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Why I’m spending time away from the computer to learn about design

I’ve taken up a course on (almost) computer-free graphic design and illustration. It’s day 1 and we’re back to basics, learning about one of the fundamental principles of design – typography. It’s the art and technique of arranging type to make written language readable and beautiful. We start with lettering, a brief history of fonts, serifs/san serifs and positive and negative spaces. Here’s a funky video we watched during the lesson –

In the age of digital media and macbooks, it’s easy to jump right into working with words and images without understanding what makes good design. Why did you go into a shop and pick one bottle of water over another? I’m trying to get into the gritty details of how particular forms of design on a page can invoke a reaction and emotion to the person observing it.

I’ve spent the past six months to a year making my way around meeting a number of friends who are in the creative industries (others I’m coming round to. I’ll be pestering you soon) and trying to gain a bit of wisdom from everyone. Small nuggets of experience that they’ve had in their journey of learning, to help me understand better. There’s a limit to how much knowledge you can accumulate by just reading out of books or online tutorials. I find the best way of learning is through doing some academic learning, meeting and talking to people who know about the field, and of course through practical experience.

A few weeks ago, I had an evening catching up with two of my friends who I respect a great deal and have taught me an immense amount about design and photography – Steven and Omair. Just by hanging out with these guys for a day, you can walk about a city centre and they’ll point out what good design looks like and what shouldn’t have made the cut. I try and sponge off their witty wisdom from time to time.

We went out to eat in North Harrow Road at a zany Iranian restaurant called Behesth. The place was lit up in the night like it was Christmas. Next door to it, there was a phone shop of sorts with a huge LED display board sporting messages like ‘laptop repairs here’ in English and Arabic that were blinding us. We walked up to it to inspect it closer.

My friend Omair pointed out how these display boards are in RGB. They are set up to be displayed in the colours red, green and blue. In an example illustrating how the colour spectrum worked to his students, (Omair was a lecturer of graphic design in Cairo) he asked them to put a single drop of water on the screens of their phones. When you do that, you can see the different colours come up. It goes to show how water isn’t as transparent as we think it is. It’s all red, green and blue. You might notice this when you have water on your screen and the colours come up all funny.

The learning never stops.

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