Let the gorilla live: 10 tips on designing with impact

Ahead of the launch of his third book, acclaimed designer Brendan Dawes gave the Mindlab Academy a rundown of what he’s learnt throughout his career about how to create market-leading designs.

1. Let the gorilla live

Don’t sit in a room and overthink every detail because it will kill your idea. Often great thinking doesn’t make absolute sense. How do you explain a gorilla playing a drum kit? Trust.

2. Speak to a rose gardener

Look beyond your own industry for inspiration. I’d rather go and speak to someone who cultivates flowers than spend time exploring someone else’s data visualisation.

3. Embrace that everything’s been done

There are always new ways of doing things. If you’re working on an idea and it turns out someone else has already done it, that’s fine because it won’t have your unique take on it.

When you’re being inspired, it’s about letting your memories become fuzzy and distorted so you don’t end up making a copy. Let other ideas and inspiration you’ve collected intertwine with it. That’s when ideas become yours.

4. Don’t worry – everything starts ugly

Part of the process at the start of a design is to create something to start a conversation. It won’t be perfect – don’t expect it be. Don’t be precious. Start in black and white so you can’t get hung up on colours.

5. Accept the gap

What you want and what you end up with won’t be the same. Every day, close that gap until you get to a point that it works.

6. Channel Prince

Yes, Prince was gifted but he worked for it. He was relentless. He spent 16-hours a day in the studio and learnt to play every musical instrument he could get his hands on. That is the commonality – hard work, every day.

7. Leave the door open for others

Share your process and work. You might not think what you’ve done is interesting. But it’s not insignificant to others.

8. Look in your rubbish bin

The ideas you discard can often include nuggets people will connect with. You may have written them off at the time but go back to them.

Have a culture that allows mistakes to happen and become beautiful. By being transparent about your process, you can hit on ideas nobody was expecting.

9. Find time to be bored

We’re constantly doing things but sit in silence and see what happens.

10. Add punctuation

Wrappings are what we connect with. If a box is too easy to open, you don’t take the time to appreciate it. It’s a comma when you want it to be a semicolon. If you create a box with a ribbon that takes a few seconds to open, there’s a reveal. It creates a moment. It feels like theatre. It adds luxury.

It’s about rhythm and timings and transitions. And it’s the same in packaging or an interface. On a website which calculates recommendations based on your input, if it spits out the results too quickly, people think it’s fake. Add in a moment of thinking time. It doesn’t make sense from a machine point of view – but that’s because we’re human.

With clients including Airbnb, Google and MailChimp, Brendan Dawes’ designs have won awards from Fast Company, Information is Beautiful and D&AD. As an artist, his work is featured in MoMA’s permanent collection.

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