Making Things Look Better
We all want to progress and make our designs look as great as they can be. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be very difficult to figure out how to do just that, making your designs look better. Another roadblock that really stumps beginners is the idea of “better” design. What is better? How do I know if my design is better? First off, let’s go ahead and take a look at an email I got from one of my supporters.

Hello VinhSon,
I have looked and followed your work for the past two years and you are good. I create work and it doesn’t look professional. It looks good, but not professional and this makes me give up so many times but I try again . What should I do? What are you doing that am not doing? How does one produce professional work? It frustrates me alot. I have looked at your beginner course for After Effects at AEtuts. You taught all the basic and I knew them, but there is something missing, but I don’t know what it is.

Professionalism

I say this over and over again, when you’re starting off in this design industry, you don’t know what good professional work is. You’ll create something, think it’s the best thing in the world, then trash it the next morning. We all do this, even professionals. What separates professionals from beginners is knowing when to stop tweaking (time restraint and clients aside). Professionals know when to stop and still have a decent end result that fits industry standards, even if they’re not satisfied with it yet. If you’re just starting out, your level of standard is usually pretty low.

You can achieve better designs by observing and seeing other professionals and what they come up with. Browse through people’s portfolios and reels, take a look at people’s stuff who’ve been doing this for a living. Once you observe their work, compare it to your own. The best way to get better is to look at other people’s work, especially people who have been doing it for a lot longer than you. Although you may not know what makes things “better”, you’ll start to get a sense of what real professional work looks like. Remember, this process can take years!

Design Aspects

By no means do I consider myself a professional, but I do have a few tips and tricks to help beginners take their designs to the next level. Yes, you’ve ‘mastered’ the basic functions of the program. You know what each button does, what each tool in the toolbox does, but your work isn’t on par with what you want it to be. Observe the following:


Variation

If you observe professional work, you’re going to see that they use a lot of variations of different things. Whether it’s shape size, patterns, colors, font size, fonts, or anything else that can be variated, you need to step away from static boring stuff. Throwing in a texture, which can be very subtle at times, can make a huge difference to the overall feel of the work. If you’re doing motion graphics, play with the velocity curves to adjust the movement of things so it’s not so linear. Rotate things more, randomize the size of things more, use more colors, use different movements, do it all. By adding a few variation of things, you can turn a simple design to something a lot more dynamic and complex. All the little things count when you add them up in the final piece.


Movement

Movement is extremely important in motion graphics, which is why you need to construct your movements carefully. Animating something with a bit of rotation and non-linear velocity curves makes a huge difference! Also, if you’re not careful, still things look weird. For an example, J.J. Abrams has an obsession with lens flares, especially in Star Trek. If you watch closely, the flares aren’t just sitting there, they’re subtly moving in the frame ever so slightly. Not only that, they’re flickering a little as well. These little things that you may not notice should be things you should start noticing. When adding movement to things, keep variation in mind, they go hand in hand. Also, move that camera around! Just by simply doing a slow pan, track, or orbit can give your design a sense of volume.


Color

It’s important to choose the right colors that go well together. Kuler is a great little tool for this, so you have no excuse for picking horrible random colors. Another big thing is color correction and color grading. This process can completely transform your design into something beautiful, or leave you with some ugly flat design. A lot of beginners I see tend to over-contrast things while crushing the blacks and clipping the whites. Avoid doing this! You want to get the colors to look natural, not like you over-cranked the contrast slider. Practice makes perfect, so keep experimenting and play around with colors. Magic Bullet Looks is a great place to start when experimenting with different color corrections, grades, and styles.


Synchronization

Synchronizing your designs can be a lot of fun. Try animating your design to the audio, this automatically makes your work more responsive and interesting. You can also achieve interesting effects by de-synchronizing your stuff, like making echoes or duplicates of movements or objects. Do you want things to line up and flow smoothly, or do you want things to be dynamic and rough. When done right, both options can be very pleasing, especially combined with the right audio.


Audio

If you’re not that hot with audio, you should probably get accustomed to basic audio mixing and editing. Sound design is huge and it’s crucial that you don’t break your work with horrible audio. Remember, audio is the other half of your work. Add sound effects, subtle atmospheric noise, ambient music, whatever you want. Just make sure they flow together and watch the audio levels. You don’t want peaking. Also, fading different layers in will give you smoother results.

Conclusion

So these are some of my tips for beginners to get their designs to the next level. Remember, practice makes perfect! You’ll need to do tons of experimentation and trials to get better. The process of getting a better sense of design takes years to develop and is something that I’m still doing now. In fact, the process never stops! Keep watching other great stuff, keep trying to make great stuff, and you’ll be creating better stuff in no time. Remember, if you’re not satisfied with your work, you’re probably doing it right.

Featured Image from Mattias Peresini’s Trapcode Experiments