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The Importance of Staring at Your Work

Robert Irwin looking at one of his "line paintings."

Robert Irwin looking at one of his “line paintings.”

Have you ever finished a design assignment at the last minute, only to realize later how bad it was? When I’m working on a design, I have tunnel vision and focus on a small area at a time. When I’m done, I’ve been staring at the design so long that I don’t see all the flaws.

I’ve been reading about the artist Robert Irwin. Irwin began as an abstract expressionist painter, then began radically simplifying his painting style into lines, dots, and color fields on discs. He eventually moved from painting to site-specific installations, always chasing a new question about art that interested him.

When Irwin was making his line paintings, he would spend most of his studio time staring at his artwork, not painting. He would make a minute adjustment to the position of a line, then go back to staring at and thinking about it. Was each line in the right place? What did the painting say about those questions he wanted to answer?

You definitely shouldn’t spend days staring at your logo design for a fake company, or at the book club poster that’s going to get torn down in a few days. But can you spare five minutes? With all the noise and visual clutter shoved at us every day, it’s helpful to slow down, set a timer, and just look at your work in silence. What aren’t you seeing? What have you missed?


  1. galakeel wrote:

    it is intersting how Robert Irwin looks at his work. I think for graphic design as you said we look at small areas, since we use the computer screen to create designs. I also agree and I think it is a good idea to assign a few minutes looking at our work.

    Saturday, November 3, 2018 at 7:03 pm | Permalink
  2. kreategu wrote:

    I agree with you about how important is staring at our designs to check if everything is okay with the placement of the elements, contrast, balance etc..I think challenging ourselves to see what we can correct about our designs makes us better designers and help us learn more what things we should not do anymore.

    Saturday, November 3, 2018 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  3. jle21 wrote:

    I often try and stare at my work too. sometimes you need to look at your work super closely, and sometimes you need to take a step back. I really enjoy this step of the design process because it makes your work worthwhile.

    Sunday, November 4, 2018 at 5:24 am | Permalink
  4. jcarlos wrote:

    I think taking a step back and observing your work takes discipline! We’re used to the automatic process of designing, feeling accomplished, and setting it out to print. I agree and think staring at your work for a bit should be interwoven in the design process.

    Sunday, November 4, 2018 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  5. jriley20 wrote:

    I totally agree. I often find that when if stare at my work, especially when it’s printed out, I find the flaws. Its also equally important to step back from the work and not look at it and then come back to it at a later time to review it with a fresh mindset. Also I really love Robert Irwin because of the levels of thought he put into his work. Any designer that takes a third of the effort and thought that he put into his work will become significantly better designers.

    Tuesday, November 6, 2018 at 8:31 pm | Permalink
  6. abasurto wrote:

    I’ve starting doing this last semester and it does help a lot. It help you find little errors. I remember for my Typography class I had to make a type specimen for a type designer. I had made maybe 11 posters for this project and one night I ran out of ideas for the poster and I did not look at it. The designer I had was Tobias Frere-Jones and he made Gotham. We had to write a short essay about our designer and I had split Gotham into Got and essay in the middle and ham on the right. It read as Got and Ham. My professor laughed and I smacked my forehead. So I do agree that it is important to stare at your work before you show it.

    Thursday, November 29, 2018 at 4:44 pm | Permalink