Discussions of design in a business context usually involve discussing the look and feel of a product or perhaps the effectiveness of packaging. But to see the combination of visual aesthetics and pragmatic effectiveness as nothing more than the servant of commerce is to miss important lessons.

Design and art are intricate topics that have their own logic and demand both reasoned and intuitive appreciation. I've devoted a lot of time over the years to practicing various visual arts and to studying fine examples when the opportunity allowed. There are principles to how an image pulls together, and how you execute it, which are just as important to success in business and life.

Learn to see

A great example is one of the underlying principles of drawing. Most people can't draw largely because when they look at an object, they don't actually see it. Have someone draw a chair and you may see a rectangle of a seat with four legs projecting from it. The person has just anticipated what the piece of furniture is supposed to look at. It takes time to learn to recognize exactly what you see, not what you think you should see. But in anything you do, it is important to note the circumstances, resources, and potential that are actually there, not what you wish were there. Develop an appreciation for reality. Only then can you solve the problems you face and realize the opportunities that truly exist.

Keep an eye on the big picture

When you draw or paint, you generally work on the entire composition at once. You don't let the details of one aspect distract you to a point that you lose track of the whole. Otherwise, you can find that a figure runs off one edge of the medium or you might find a flower overwhelms a forest. Whatever you do, keep paying attention to the structure and process of your overall goal. This is particularly important in project management, when you break things down into individual steps. Keep in mind where you're ultimately going.

Develop a taste for the invisible

In a traditional course in figure drawing, students learn human anatomy and spend considerable time drawing skeletons and what the musculature of someone in a given pose would look like if visible. Learn to appreciate what goes into the structure or object that you find appealing. An understanding of the inside helps you better relate to the outside.

Control your palette

Color is delightful but tricky. You can introduce a mind-blowing combination of tints and hues available to you, but the result will likely be chaotic. Better to restrict the elements you use to make the whole, finding parts that work harmoniously. You'll have better control over what you do and increase the chances of success.

Find your medium

Although you could dabble in anything, you're usually best off finding the medium in which you can work most effectively. Some might use oil paints, others acrylics. There are people who primarily draw with charcoal or graphite and those who love pastels or watercolors. Find the business medium that speaks to you and in which you find yourself most versatile. This may take some experimentation. Don't worry, as whatever you do, you'll learn things that will help when you find what resonates most.

Published on: Apr 22, 2015