben - Thanks, always a pleasure having you here :)

@ Christopher - Not spam at all :) I really like the style you are developing there at your Daily Layout. I am actually going to release a cute little app that may help you with that. Deets to come soon.

February 24, 2010

I don`t think there is a problem at all. Some people like Gucci, some people like Calvin Klein and some like Armani. I don`t think there is a problem for them to choose. Of course, if Armani start making clothes like Calvin Klein - well, this will be a problem :)

You are wright, it`s like in the music too… Anyway, if the band is good, and I mean really, really(!) good, they will stay longer at the top.

We doesn`t exist in empty space, it`s a WEB. And some times we are the fishermen, sometimes we are the fishes.

February 25, 2010

This is a wonderful post. I think you touch on something bigger than design here Yaron. Stepping outside our comfort zones is always scary to do, especially when your comfort zone is what keeps the bills paid. There is an itch we all need to scratch, unfortunately we don’t always have the ability to reach it - usually through fear of stepping outside that comfy corner! It keeps itching and we become distracted by it until our quality fades (boredom) and you just sort of become lost in wonder.

This applies to consulting, advertising, copywriting, really anything. I’ve always been an admirer of DH, I’m not surprised that he was your source of inspiration for this post. Fantastic work, your site certainly is the inspiration pulling me outside my zone!

Design Informer
February 26, 2010

Great article on this Yaron. I also find myself getting stuck with a certain style and I completely agree with you, experimenting is the key. My friend Jeremy wrote a great article on my blog about experimentation.

BTW, what would you consider is your favorite style?

Keep up the great work and I plan on featuring your blog on a giant BLOGAZINE post that I am doing soon.

Yaron Schoen
February 27, 2010

@ Justin you are right it touches most aspects of life.

@ Design Informer I don’t think I have a one favorite style. It really depends on my mood. I can say that I like minimalism over graphic heavy, grid over random. But then again, that might change tomorrow (hint to up coming project…). BTW thx for the feature, excited to see what you come up with! Let me know if you need a hand.

February 27, 2010

That’s one of the reasons I started cornify.com, to experiment with a completely different style way beyond my comfort zone.

All kidding aside, people know you because of what they have seen you do before. They like that and so they want that. Key is to experiment to keep your creative muscles flexible and in your pro work to evolve to avoid standstill and the template effect. I think it’s Stefan Sagmeister who said that the experimentation in this time off is what informs his pro work.

Amazing Client
March 01, 2010

I wouldn’t say clients contact designers purely because they like their “style(s)”. Portfolios of many designers are rarely entirely theirs: most of the websites -at least those worthwhile enough to be shown- have been built collaboratively with other colleagues, or in a past life in an agency.
Clients contact designers too because they like their attention to details and their ability to convey a message or a theme through design.
From EA to Kontain via AOL and your blog, not one website looks alike. I wouldn’t say I like your style if by style you mean rounded arrows, grids, generally square shapes, dots for carroussels and semi-serif fonts. I actually find it a bit too rigid.
I like your obsession for details and manic desire to set your own identity and uniqueness through colors. I like the way you occupy space and use layouts to promote an almost cinematographic experience. I like the fact you immerse yourself and your audience deep into the theme of your posts. But that is not style that is skill

Yaron Schoen
March 02, 2010

@amazing client - Oh Alex, you better be an amazing client, or I will get all diva on your a#@. All kidding aside, thanks for your kind words, I really appreciate it.

What you call skill I guess I call designer’s touch / style. Very true what you say about portfolios, not all of them are the designer’s creation but more of a team effort. It’s also hard to know what their role in the project was since they simply put the image of the site and a link to it, with no real background.

If I could give advice to anyone out there, is to be honest in your portfolios and simply say what your role was, even if it was small. I think it gives a better impression.

March 20, 2010

Hello Yaron,

I love your design style and your work ethics. I have been a fan of your work from the day you joined Fi. I am an upcoming designer and I usually need professional’s like you to review my work and give a positive feedback. Can I contact you through via MSN ? I really want to keep in touch with you and learn from you.

Your crazy fan,

April 06, 2010

Interesting article. I think every good designer has a personal style and that is normal to evolve our style as we design. Clients must be aware of that, differents styles doesn’t means poor styles, it could mean a style perfection.


P.S. Awesome works you have.

April 21, 2010

Great topic you bring up - it’s something I’ve struggled with for years, too. I think I’ll write a longer article on my own site to avoid hijacking your blog. :)

June 27, 2010

I think you’ve touched on a topic that is a real struggle for lots of designers.

As a designer, I think the trick is finding the desire to push beyond your own limits. I don’t mean not having your own personal style; but looking for variety in your work and not getting stuck in that “designers roadblock”.

Unfortunately, there are lots of self proclaimed web designers out there. Allthough they sometimes stumble across good design. They dont have that true passion, the drive that will push them into creating their own design identity.

P.S. I love what you are doing with this blog - I’m showcasing it on my personal site.

All the best

Jonathan Olsen
July 02, 2010

I think the ultimate capability would be A and B together. You have your personal style meanwhile you are able to design after a specific pattern. That’s my conclusion atleast.

Michael Acevedo
December 29, 2010

Great read Yaron. I say if a client comes to you because they like your style, do what you do best.