Designing is just like being a Chef

People moving fast, the Sauté station is rocking, the Chef is yelling, so is his sous chef. Someone may be banging a whisk on your station telling you to move faster. The dance. Cooks spinning around each other learning how the people around them move. There is so much more to a professional kitchen than the average person sees. It’s not always this crazy. The other 12 hours were spent preparing for this part. If you love it, it’s like a drug. I love a busy kitchen.

So how do I even begin to compare design to being a cook? Allow me to explain.

I was a cook for a good bit of my professional life (see the featured image of a much younger me with John Besh), until I realized I enjoyed promoting the businesses even more than cooking. Here is what I learned from the many amazingly talented, driven, and knowledgeable chefs and restaurateurs:

Be prepared: Always prepare yourself for your day. This begins with gathering all of the necessary materials to create what will later be a fully completed dish (or design). Understand your product  (or customer) fully, and only then can you begin the process of creation.

Work clean: Always work in a way that gives respect to the task at hand. This could be cleaning fish, or paying attention to the smallest details of a logo or position of an element on a website.

You start with a clean slate: Build and craft with layers. Complexity should look simple. There’s no need trying to make a point that you’re talented. You either are or you’re not.

Take your time, but hurry up: Be methodical. If you don’t have a method in a kitchen you’re dead. You need a certain number of customers to make a living, but you also have to take your time when it matters, and only when it matters.

Know how to be simple: Thomas Keller crafts some of the most amazing dishes in the world. But, his favorite thing is a perfect roasted chicken. For me it’s a plate of scrambled eggs. Nothing else. Just a plate of eggs. There will always be new trends in design, but you have to learn to create something timeless and simple for those who are willing to let you do so.

Use color, but sparingly: It’s rare to see a dish that has more than 4 key colors that actually looks great and not like it’s showing off. Using color to design can bring out emotions in people that they don’t even understand, but you can also overwhelm. Once again, simplicity.

How it tastes is more important than how it looks: Although the aesthetics are important, if you’re offering up a poor user experience, the product as a whole suffers.

Use only the best ingredients: This means choosing fantastic fonts, color schemes, element layout, and thought invoking architecture.

Have a style: If you’re in the know, you can look at many dishes and know exactly who crafted them. It’s the same as when you hear a guitar rift and know it’s Eric Clapton. Learn from others…those who are far better than you. Even steal from them. Then make it your own.

Designing something that makes a difference is hard, and it takes time, practice, skill, knowledge, and discipline. Doing things the right way, regardless of what you think others will see is important.

Do your best work.