Design lessons from Project Runway

Michelle Mars mannequins

Yves Saint Laurent exhibit at Seattle Art Museum

The weather here has been snowy and icy so I've been spending a lot of my time binge watching Project Runway. I don't think of this as wasted time though because I'm learning design lessons that I can apply to my own practice.

Stick to your vision

I've noticed that fashion designers on Project Runway often get nervous and start to second guess themselves. They may add more stuff to an outfit or even start copying another designer. The designers who scrap a look and go back to their original sketches usually come up with better solutions than those who try to "fix" a design.

If my design isn't working, I usually go back to my sketches to see if there is another way I can execute my original vision. Or if the vision isn't right, I sketch another idea and work from that.

Constraints make you more creative

Having only one day to create an outfit with limited tools and fabric isn't necessarily a bad thing. It actually forces the Project Runway designers to make more creative choices and has the added benefit of making the show more dramatic. 

Sometimes I get frustrated when a tool isn't working or I don't have the color options I want. Instead of giving up, I force myself to use my tools and materials more creatively. Sometimes I even limit my materials on purpose so I come up with more creative ideas.

Take inspiration from your surroundings

I like it when the Project Runway designers visit a museum or old building to get inspiration for their designs. Some of that inspiration always makes it into the final look.

I often take walks or go on trips to give myself some much needed inspiration. If I can't get out, I like to browse my numerous art books or even check out Pinterest. 

Take risks

If a designer on Project Runway wants to be in the top three, they need to take a lot of risks. However, this means they have a greater chance of ending up in the bottom. Fortunately, I'm not on a reality TV show so the embarrassment of failure is much less for me (but it's still there). 

I take risks by using materials I'm not familiar with, working in a different way than I'm used to, or learning a new process. Working in another location or collaborating with another designer is another risk that can spark new ideas. I try to come up with a lot of designs to improve my chances of one of them being successful.

Color is important!

I've noticed that many designers on Project Runway are afraid of color! Using color can be risky; get a color combination wrong and you have a truly hideous outfit. It takes time to get good at color but the effort pays off in spades. 

Color is one of my favorites aspects of design but there was a time when I used mostly black and white in my work. Once I became more comfortable with color, it transformed my designs and made them uniquely mine.