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Effortless Design? There’s No Such Thing

When I first saw Ray Collins’ photographs of ocean waves, I was stunned. The presence of the water is almost palpable, rushing and thundering down yet glimmering like colored glass.

Ray Collins Wave Photography Ray Collins Wave Photography

But as beautiful as these final works are, we only get to see Collins’ best photos. A subject as ephemeral as the sea is hard to photograph, and the process takes preparation, research, and trial and error, even for an experienced photographer. “The actual process of pressing the button to capture the image is usually three-quarters of the way down the list,” says Collins.

The best art and design looks effortless and is taken for granted. People don’t wonder too much about what it took to paint the Mona Lisa; they just appreciate the final product. Likewise, the best movie soundtrack is the one that no one notices, that blends into the background. As designers, we want people to think at your painting, poster, or drawing, and think, “How could this piece be any other way? Everything is in the perfect place.”

But the secret to the illusion of effortlessness is… well, effort. Long hours with the pen, camera, or mouse are the only path to quality workmanship. The quantity of graphic design on online advertisements, social media, and websites is so overwhelming that we don’t often consider how much work goes into each of those designs. We only see the end result. In fact, the goal of most design work is to make viewers forget about the designer and see the message.

However, it’s important to remember that, no matter how minimalist or geometric a design is, there was a person behind it. Good design doesn’t happen spontaneously, it doesn’t materialize from a computer, and it certainly isn’t effortless to create.