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How to find your design language

May 26, 2021

As you may or may not know, my native tongue is Hebrew. When we decided to move to Germany, I knew that the language barrier would be one of our biggest challenges. Since we moved here, almost three years ago, I did a bunch of different language courses - intensive and relaxed courses, in a classroom, at a friend's apartment and via Zoom, in private language schools and the VHS (which is funded by the government). Even though we can get by in most cases with basic German and good enough English, It is still very important to me to keep improving my language skills.

Learning a language like German is much more than vocabulary and grammar. It's subtext, slang, context, subtle differences between different phrases, cultural aspects and references like humor and etiquette and much more. Learning a new language is learning a new culture and in order to feel more fluent and comfortable in different social situations, you need to read, write, hear and speak A LOT, in addition, to continue practicing and improving your skill sets.

Buchstabenmuseum

Buchstabenmuseum
Buchstabenmuseum in Berlin

After moving to Berlin I found that in other languages (meaning English and German) I’m a slightly different and somewhat reduced version of myself. In Hebrew, I can be sharper, funnier and more creative. My English is good, but it’s my second language, so naturally, there are gaps to fill, and my German is, well, pretty basic. Even day-to-day conversations with other parents at the playground or with a salesperson at the storer could be quite challenging.

Design is a language

In Hebrew, we use the phrase "design language" to describe a certain designer's point of view or the style and concept of a specific space. But it's actually much more than that. The phrase embodies the color palette, design features, style, concept and materials - all under one holistic definition.

After thinking about this phrase and trying to figure out if this term also exists in English and if so, is it used in the same way, I realized that we actually use many words from the language field to describe design. For example, we use the term "speak the same language" to describe how different elements relate to each other and create a cohesive space. We also use the Hebrew term for ‘phrase’ (or phrasing) to describe the way a designer creates a design concept and formulates different elements and motifs. And we could also apply the concept of translation into the design world, when discussing the ideas behind a design, such as inspirations or abstract ideas, and the specific form that a designer gives them in his or her creation.

Entryway storage and styling
Photo by Tal Nisim

I really love that, because design really is a language and a form of expression. It’s a language of modules, materials, colors, shapes and much more. And, like any other language, it's a language you can learn on different levels and after you are familiar with the basics you can really start having fun with it and be more creative.

Finding your personal design language

This process that I'm about to share is the same as I do with my clients at the beginning of our design journey, with the goal to find out what they like and what styles they are naturally drawn to. Here’s how you can discover that on your own:

Seek inspiration online - In addition to following different design blogs and magazines, I particularly love Instagram and Pinterest and use them as sources of inspiration and as tools to collect ideas that I can later reinterpret myself.

Here are a few accounts that I love, followed by some tips on how to use those platforms wisely:

  1. Use the search tools to look for specific things that could be relevant to your home and design, such as different styles, rooms, colors and elements.
  2. Follow profiles of influencers, designers, architects and brands that have a similar aesthetic as you.
  3. Create Pinterest boards and/or Instagram collections to arrange your favorite posts, ideas and products. Create an organized system that best suits YOUR needs, for example, if your goal is to restyle the interior design of your home, then the best method would probably be to divide the images according to rooms - living room, kitchen, bathroom, nursery, bedroom, home office, etc. I use this system as well as saving accessories, artworks and creators that I like (and also recipes, but that's for a different post).

Seek inspiration offline - we take photos using our mobile devices ALL THE TIME, and we can use that habit in our favor when we’re exploring our personal style. In addition to taking photos of your family, friends and morning coffee, start snapping photos of different objects, shapes, textures and spaces that you see around you and that speak to you. Later, when you have a few moments to yourself, organize these photos in different albums, so you could find them easily and use them as inspiration. To do so I use Google photos, but naturally, any similar photo organization app will do the trick.

Outside Amodo Berlin
Amodo Berlin

Inside Soho House Berlin
Soho House Berlin

Observe and reflect - after you've spent all that time and effort collecting inspirations, now is the time to use them in order to formulate your personal design language.

  1. Look through the photos and look for similarities and repetitions. It could be a color palette, an element, a design style such as industrial or bohemian, or a specific material like wood or concrete. The photos, in general, could be very different but I assure you that you can find details that connect one to the other. if you look at them with the right perspective.
  2. Make a short list of the similarities that you find. Try putting it into words and add specific descriptions, such as “open wooden shelving system in home office” or “glazed partition between master bedroom and bathroom”. This list could later become useful when you go shopping or try to communicate your ideas and wishes to others.
Nordic Mood Board

Create mood boards - a mood board is a great visualization tool that allows you to see how different elements, colors, materials and shapes fit together (or don’t). Unlike the infinite feeds of Instagram and Pinterest, a mood board exists within a predetermined frame size and therefore forces you to make decisions and choices, even before you start browsing your favorite shops and vendors.

Creating mood boards can and should be exciting and fun! You should give it thought, but If you are not a professional designer, who might need it as a presentation tool, then it really doesn’t need to be perfect. Don’t spend too much energy on creating the best possible layout and focus on adding images that are most important to you and to your concept.

Use easy and free online tools, such as Canva or google presentations. Those allow you to add elements like texts and color swatches in addition to your photos, as well as to easily download and share your creations.

I created this mood board below with Style Sourcebook, for the full list of items click here.

Living room mood board

What should appear on your mood boards?

I used to give lectures to designers about creating mood boards and using them as a design tool, so I could really talk about this for hours. But in a nutshell, here are a few short guidelines:

  1. Don’t try to fit everything into one mood board. If you need to, create different mood boards for each room/space/idea.
  2. Be selective and choose the images that are most important and that portray your concept most accurately.
  3. Use basic photo editing tools to make your ideas pop. For example, you could crop an image to better emphasize the specific elements that you would like to feature.

Reasons I love mood boards

A mood board could help you communicate your ideas, wishes and styling choices to family members, team members, craftsmen and salespeople, however, it doesn't speak for you and you will still need to explain it and the ideas behind it. To do so, your previously made textual list could come in very handy. That is why I would recommend saving all your "design language" materials somewhere handy that allows you to open it whenever and wherever you are.

Have fun discovering your personal design language and style and make sure to share your amazing mood boards with me via email or social media!

Have Fun!

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