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I stumbled upon this great video recently by YouTube user Sycra. He talks about different drawing styles while sketching at the same time. I urge you to watch the first five minutes as an intro, if for no other reason than to see the unbelievable ease with which he draws different faces.

Fascinating, right? The message is profound: styles are not very important, the foundation is. If you have that, you can draw in any style you want. “Foundation” means core skills, domain knowledge, and underlying principles. It’s different for every human endeavor and a great divider between beginners and masters.

Some clients asked me what my style was. I didn’t know what to answer because I use different styles all the time. A children’s mobile game will have a very different style than a corporate website. Designer’s foundation is knowing colors, typography, human psychology, digital media, etc. When you have that, it’s much easier to explore and find the best possible solution. Locking yourself to one style and applying it to many different problems is bad design.

Programming is similar. Languages (syntax), programming paradigms (functional, procedural, OO) and frameworks are styles. Hardware and software interoperability, algorithms, data structures, abstractions and other principles are programmer’s foundation.

Tango, salsa, jive, ballet, contemporary are just dancing styles. Rhythm, motor coordination, understanding of music, speed and flexibility are dancer’s foundation.

Learn the foundations in any area and you won’t be a slave to styles and trends. You will be free to explore, adapt and innovate. I’ll leave you with something to think about—a quote by venerable Bruce Lee:

Be water, my friend.

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