With years of being subjected to crappy and/or “girly” television shows, due to my wife holding the remote with more gusto than I do, I have learned to actually enjoy some of the shows that I would otherwise never watch. One of the shows I have learned to appreciate is Project Runway – a Lifetime reality show that chronicles 16 designers with “a passion for fashion”, all of whom are competing to win the grand prize. Coming from a web design/development background, I found myself easily relating to all the fashion designers battling it out on the show. Creating something from nothing is a common “thread” between both fields and they share similar processes and pitfalls.

#Metaphorical Trips to Mood

In Project Runway you have limited time to brainstorm ideas and then you are off to the fabric store Mood, where again you have limited time to buy all the materials you need to construct your garment. The trip to Mood can really make or break a look, as the Tim Gunn likes to say. If you pick out horrible fabric, the finished piece will suffer and you will be gifted with a witty remark from Michael Kors during judgment.

When developing a design, starting off on a component based mindset, and not a page-centric one, can really make or break your stylesheet. In terms of my own development process, I am slowly learning to transition out of the page mindset. I have noticed I am writing fewer styles, have cleaner and more semantic markup, and am able to clock in a faster development time. Just like Project Runway, we are often on deadlines, so it can be tempting to write a bunch of styles in order to get the job done. Similar to the designer who “overdesigns” and doesn’t “stay true to themselves”, this process typically doesn’t work. You usually end up paying for it in the long run with maintenance and specificity pains. Taking the time to break things down into reusable components can make your life easier and have a more “cohesive look”. So, much like the trip to Mood, the way you start a new project or a redesign can really set you up for success later on.

#Scrap the design for the cliché “Make it Work Moment”

During the time the contestants on the show have to construct their clothes, many designers will end up ditching their original idea to start fresh. This seems risky, especially with the tight time constraints, but often it is the right move. Better designs seem to flow out of you and this is the case on Project Runway as well as web design.

You can easily go down web design rabbit holes. No matter how much tweaking and adjustments you do to a design, if you are struggling, it is time to start fresh. I find it beneficial to start over after a little break from the screen. You can easily spend hours spinning your tires over a non-functioning or lackluster design. Save yourself some time and step away from the keyboard before you get too committed to a design you don’t love.

#Don’t be too literal with your inspiration

On Project Runway, contestants are often asked to take inspiration from things around them to for the next challenge. These can be paintings done by children, architecture, or birds. The designer who is inspired by the beautiful raven, rather than the designer who sends a literal Raven costume down the runway (feathers and all), usually ends up winning the challenge. It is not always easy to look beyond what you are seeing in order to abstract the essence. Often the designers on the show are on the borderline of being “too costumey” because they could not get beyond the form or features their inspiration. They also forget that the final goal is to make something beautiful and functional. The designer that is inspired by the Raven is able to successfully capture the essence of the Raven – it’s dark and haughty nature, without using actual feathers to send this message. They were able to have their inspiration be obvious but still be mindful on the end goal.

In web design, it can be tempting to do something crazy and over-the-top to make your site standout. However, sometimes the flashy and trendy sites are cool to look at, but end up being frustrating to use. If it is laborious to navigate, then your site and design will not be successful and your clients will not be happy. While design is extremely important, just like the models of Project Runway who need to be able to walk in the clothes, a person needs to be able to successfully navigate a site in order to retrieve the information they are looking for. Look for the essence of your inspiration and use it in your design and avoid having your inspiration be the actual product. Successfully capturing the mood in subtle and stylistic ways is far more impactful that flashy and in-your-face design.

#Don’t be that person on the team challenges

On most seasons of Project Runway there is often a bête noire in the mix. Thanks to some ridiculous personalities and quality editing, the show often portrays the classic “being a dick among your peers in a comical-yet-very-shameful way.” These little episodes of high egos and bickering always breaks down the team’s effectiveness and leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. The point is, don’t be like Joshua, because the end product will suffer. Most of the time, it is the team that does not get along ends up on the bottom. Then they are shamed by Michael Kors in a delightfully worded one-liner such as, “She looks like a transvestite flamenco dancer at a funeral.” The problematic person is then called out on their shit in a very public manner. Being a difficult to work with never helps any situation.

#The Importance of Tim Gunn

Tim Gunn is a neutral mentor to all the designers and will often cause them to rethink their look midway through the challenge. Tim Gunn is a fair, kind, and just mentor to all the designers. Using probing questions, expressive facial expressions, and well-known hand gestures, he is able to make the designers look at the garment with a critical eye that often brings improvement to the work.

Having a knowledgeable person look at your work with a discerning eye is immensely beneficial, especially if they can help lead you without doing the work for you. Some struggle is good for you, but it is reassuring that you have someone to lead the way. So be grateful for any mentoring you can receive from anyone with more experience – it is usually for the best.