Watching movies will make you a better designer


Nicole Clark

As an artistic person–and now a graphic designer–naturally, I have always enjoyed movies for their visual storytelling. My husband, on the other hand, is a film LOVER. He has shelves and shelves of Criterion Collection movies, and plans on adding to it forever. I honestly think that’s a big reason why he is one of the smartest people I know; watching all those movies is a catalyst to looking at the rest of the world with curiosity. 

Since being married to him, I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone regarding what I watch. I now not only appreciate movies as an art form, but I feel as though I have developed as a person. My perspective has expanded, and I desire to delve deeper into subjects, exploring what is not initially apparent. 

So, let’s be real. Not many people DON’T like movies. But here, I’m not talking about today’s formulaic money makers and cheeseballs. While those are undoubtedly entertaining (believe me, I love Shrek), I propose that watching a variety of films will make you a better designer and more importantly, a better person.


1. It will open your perspective and allow you to experience another reality

(In my opinion, the most important benefit of watching movies)

It can be hard to truly understand another person and their thoughts and actions, when they're nothing like your own lived experience. However, with the immersive experience that movies create, that door opens. Suddenly you feel what this person feels. It sets the stage for necessary, structured social and cultural reflection.

Watching La Haine was one of those experiences for me. I don't live in France and face racism and struggle in the same way that these characters do. But the way that movie moved me and the tears I shed for those experiences (that are based in reality) just isn't the same as reading the real version of it in the news.

La Haine (1995)

Tàr is a movie I was at a loss for words to express how it made me feel, yet there was so much I wanted to say. Did I hate this character? Did I have sympathy for her? I was confused. The complexity of humans is an important thing to explore.

Tár (2022)

2. Every bit of information you take in is stored in a library that will be used as a designer

Basically all knowledge is useful.

You never know when an idea will come in handy, and it's smart to not automatically rule something out. A good example of this is the Ad-agency, Collins. Their Brooklyn office has a very impressive library with all types of books (5,543 to be exact)–even magic books! Even if that knowledge doesn't directly give you inspiration for your work, becoming a smart and well-rounded person in the process isn't too bad...

3. Helps with stress

Movies allow you to escape your current state and reset by. You can finally disconnect with that project that's needs to get finished tomorrow and that doctor's appointment in a few days and that errand you need to run but keep forgetting about and it just haunts you.

It becomes extremely difficult to use your creativity to the fullest if you’re preoccupied with being overly stressed and anxious. Movies can take you out of your life and return you back with a fresh perspective.

Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansmen is tactfully serious when needed (as it is a serious topic), but he somehow manages to use humor to expose the ridiculous nature of the KKK, and boy, did I laugh. There's something to be said about a good hearty laugh to combat stress. I recently went to see History is Made at Night at MoMA, and I'll be honest, I was a little apprehensive since the movie was from 1937 (when movies could be a little slower and the acting over the top), but I loved the movie! And it was compelling and actually funny.

BlacKkKlansman (2018)

Days of Heaven and The Tree of Life, both by Terrence Malick, are stunning movies that are meditative and exploratory. They give you time to truly absorb and leave you with a feeling of fullness and unexplainable emotion. (Watch one of these when you need to slow down)

Days of Heaven (1978)
The Tree of Life (2011)

4. Motivation when burnt out, and inspiration even when you're not

There’s a reason the credits of most movies go on forever: there are so many creative teams that work together to make a movie.

  • Set design and props
  • Costume design, hair and makeup
  • Photography and perspective
  • Coloring, lighting, and mood
  • Special Effects
  • Typography with title and credits
  • Sound and music
  • Writing and script

Designers that don’t limit themselves and look at other forms of design outside of their realm become great designers.

The Zone of Interest (2023) contained some of the scariest noises I've ever heard in my life that I didn't even know existed. The level of skill and creativity that went into the sound and filming of this movie are incomprehensible. I somehow left this movie feeling so disturbed without having seen one scary image.

In Trainspotting, a movie about heroin addicts in Scotland, the director "uses striking colour schemes and innovative cinematography to make ordinary apartments seem doom-laden and nightmarish,” which was fitting to portray a life of paranoia and withdrawals. (Surprisingly hilarious movie)

Trainspotting (1996)

Dune: Part Two (2024) blew the costumes out of the water. For me, they helped to convincingly create a whole world. In this Vogue Scandinavia article Costume Designer, Jacqueline Wes, describes her inspiration for the Bene Gesserits as Tarot cards, the piousness of Medieval paintings by Giotto di Bondone and the Virgin Mary, and other elements from Catholicism and Islam.

It also takes signage appropriate to the time period to successfully create a fictional world. Graphic Designer, Tina Charad created much of the signage for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) and said, “It was quite hard to recreate storefronts for old Hollywood, as a lot of photographs of them weren’t even in colour. So we took some artistic liberty with Quentin [Tarantino].”

Dune 2 (left), Tina Charad designs (right)

5. An easy opportunity to exercise critiquing

As a designer, you must be able to share your thoughts and point of view clearly in a team and work setting. Similarly, as a human being, you will always be required to communicate with others thoughtfully. 

Most movies, like any other form of art and design, are not “perfect”. Parts are subjective, and parts are objective (according to established design principles). It enhances the experience to discuss it with others. What evoked emotion? What did the movie nail? What fell flat? What techniques used contributed to the overall success or failure of the movie? Read existing reviews and discussions about the movie. Talk and think about this story and world that was created before your eyes! 

A common movie that leaves people saying “I didn’t get it, it was weird” is Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away. I think that can be a good thing. Tell me more! Sometimes it’s good to not be spoon fed the "message".

Spirited Away (2001)

Great designers have found inspiration from the world of cinema time and time again. I believe film is the most important art medium because it allows us to more fully explore humanity and creativity by being a culmination of so many other ways of expression.

I have only mentioned a handful of movies that have been on my mind– great film is endless! The next film that could dramatically alter the way you think or even behave is just waiting for you to watch it. I challenge you to give more time and effort to exploring this medium (start with something you wouldn't usually go for). Growth does not happen in the comfort zone that never urges you to see things in a different way.

Movies are a structured way to expand your fundamental world view while enjoying the craft of other designers. That next movie could even give you a little something that sparks your next project!

I am no die-hard cinephile or film nerd. I just recognize the real influence movies have on me and my design. I will continue watching movies and growing as a person and designer because of it. I hope you will too.

Watching movies will make you a better designer

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