Daniel Mai

Visual Language

Two years ago, I took a graphic design class where I learned how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign to create images, vectors, and documents. It was a great class which introduced me to the concepts of good and bad design.

And I haven’t been able to stop being conscious about design ever since. I notice the little intricacies in visual language. Whether that’s with the CRAP rules (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity) or with choosing the right colors to strengthen and sell my message (it was a business class, after all), I had to pay attention to all the little things that went into whatever work I was doing.

The next year, I took the next course in the sequence, which was a web design course. Still classified as “business,” I learned a little bit about the history of the web, and how to make websites from scratch with HTML, CSS, and some simple Javascript. Nothing got pushed to the web, though. All our work was offline, sitting on the local school server.

I saved my work on my flash drive, so that I could work on my assignments and projects when I’m at home. I was obsessed with this new stuff I was learning. I would look up HTML tags, proper semantics, and CSS properties that weren’t covered in class. It was both “computer-geeky” stuff and “normal” design stuff at the same time. The graphic design class was kind of the same thing, but in this class I basically do all of my work with Notepad and a browser, instead of a monstrous application like Photoshop.1

And ever since then I’ve been interested in design. I mean, sure I may have been unconsciously interested in design or interested in it at a subpar level, but now I’m constantly looking and critiquing things.

My graphic design teacher mentioned a documentary movie called Helvectica, a movie about typography. We weren’t able to watch it in class (no time, sadly), so I seeked out to watch it on my own. After watching this years ago, I watched the other two movies in this “trilogy”, Objectified and Urbanized, which are about the design of objects of our everyday lives an about the design of cities and society, respectively. They are great documentaries that I have enjoyed watching multiple times.

Design, design, design. I’m koo-koo for design. But I’m not a designer. I don’t make beautiful things. My desk right now is a mess. I want to clean it, but I’m lazy and wished it organized itself.

And now I’m reading a books about typography, like Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography, which I highly recommend for anyone reading this who wants to learn about this sort of stuff (and if you don’t, you should reconsider). The Web is 95% typography, and if we’re consuming so much of this content, it’s good to know how this stuff works.

  1. I realize that I spend my own time trying to learn something when I’m obsessed over it. I would look up online tutorials at home, read books from the library, and worked on little personal projects for fun and learning.