Ui Design

How To Develop an Eye for Visual Design

Creativity and having the eye for visual design might come hand-in-hand but are not the same. Continue reading to discover our favorite practical tips and exercises on how to develop an eye for visual design and become a better designer.

A person holding a magnifying glass

Learn by osmosis

The first step in developing your eye for visual design is to practice noticing things around you. The world offers so many colors, textures, lines, and views that could inspire you. Explore your social media. Go through your Pinterest or Instagram feeds and observe. Read relevant blog articles, discover trending YouTube videos, or watch a documentary. Grab some magazines and soak them up: you might find yourself getting inspired by their layouts. 

Bear in mind that you might encounter trends that are not entirely in tune with your current personal preferences. However, we encourage you to examine them anyway to store a fresh perspective for the future in the back of your brain.

Find role models

It’s always good to have role models. Distinguishing role models within your preferred creative industries will help you learn and get inspired. But, don’t tie yourself strictly to one niche. Explore notable designers, but also architects, artists, storytellers – anyone you find relevant, fascinating, and inspiring. Read their biographies, get familiar with their works and their principles. Discover details about their creative journey. 

Exploring and eventually trying to “copy” your role models’ practices, principles, and methods is a fantastic way to develop an eye for design. Many experienced designers recommend copying designers you admire because copying allows you to distinguish actual steps and principles necessary to complete the project.

A girl holding yellow flower on one eye, the other one is visible

Create an “influence map”

Creating an influence map is an exercise we simply love because it helps us to get in touch with both who we are and who we want to be (and not only in terms of design). 

Build an influence-dedicated map on your computer, where you’ll combine visual things you loved as a child (picture books, movies, video games, tv series, cartoons) when you didn’t know much about design rules and principles. 

It’s a fact – the things we absorbed as children influenced us more than anything. Make screenshots, take pictures, create a mood board or simply save images in your folder. This exercise will help you recall your first, original aesthetic taste and identify who you are as a visual creator.

Examine your inspirations

Create another inspirational folder, where you’ll save designs that inspired you during the week. Collect patterns, interfaces, typography, and grids.

At the end of the week, take some time to go through your collection and ask yourself questions like:

  • What attracted you to this design? Are you still captivated the same way as you were when you saw it?
  • Do you know the purpose of this design?
  • How does this design make you feel?
  • Is there anything you would improve on in this design?

You don’t have to answer these questions for every design you save, but bear the answers in mind. We love this exercise because it challenges you to step outside the box and look at things you like differently.

Learn design principles

Even though it’s entirely possible to create excellent designs without consciously following established design principles, you’ll find that they will consequently follow these principles anyway.

The design principles tap into the behavioral psychology of users to influence how they interact with a design. They can control what users perceive to be most important, which elements they interact with first, or even how likely they are to make a purchase.
While mastering the design principles takes time and practice, you can learn their core notions rather quickly. Once you know the design principles, you’ll recognize how to use them in different design variations.

A laptop, a person is holding a phone
Ruler and pencil on black table

You can develop your eye for visual design by collecting images and typography for your projects.

Analyze an app you haven’t used before

There are a million apps in this world. Also, there are probably just as many ways to design an app. If you start thinking about apps you use daily, you’ll furtherly develop your eye for design. 

Another exercise we tried and loved was to analyze an app we (probably) haven’t used before. This exercise doesn’t take much time, but it still offers many possibilities to notice details that could sharpen your eye for design.

The steps of this exercise are simple:

  • Open your App Store and explore App of The Day. This section introduces an app used and loved by many users, and it roughly explains its features and sometimes even how it will make you feel.
  • Spare some time and prepare to take notes. Take 1 minute to write down all the reasons that make you want to download this app. Then, for 1 minute, note all the reasons you don’t want to download this app.
  • Reflect. For 3 minutes, try to distinguish users you believe this app is for and how they will use it.

Study the apps you already know

You can develop an eye for visual design by stepping into the designer’s shoes of a product. Select an app you use often and focus on the screen in front of you. Analyze hierarchy, content, purpose, and the users of the app. Notice the highlighted information and how the design drives your focus. Pay attention to the specific wording chosen for this experience and look for relationships between color and text.

Additionally, think about why someone would use this app – what problem it can solve, and how this design helps solve such a problem. And finally, think about the people who are (or should be) using this app. Think about how their case is different from yours and identify whether the design of this app fully serves the use cases.

Step away from the computer

Yes – that’s an order. As designers, we often forget that one of the best ways to reignite our creative little brains is to step away from the screen. Take a walk, go for a run, or on a bike ride. While doing that, allow yourself to become immersed with everyday life and the details that surround you. Explore facilities around you, think about whom they are designed for, and how people should use them.

For example, think about your public transportation and ask yourself questions similar to how it functions? How can you buy a ticket if it’s your first time here and you don’t speak the language? Another great example is a children’s playground: what pieces of equipment can you find? How do children know how to play with certain pieces? What colors can you see?
Why do you think these colors were used?

Final thoughts

Next time you wait for your Uber to arrive or after ordering food via an app, don’t shut it down too quickly. Try to analyze why designers designed this app specifically that way and think of some new ideas you’d implement if you were them. 

When you cultivate your eye for visual design, focusing on everyday things and practicing to recognize patterns and details works wonders. Soon enough, your eye for visual design will grow.

If you try out any of our tips, let us know how it worked for you. We’d be happy to exchange thoughts or new ideas and deepen this conversation with you. 

For more educational resources, visit our blog, and if you have any other questions, shoot us an email or fill out our contact form. Happy reading!


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