How to Cause Useful Accidents

September 21, 2009

If you do any visual design work you’ve probably discovered that many of the best results happen by accident. I start designing web pages in Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop but I usually create functional HTML and CSS mockups of my designs pretty quickly, one of the the main reasons being that it facilitates semi-controlled mutations. That is, to cause an “accident” I apply various unrelated stylesheets from other sites, just to see what happens. A polished final design never results, but good ideas often do, and rigid thinking is often unclogged.

It’s difficult to do this in Photoshop or Illustrator, or any of the common visual layout/design tools I can think of. These programs usually apply changes to groups of objects or type, and even if you have you’re using character or paragraph styles there’s no easy way to apply random changes, which is important because if you’re thinking about the mutations you will not cause an accident. Even taking stylesheets from your favorite (or least favorite) sites is somewhat premeditated, but it’s worked pretty well for me, provided I don’t use the same stylesheets over and over again on different designs.

Now, would someone please create a web site that generates random CSS and maybe even applies it to a page at a given URL? I’d like that very much.

PS: The folks at 37signals also recommend working in HTML/CSS early, and they have some more good reasons to do it (ease of sharing/collaboration, experiencing interactivity, etc).

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