I spend a fair amount of time studying design; web design, print, industrial, whatever, I just like to examine designs and see what makes them succeed or fail. And one of the themes I have seen throughout is that good designers follow the rules, but great designers know and use the rules and then they break them artfully.
I have always been a color inside the lines kind of guy. So I have to make a conscious effort to push past the limits I place on myself. I know the fundamental rules of design, what makes a clean effective design, but I have to step back and then knowingly push my designs past the point where they are correct to the point where they show something fresh and new. Once everything is lain out on a grid and lined up and sized and colored in the ‘correct’ way it is time to either stop and have a passable design or to push forward and do something new, something bold, something interesting.
I’d encourage anyone who has reached the point where they know all about laying out a grid, matching colors, picking fonts, and cleaning up images to look at their work and decide if they are ready to take the next step. Dirty up your design in a spot or three. Create an element that breaks out of your grid, use a color that will stand out, don’t use perfectly straight, crisp lines around everything. The world around us is rarely perfect, yet it is often beautiful. Look around and see how the slight imperfections in the world add character and substance and learn to add that character to your designs. If you’re a born artist this may come naturally, but it is also something you can learn to see and to use in your designs if you make an effort.