Why web designers need an analogue hobby

Cole Henley explores why he thinks it's important for web designers to take time away from digital.

I've always been a doodler, and from a young age all I ever wanted to do was draw. However, throughout school I began to focus more on academic studies and the time I spent doodling became less and less. After going to university and completing my studies I started making websites.

Although I initially concentrated my efforts on design, I struggled for confidence and instead switched my focus to coding and ultimately frontend development.

Finding a new way

In 2008 I was enjoying my work but was becoming very frustrated at not having a creative outlet. I was working in a very stressful agency setting and was bringing work (and stress) home with me. Then I read an article online about screenprinting and thought it would be a fun way to tap back into my doodling habit.

Henley gave up drawing when he was at school. He found art again, later in life

I bought a cheap kit online and started experimenting, making posters and cards for people. As someone who had been working digitally for so long it was refreshing to have a creative process that was less immediate and more tactile.

A slower pace of life

Printing is a slow and linear process which demands very clear planning. You start off with an idea and then try to break that idea down into different colour stages.

A lot of thought goes into how things will work, the sequence of colours you are going to use and how different print runs are going to overlay. Then each run is punctuated by having to wait for the medium to dry. It is not something you can rush.

A cheap printing kit was Henley route into making posters

I usually start with a rough idea sketched out and use tracing paper to try to break that down into outlines for individual colours. I'll transfer that onto thin paper and use a scalpel to cut the shapes out.

My dad was a batik artist in the 70s so I draw a lot of inspiration from his style, reducing forms into minimal shapes and simple colour palettes.

Embrace the physical

Henley finds screen printing's inherent solidity a refreshing antidote to digital's etherial nature

One of the things I love about screenprinting is that it is a physical process – from the cutting out of masks to the laying out of your screen to the flooding and printing the colour itself. It is a process that demands concentration and I often find myself zoning out whilst printing.

It is unadulterated time that takes me away from the distractions of email and social media. I become solely absorbed in the creative process.

So much of my time these days is spent on computers and looking at pixels, it is refreshing to have a pursuit that is completely analogue. And as a coder it is really important that I spend time exercising the more expressive parts of my brain.

Word: Cole Henley

Cole is a tall, bearded code minstrel, technical director at digital agency Mud and web design lecturer at the University of Greenwich. Follow him on Twitter at @cole007.

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