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The Magic Button of Good Design

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At least once a week I receive questions about the design process behind the self-published work I’ve made, in particular the three manifestos I offered a few years ago.

“What software do you use?” people want to know. In other words, how do I “make them look good”?

I’m no designer, but as a writer I appreciate the value of imagery and structure that works in harmony with words. I also know that there’s no big secret to it, nor is there a shortcut.

On those manifestos I worked with a fantastic designer, Reese Spykerman, who devoted a great amount of time and effort to the original design and detailed layout. And it wasn’t only the time she spent on this project that mattered, it was also all the time she spent learning her craft over many years. For the redesign of this blog last year, I worked with a whole studio, Jolby & Friends, in a multi-month process that required many iterations and a tremendous amount of extended tweaking.

So I always smile when people write in, asking for the “template” that they can borrow. I call it the magic button, since that’s basically what they’re asking: “Hey, can I have the magic button?”

Sure. It’s right over there, next to the winning lottery ticket and the elixir of eternal youth.

I get it, though. Some people just don’t know better, and in a world where you can install a WordPress theme for $20 and five minutes of time, it’s tempting to think that the same can be done for original design work.

We live in the age of shortcuts! And for plenty of things, there’s nothing wrong with shortcuts. Magic’s great, too. If you find a magic button, might as well put it to use.

Most creative work, though, takes time and effort to get to the good stuff. The best designers spend years honing their craft. They do lots of bad work to get to the rare good work. Since their skills are highly valuable, why shouldn’t they be highly valued?

By the way, I wish there was a magic button for writing books, too. But until that arrives, I’ll have to keep settling in at my desk every day, writing my drafts and discarding many of them, all in search of something that will eventually be good.

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Image: Halfrain

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