Want to Be a Good Designer? Start with Your Health!

How our health affects the quality of our work and how to improve both? Useful tips and exercises for designers

Rick Mess       |       Aug 21, 2021

We are not here to tell you about the dangers of sedentary jobs or how computers are harmful to your eyesight. Everyone is tired of Captain Obvious. We designers are practical. When it comes to design quality, we care a lot. Of course, everyone knows that healthy people are better workers, but you’ll be astonished to learn just how much better.

This information will be useful not only to designers but to anyone who spends a lot of time working or studying.

Do you want to improve your design? Read this article and act on it!

1. You just don’t feel like working

When we are sick, we simply have no energy to do anything. We don’t blame ourselves for being lazy because we know it’s not about laziness. However, when we’re seemingly fine but the work is stalling, we think, “I’m just not up to it,” “It’s a bad day,” and feel guilty inside. Gallons of coffee do not seem to help or only work as a temporary fix.

There’s no such thing as lazy, people. This word belies a misunderstanding of what is really going on. If you don’t feel like working, it means your body is preoccupied with something more important and vital than design. For example, digesting pizza, handling the tenth cup of coffee, neutralizing toxins, or recovering after an intense visit to the gym.

If you don’t have enough energy, ask yourself why.

Of course, if somebody is not sick and hasn’t been gorging on fast food but still can’t do much work, they probably have their head in the clouds. But more often than not, we are honestly willing to put in the effort — we just can’t. How do you deal with that?

2. How to focus

The thing about being a designer is that it requires mental acuity — focus, visual memory, patience, and diligence. These are basic things that affect the quality of our work. You may have three diplomas and a dozen degrees, you may be a genius designer, but what’s the point of all that if you’ve got no energy or desire to work?

If you are well, you can think clearly and focus easily!

Of course, bad work can also be the result of not being ready to take on the task at hand. Your brain may not have had the chance to gather enough data. When it comes upon a gap in information or a lacking piece of knowledge and experience, your brain sends out a signal: “I haven’t done this sort of thing before!” or “I’m bad at this kind of thing!” A piece of the puzzle is missing, some vital elements are lacking, and you are afraid of bungling it. This unconscious fear puts a damper on your willingness to act. Procrastination doesn’t just come from nowhere.

If your body is in self-recovery mode, you will not be able to work productively. Your system does not ask you how to allocate energy, nor does it consider your work to be the primary task. Don’t try to force it with willpower or energy drinks. There are healthier and more effective ways of helping yourself.

Stretching your legs helps you to stay on top!

3. It’s all about the brain!

Most of the blood that flows to the brain ends up in the visual system. As luck would have it, designers put a lot of stress on this part of the brain. This means that good circulation in the brain is especially critical (and not only for designers, obviously).

Many people believe that eye exercise helps. In truth, it barely makes a difference. The entire brain needs good flow. You won’t get your arterial blood flowing by blinking your eyes or massaging your eyelids. Five minutes of exercise refreshes your eyes for 5–7 minutes. Clearly, this isn’t what you need.

Want to be a good designer? Do circulation-boosting exercises.

Any physical activity will do. You don’t have to exhaust yourself in a gym. Jogging in the mornings or evenings, regular warmups, walking, cycling, yoga, dancing — all these things make us happier and more productive. As long as we make a habit of doing them, turning them into a pleasant and familiar ritual. Exercise helps your brain work in an optimum mode. Physical exhaustion, meanwhile, is no good for mental work. Your brain will direct all energy toward recovery, putting all the other tasks on the backburner.

Strange as it may seem, your eyes are the last thing that needs exercise. Boosting blood flow to your brain requires three distinct stages:

1. Improving circulation in general.

2. Improving circulation in the neck.

3. Improving circulation in the eyes.

In fact, the first two stages are sufficient. Once we increase power to the brain, we automatically improve circulation in the visual apparatus.

How exercise improves productivity and your brain function

4. The neck is a source of problems

Sedentary work damages the whole spine, not just the neck. But it’s the neck that has to bear the brunt of it. Designers are especially likely to overextend and strain their necks and shoulders when sitting in front of the monitor, and they don’t even notice it. This makes them look like a gaggle of feeding geese. And no, it’s not good for your neck (unless you are a goose).

Make it a habit to do neck exercises from time to time while sitting at your desk. This is a great way to boost productivity and clear your thoughts. (Neck exercises also affect the brain.) If you work in an office, tell everyone how this exercise is good for your health and get them to join in — that way you won’t feel embarrassed of looking ridiculous. Trust us, the goose pose looks a lot more ridiculous.

Warning: All neck exercises must be performed slowly and gently.

If it is possible to lie down, take a towel and roll it up. Lie down on an even surface and place the roll under your neck. Now slowly turn your head to the right and to the left as many times as you want (you’ll enjoy it). Soon you will feel your energy coming back and your spirits lifting!

If you cannot concentrate but need to put on your thinking cap right away, do exercises to stimulate blood flow to the head.

Warning: These exercises are not recommended to those with certain conditions, including elevated intracranial or intraocular pressure, hypertension, and heart problems. If you are physically fit but start feeling dizzy or uncomfortable, stop doing the exercises or cut their duration.

1. Forward bends

Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and bend forward with your head as low as possible. Let your arms hang freely. Keep the position for a couple of minutes, relaxing and stretching your back as much as you can, then stand back up. Repeat several times.

2. Hanging over the bed

Lie down at the edge of the bed and let your head hang down. Stay in this position until it becomes unconformable. Repeat several times, taking breaks in between.

3. Inverted hangs

This exercise restores your spine ruined by sedentary work. It’s also good for increasing cerebral blood flow.

Inverted hangs are incredibly effective, but they must not be done if you have any medical contraindications. Increase the duration and intensity gradually. It’s better to start inverted hangs with a trainer or at least someone who can spot you.

How Does Hanging Upside Down Affect My Body

The famous Russian physician Leo Bokeria enjoys hanging upside down after long surgeries to rest his spine and clear his head. He is 80 years old. He uses special boots for hanging.

4. Headstands

Doing headstands can be traumatic for a novice, so don’t rush into it. Sirsasana is very good for the brain, but first you should familiarize yourself with yoga and only do headstands with a master present. Inversion and headstands are not for everyone. However, anyone can learn to do them; just remember to take it slow and steady.

Novices should start with the first two exercises — they are safe and require no training. Even these simple exercises will help you refresh and clear your mind.

Do you want to improve your design? Do spine exercises.

When you’re tired of design and want to stretch your back

5. We still need the eyes

Eye exercises are just a temporary fix, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try them. If you spend a long time working on small elements onscreen, it’s pretty hard on your eyes. So let’s remember the little guys once in a while. As often as you can, do a simple massage: gently push your eyelids with your fingertips a few times. Close your eyes tightly and flicker your eyelids from time to time. All this lowers intraocular pressure, which is often elevated from working at the computer. (If you wear contacts, don’t forget to take them out to show your eyes that you love them.) Another good idea is to look away from the screen, periodically glancing at the objects in the room and outside the window to refocus. You can also close your eyes and simply sit and relax for a minute. Your eyes will thank you and return to work re-energized.

Want to improve your design? Do eye exercises.

6. We need sunlight to thrive

Our brain is highly sensitive to light. We need daylight: it makes us happier and more alert, helping us work and think better. Working on your projects in the morgue-like neon glare is not a good idea. If at all possible, always strive to work during daylight hours. You’ll be surprised how much it affects both your productivity and your state of mind.

7. Give yourself more love

Designers often have addictive personalities. We can spend hours immersed in a project, forgetting to eat or stuffing our faces with sweets and drinking gallons of coffee without even being aware of it. We don’t care about our “goose necks” or anything else for that matter — except the project before us. But then comes a day when we realize we are getting less done while being more tired.

If you want to be a good designer (or simply happy), make sure physical activity is an integral part of your life. Find something you like doing and do it regularly. It will make you a lot more cheerful, alert, and creative.

It looks like lockdowns will be with us for a while longer. That’s why everyone should get some home exercise equipment, download motivational apps, watch some training videos, and pick the best music to go with it.

Want to be a successful designer? Get moving! :)