6 Web Design Tips from Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci was one of the greatest artists of the Renaissance, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire artists, scientists and others. Here are six things we can learn from him about web design.

1. Be curious

One of the most remarkable things about Leonardo is his insatiable curiosity. Besides being a master painter, here are some of his other interests…

Many of these interests show themselves in his artistic work. Anatomy is obvious, but have you ever compared the ringlets of hair in his paintings to his drawings of water flow? Or thought of how rhythm, which is so essential to music and poetry, also shows up in painting and drawing?

The point is that being curious and learning about many things that are apparently unrelated to web design ultimately gives you more tools with which to design well.<!--more-->

2. Look beneath the surface

I've already mentioned Leonardo's interest in anatomy. His study of what lies beneath the surface gave him an understanding which enabled him to draw and paint his subjects remarkably well. Something similar applies in web design.

For the graphic designer, it might be studying the structure of HTML & CSS. For the front-end developer, it might be understanding the workings of a content management system. And for the back-end developer, it might be understanding the complexities of a relational database.

3. Build on the work of others

Despite his genius, most of Leonardo's achievements didn't spring fully formed from his mind like Athena from the head of Zeus. He was building on the works of others who were his contemporaries and predecessors. He studied under the Florentine master Verrocchio, from whom he learned the techniques and tradition of previous Renaissance art.

What does this mean for web design? Don't reinvent the wheel. Do your customers need to be able to manage their own site? Maybe all they really need is a little customization for Wordpress.

Building on the work of others is also the philosophy behind programming frameworks like Ruby on Rails, Django, and Symfony. Instead of writing everything from scratch, much of the work is already done for a standard web application.

And, of course, you can also use a CSS framework like Bootstrap to supply some good basic layout and typography settings before adding some customization.

4. Do quick studies

Before beginning work on a painting, Leonardo would often draw several studies of it, experimenting with different compositions and learning how the various aspects of the painting would interact with each other, all without having to start over from scratch if the first idea didn't turn out well.

This can be done in web design too. Have an idea for a layout? Sketch it on paper. Building a web app? Sketch out a use process. If it looks good, go for it. If not, try again.

5. Iterate

Leonardo didn't just iterate his studies. He also completely repainted (iterated) The Virgin of the Rocks.

But with web design we have it easier. If we want to redo our work and make it better, we don't have to start from scratch again. We can make continuous incremental improvements.

6. Be careful of experimental techniques

The final lesson we can learn from Leonardo is a warning. During his painting of the Last Supper, he employed an experimental technique for mixing his paint. While all seemed well at first, soon afterward cracks appeared in the painting, and since that time it has continued to deteriorate, leaving his masterpiece in ruins.

Web designers take note. While experimental technology is wonderful, be very careful about deploying it directly to a crucial system/site, otherwise it could leave you, like Leonardo, trying to mend the cracks.

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