Design quotes

Approach to work

You wind up designing things that please yourself. As you sketch, your drawings keep making their way toward your personal taste. Of course they do. In a word, you design subjectively.

How can you possibly design anything without initially becoming obsessed with it? Even traffic signs, for example, require an investigation of what, where, and why. I imagine that the efficacy of a design based on an obsessive investigation will far surpass that of a design based on a less thorough approach…

The type of design I was interested in—design as a differentiator—really shines when it’s in this very mature category. You see this today with Linear. It’s a task manager, that’s a very defined category… The Browser Company, reinventing the browser. I think if you choose a mature category like that… It’s like the chair… we all understand what a chair is, what its purpose is, so it becomes this perfect canvas on which to paint your own ideas as a designer.

There is an old two-part rule that often works wonders in business, science, and elsewhere:

  1. Take a simple, basic idea, and
  2. Take it very seriously

A large black square “feels” heavier than a smaller one because we’ve learned to associate weight with mass… These are not rules—they are expectations established by accumulated physical and cultural experience. Some visual messages succeed by delivering on these expectations, some fail, and others deliberately subvert the very things we anticipate. That is, we construct meaning by attention to forms that meet our expectations in specific contexts, but we also respond positively to messages that creatively undermine and play with our learned experience.

When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things. I just want to get at it slowly, but carefully and thoroughly, with the same attitude I remember was present just before I found that sheared pin. It was that attitude that found it, nothing else.

Curiosity is voracious—the more you know the more you want to know; the more connections you make between the different bits of knowledge; the more ideas you have.

… the great thing about graphic design is that it is almost always about something else. Corporate law. Professional football. Art. Politics. Robert Wilson. And if I can’t get excited about whatever that something else is, I really have trouble doing good work as a designer. To me, the conclusion is inescapable: the more things you’re interested in, the better your work will be.

We maintain that a rational approach to design is not only possible, but that it is essential, if high-quality design skills are to be replicated and transmitted across the generations.

1. The task of the artist is not to express himself and his feelings in a subjective way; it is to create harmonious objects that will serve people.

2. Artists, as part of the responsibility for human culture, have to grapple with the problems of mass production.

3. The basis of all production should be the unity of functions, including the aesthetic functions of an object.

4. The aim of all production should be to satisfy people’s needs and aspirations.

… this has come about because up to now we haven’t been able to develop a truly valid standard for utility objects and above all furniture. Instead designers approach every commission as a kind of one-off, with the ulterior motive of making something striking to show off their great ideas. There’s a kind of competition to be original. As a competition, this can be fine, and I wouldn’t want to argue that nothing useful ever comes out of it. But unfortunately experience shows that it rarely does. I would prefer the competition to be turned around, with a call for people with really bright ideas to apply themselves to making a chair that is simple, practical and comfortable, for example, or a table that doesn’t wobble. This requires a much higher level art than all the other stuff…

… particularly in the fine arts, the work of any true artist comes to show distinct personal stylistic traits by which it can easily be ‘placed’ and distinguished from the work of others. Yet it has long been understood that striving for this sort of originality as an end in itself is the mark of an inferior artist. The personal style of a good artist is never something that has been deliberately cultivated and forced but something that has appeared unsought as inevitably as the personal style of a man’s handwriting. But since all artists of note are seen to have a distinct personal style, no artist can hope to make a reputation in a competitive society unless he too can show a distinctive style which easily differentiates his work from that of other artists and draws attention to it. Therefore artists of little capability or uncertain vocation will take great care to make their work look ‘different’, whereas those with any certainty in them will know that their work cannot help but look different from that of other people any more than their signatures can.

… the world of design is not utopian; solutions are often willful, arbitrary, or the product of endless compromise.

It is this area of overlapping interest and concern that the designer can work with conviction and enthusiasm.

If you’re going to design for yourself, then you have to make sure you design deeply for yourself, because otherwise you are just designing for your eccentricities, and that’s where you’re different.

Genius? Nothing—we just worked harder.

Unlike Keats, who said that knowing about the rainbow shatters its beauty, I feel that knowledge about an object can only enrich your feeling for the object itself.

In architecture, or furniture, or jackstraws, it is the connection that can do you in. Where two materials come together, brother, watch out!

With the responsive web design work, it definitely feels more like my job as a designer is as a clarifier and specifier, if that makes sense. So, asking questions in such a way that I understand the priorities and the objectives of the work that we’re doing, and then coming up with a few different design solutions that I feel can address those needs, and then essentially looking around at the folks that are doing different kinds of work collaborating with me on this project and being like, “Is there anything weird about this?” because all of this work is braided together so tightly. That doesn’t necessarily happen in the print publication world because the tools are set up and the artifacts are so stable that the work can remain more autonomous. It’s more like it’s a sequence of handoffs, essentially, in that field, for the most part. Whereas here, everything is in play all at the same time.

The only things you should be absolutely comfortable with in your creative process are your tools.

If you can’t draw as well as someone, or use the software as well, or if you do not have as much money to buy supplies, or if you do not have access to the tools they have, beat them by being more thoughtful.

It is not the formula that prevents good design from happening but lack of knowledge of the complexity of the design profession. It’s up to the brain to use the proper formula to achieve the desired result.

I believe that my attitude and my interests were strongly influenced by my grandfather, who was a master joiner. At the age of 12 or 13 I was often to be found in his workshop. My grandfather had no machines, he didn’t like them, and he preferred to work alone; apprentices never did things well enough…

Now and then he made small, one-off pieces of furniture. The wood for these he carefully chose from the timber merchant, then edged and planed it into shape by hand. The resulting simple and utilitarian pieces came into being in a totally natural way … Their design reflected the economy of his way of working, they grew out of his handcraft.

The Braun design department was always involved in self-initiated design studies alongside the usual daily workload. I believe it is very important for designers to have the creative space to develop and refine their own ideas. Most of our studies never went into production—for various reasons—but they often gave important impulses to product development and our regular design work. [These] were not simply form modifications to existing products, but designs for totally new object concepts… Our studies were no different from our realised products in that the designs and the resulting forms always evolved from an optimisation of utility.

Later theorists of the Renaissance, such as Serlio and Palladio, likewise drew upon observations and measurements of ancient buildings to establish their own standard formulas. But they went much further in drawing upon uses of the past by systematically illustrating a coherent body of historical buildings. Without any precedent for doing so, they even reconstituted some of the buildings from ruins. With these illustrations they made ancient Roman architecture available as a source of design inspiration to anyone working anywhere. Because the illustrations were not burdened with extensive textual interpretations, they could be drawn upon at random and thus serve as an open-ended resource, which they did for centuries to come.

These Gothic-inspired concerns for planning spatial configuration, forming structure, using materials, and devising decoration came to comprise the core of the theory of designing according to principles.

I spent the first week not designing the 21st century Mini but the 1969 Mini, which never existed … but if it had what could it have looked like? Then I designed the ’79 version, then the ’89 version, and in the last week I designed the 1999 Mini.

He also shows us how to use a simple metaphoric idea to retain focus on what is right. The ideas of gardening for SimCity and doll’s houses for The Sims are used to test each new notion for the qualities that define the right game.

Plans are all right sometimes. And sometimes just stirring things up is all right—if you’re tough enough to survive, and keep your eyes open so you’ll see what you want when it comes to the top.

When I begin a poster, I lay out construction lines that will serve as support for the text. Most of the time, I start from a text, from typography, and I continue with images. I use the editing techniques from film editing: I carve my ideas into pieces and then reassemble them in a different order.

As the material furnished him is often inadequate, vague, uninteresting, or otherwise unsuitable for visual interpretation, the designer’s task is to re-create or restate the problem. This may involve discarding or revising much of the given material. By analysis (breaking down of the complex material into its simplest components…the how, why, when, and where) the designer is able to begin to restate the problem.

What we commonly understand as “originality” depends on the successful integration of the symbol as a visual entity with all other elements, pointed to a particular problem, performing a specific function consistent with its form. Its use at the proper time and place is essential and its misuse will inevitably result in banality or mere affectation. The designer’s capacity to contribute to the effectiveness of the basic meaning of the symbol, by interpretation, addition, subtraction, juxtaposition, alteration, adjustment, association, intensification, and clarification, is parallel to those qualities which we call “original.”

I read once about the concepts of the lateral idea and the vertical idea. If you dig a hole and it’s in the wrong place, digging it deeper isn’t going to help. The lateral idea is when you skip over and dig someplace else.

… It’s not fully shipped until it’s fast … Anything added dilutes everything else … Practicality beats purity … Approachable is better than simple

Understanding materials

In most instances the graphic design has to be reproduced. In order to ensure a first-class result, the graphic artist must be able to superintend the production of blocks, the making of negative films and the plate cylinder, as well as to supervise the printing. To do this, they must be thoroughly familiar with the technical processes involved and know their capabilities and limitations. Nowadays, studying the material so as to have a proper appreciation of the difficulties and supervising the reproduction or handwork may well call for more time than the actual designing itself. This shows that the modern graphic artist must be equally proficient in dealing with both technical and artistic problems.

Good workmanship will make something better out of pinchbeck than bad will out of gold… Some materials promise far more than others but only the workman can bring out what they promise.

Material honesty

The second idea is that any given material takes, or can be made to take, certain shapes easily or directly. These unforced shapes are natural to it and are the right shapes to aim at. You must not torture your material.

Much of the pleasure these things give us comes from the very fact of ‘soft’ properties being expressed in a hard material to which they are quite foreign. In a similar way, perhaps the most constant and delightful aesthetic phenomenon throughout the history of sculpture has been this very expression in hard stone of the properties of soft materials like flesh, hair and drapery. The stone remains recognizably stone, yet the hair is recognizable as hair and the cloth as cloth.

The truth is that what we want to do is, not to express the properties of materials, but to express their qualities. The properties of materials are objective and measurable. They are out there. The qualities on the other hand are subjective: they are in here: in our heads. They are ideas of ours. They are part of that private view of the world which artists each have within them. We each have our own idea of what stoniness is.

… we have habituated ourselves to extracting a surprising amount of information from the look of a surface. From it we judge not only whether a thing will feel rough or smooth, but also whether it will prove to be light or heavy, a good or bad conductor of heat, dry or wet, soft or hard, firm or quaking, coated or ‘natural’. We all soon become adepts at this, just as we do at judging mood from the look of a face. When we find we have serious midjudged the quality or consistency of a thing at sight we get a shock.

The criterion of “truth” concerns the expression of honesty in a building, regarding both materials and structural composition. One of Ruskin’s most enduring dicta is that one material must never be camouflaged to look like another, most especially when the material imitated would have been more expensive. More fundamental to later theory and practice, though, is the principle that materials should only be employed to perform tasks consonant with their inherent properties. Structure should be composed so as to express how the building is put together. This does not mean that all structural elements should be in view, but that the building must not appear to be constructed differently from the way it actually is.

Second, no material should ever be disguised as another, most especially if the substitute is cheaper, although an exception should be allowed if the disguising material patently could not be the actual one through and through. Examples he cited are the gilding of a decorative feature, such as a carved capital, or the covering of a brick wall with plaster and fresco painting.

In a good old toy there’s apt to be nothing self-conscious about the use of materials. What is wood is wood. What is tin is tin. What is cast is beautifully cast. It is possible that somewhere in all this is a clue to what sets the creative climate of any time, including our own.

Well, the web kind of wants you to stack things vertically on top of each other and have quite a bit of text. It wants to be fluid, it wants to scroll vertically, and it wants to probably use flat colors or simple gradients because that’s what’s easy to specify inside of CSS.

My job is to help my clients identify and express the one or two uniquely true things about their project or company, then enhance it through a memorable design with a light touch. If complexity comes along, we focus in on it, look for patterns, and change the blueprint for what we’re building. We don’t necessarily go looking for better tools or fancier processes. In the past, I’ve called this following the grain of the web, which is to use design choices that swing with what HTML, CSS, and screens make easy, flexible, and resilient.

The best web designs aren’t huge, pixel-perfect monstrosities based on some insane PSD designed by someone who doesn’t know what implementation will require. They’re simple, flowing, and resilient. They won’t break if the content-length changes and the right column is longer than the left. They won’t break when someone over age 40 views the site and magnifies the text to 150% because they can’t read your trendy 11px Verdana. And they certainly won’t break if IE slips a few pixels into the margin somewhere. Instead of wasting hours upon hours to hammer out every little browser difference in an overly complex design, just design it to accommodate browser differences in the first place.

So, that’s what’s interesting to me. It’s taking sort of a principled stance as a starting point, honoring the materials that you’re working with and believing that the web has a grain like how a piece of wood has a grain. You can work against that grain, and that creates interesting work that requires a lot of craftsmanship, but for the most part, if you’re building something, you’re going to want to go with the grain because it’s going to be sturdier, it’s going to be easier for you to work with and typically, hopefully, in the process it will be a little bit more beautiful, too.


One of the things I have observed, looking back historically, is how elegant a seventeenth-century book looks. One of the reasons it looks so elegant is because of the restrictions: there was only one typeface available, there weren’t that many fonts, and virtually all you could do was play with sizes, italics, and so forth. Automatically it looks elegant by today’s standards.

If you are an adherent to a particular ism (modernism, postmodernism, realism, the International Style, De Stijl, Paul Randianism, the Bauhaus, whatever), you have solved with one stroke of your sword the Gordian knot of editorial judgment. In other words, you abdicate your judgment in favor of strict rules. You still have to apply those general rules to your specific design (the way lawyers apply the law to specific cases), but you don’t question the rules.

The new methods were invented to manage a level of complexity that is completely foreign to me and my work. It was easy to back away from most of this new stuff when I realized I have alternate ways of managing complexity. Instead of changing my tools or workflow, I change my design. It’s like designing a house so it’s easy to build, instead of setting up cranes typically used for skyscrapers.

For book covers, I strive to represent some part of the content of the book, be it mood, tone, genre, a character’s perspective, setting, or something else. Then I fool around with ways to limit myself. These limitations can be drawn from the book’s content. Let’s say abstract and black-and-white and all handmade.

The sophisticated artist will always seek out or impose restraints on himself as one of the few ways that a concept of unity and structure can be maintained in the face of the unrestricted choices that are characteristic of our time.

I always start on mobile because, from a layout perspective, it’s kind of an easy problem to begin with. It’s simplified because most of the things that you’re going to do is choose the order of the elements on the page. So, you’re beginning with really foundational design choices, which is how am I going to express the hierarchy with color here or through typefaces or type sizes?

So, mobile-first for me is less about a technological stack or anything like that. It’s more about just the purity of the design problem that you’re trying to solve. It feels like you’re making the important choices first whenever you do that. In my mind, the way that I’ve worked, it ensures that those choices are good ones, which makes the work that you do after that a little bit easier.

I have never been forced to accept compromises, but I have willingly accepted constraints.

Systematic design approaches

In its unfettered derivation, rigour refers to the quality of being extremely thorough and careful and has positive connotations … The adjective, rigorous, commonly refers to strictly applied or adhered to rules, systems or codes of practice … [An alternative title for this paper could be] ‘the value and role of care and thoroughness for Design Practise’.

One should not confuse discipline and methodological rigorousness with a dogma, and it is erroneous to counteract discipline with arbitrariness, in favor of freedom. Freedom could exist only within boundaries which can guarantee its existence. The opposite is chaos, arbitrariness … and shallowness.

Certain web-design pundits claim that modular scale—that is, multiplying the body text by a recurring ratio—is a useful method of sizing web headings. I disagree. Yes, mathematical tools can guide certain typographic choices (see grids, for instance). The risk with these shortcuts is that they encourage typographers to satisfy themselves with numerical justifications—I used the golden ratio, therefore it must look good!—at the expense of developing visual judgment. When your headings look right, they are right. The ratio is irrelevant. (FWIW, I’ve never used a modular scale to size type. And never will.)

To lay out the plan he began with a grid, which established from the outset a modular system. He specified that walls were to be laid out on the grid lines and columns were to be centered over their intersections. If columns play a prominent role, the width of their intercolumniations could determine the dimensions of the grid module. These simple restrictions automatically discipline the configuration of the design with a degree of regularity and increase the likelihood of achieving pleasing proportions.

Without minimizing the value of intuition as a problem solving tool, we propose that systematic design programs are more valuable from a communication standpoint than are ad hoc solutions; that intention is preferable to accident; that principled rationale provides a more compelling basis for design decisions than personal creative impulse. When designing for human-computer interaction, communication is the overriding concern and creative expression is simply one means to this end.

The eye craves structure and will seek to impose its own organization onto a design whose structure is not readily apparent. This breakdown threatens communication, since the designer is no longer in control of the message.


The same goes for building. Here too the functions are often so vague and ill defined that it’s not surprising if the results represent not so much ‘the unity of functions’ as the architect’s desire for self-expression. With regard to this I’d like to point out the real danger of this kind of personal expression becoming a substitute for a clear definition of functions, preventing the ‘unity of all functions’ from developing into a neutral, organic and typical form. It is this neutral, typical organic form that I take as my ideal.

What we demand from the plane as its primary function is technical performance, that is the capacity to transport a set load from one place to another in the shortest possible time, and under specific economic conditions. The sculpture, on the other hand, has to fulfil a purely spiritual function, find a formal expression for it.

Between these two extremes lies an expansive field composed of an infinite variety of objects; in some of these the external appearance plays an important role, in others it is considered unimportant. But in all cases a sum of functions has to be fulfilled. So it is always paramount to analyse these functions as precisely as possible and define each one individually. This is the task and the difficulty of form-giving. It is therefore not so much the question of aesthetics as the analysis of functions that is the remit of the true designer.

The basis of any aesthetic has to be above all function. This is perhaps a somewhat general term; what I mean is that an exemplary object should fulfil its purpose under all conditions—practical, as well as social. In other words it should fulfil, completely and under all conditions, the function for which it was created. This means, for example, that if a typewriter is to completely fulfil its function as a typewriter it must be simultaneously pleasing to look at, no bigger than is absolutely required, easy to maintain and finally value for money, ie worth the financial outlay. Whether it is made by hand or machine—whether it’s ‘hand-crafted’ or ‘industrial’—is of no concern to us here. For that is a purely economic question…

… we should not forget that aesthetics must never serve as decoration, as a facade for covering up those things that even today, despite numerous reforms, still don’t function to our complete satisfaction.

… a stool—to take as an example one of our simplest, most essential use-objects—is not always determined by purely functional needs; in fact, whether any stool is truly functional in the real sense of the word—satisfying all of the requirements for comfort and elegance while at the same time being affordable—is highly debatable. Meanwhile, stools are still being made in the form of ship’s propellers, for example.

Because there has not been any coherent theory of the nature of design, and because it is evident that what a thing does has some bearing on what it looks like, ‘function’ has been loosely used to cover any or all the factors which limit the shape of designed things independently of the designers’ preference. It has diverted attention from the fact that those influences are many, disparate, and of various effect, and particularly from the fact that economy, not physics, is always the predominant influence because directly and indirectly it sets the most limits. ‘Function’ apparently covers economy as well as anything else you please. It is a wonderful hindrance to any understanding of design and will die hard, for it makes a fairly intricate subject look simple.

Animation for animation’s sake is deadly. The best animations communicate something to the user…

Semantics, for me, is the search of the meaning of whatever we have to design. The very first thing I do whenever I start a new assignment in any form of design … is to search for the meaning of it … Design without semantics is shallow and meaningless, but unfortunately it is also ubiquitous … How often we see design that has no meaning: stripes and swashes of color splashed across pages for no reason whatsoever.

I’ve been described as not having any recognizable style and that’s one of the greatest compliments I could hope for. I want each book to have as much of its own individual personality as possible, based on what it is and what it’s about.

Viollet-le-Duc maintained that while a rationally designed structure may not necessarily be beautiful, no building can be beautiful that does not have a rationally designed structure. Indeed, the pithy dictum “form follows function”, which Louis Sullivan later famously employed to express Viollet-le-Duc’s theory, signified this sort of structural configuration. The wide currency of this dictum in the twentieth century testifies to the pervasiveness of Viollet-le-Duc’s concept in the context of modern architecture.

The most important design goal for most apps should be that they’re usable. And then, further down the list — maybe second, maybe tenth, depending — should be attractiveness or adherence to a particular aesthetic.

I find that the more input I have in the content and strategy of the project, the less burden I place on the aesthetics. Perhaps this is because I believe the aesthetic of the work should be an extention of its objectives, so if you get the strategy right, the look follows.

Consistent voice is more important than consistent style. Voice is about what you say. It’s content. Style is about what you’re wearing. It’s aesthetics. The prior informs the latter, not the other way around.

We design things that are semantically correct and syntactically consistent, but if, at the point of fruition, no one understands the result or the meaning of all that effort, the entire work is useless.

Thinking of how a chair looks comes pretty far down on the list of things I worry about when designing. I only think about how they look in relation to how they are doing their job. They must be comfortable—comfortable for the kind of use they’re going to get.

The extent to which you have a design style is the extent to which you have not solved the problem.

The second quality important to me, with all my furniture, is of course its usability—in many dimensions. The armchairs and chairs should facilitate unfettered, relaxed and comfortable sitting. They should be easy to maintain. They should be adaptable to their owners’ wishes and changeable when requirements change. In this respect it is vital that this furniture has a degree of functional neutrality. That means the pieces should work in a variety of different situations, not just specifically for the living room, bedroom, dining room or the office.

Most of my furniture has been designed in the form of systems. Systems with modular elements allow a variety of possible variable set-ups. The shelving system, the table programme and the wall panel system are particular good examples of this. But even the apparently solitary products, such as the 620 armchair, are systems as well. All the components such as the arm or backrests are designed in a modular way. They are easy to detach, connect, or exchange. An armchair, for example, can be converted without much effort into a sofa seating two, three or even more people.

My endeavours to achieve usability, variety and durability require very high levels of quality. A Vitsoe furniture system should be able to withstand decades of use, extension, alteration and moving without harm—and it can. This high quality has led to prices that have lent these apparently simple, uncomplicated, materially economical, functional furniture objects a degree of exclusivity that was never intended.

Spend a lot of time choosing that one thing that a piece of design or an illustration should try to do. Then, work your ass off trying to figure out the absolute best way to do that one thing.

Viollet-le-Duc asserted that the asymmetry and variation in elevations that results from strict adherence to functional requirements will read as rational design and, as such, will be preferable to irrational formal consistency.

The KM 3/32 and the later kitchen appliances show clearly that a completely function-oriented design can also have a high level of aesthetic quality. This comes from the interplay of clean lines and balanced proportions and volumes.

Viollet-le-Duc saw the historical traditions of architecture first and foremost as having created rational solutions to design problems, not compositions prompted primarily by aesthetic impulses. The extent to which buildings are beautiful, he opined, is the extent to which the special problem each confronted was solved in an optimal way. Hence, for him, there was no need to evaluate the beauty of a building as an independent quality; beauty was simply the outcome of a rational analysis. So it is, then, that in his theoretical writing critical evaluation was addressed first to the interrelationship of the functional program and the structural design. The style of a design was thus interpreted as the by-product of this relationship. Style, he held, is something a completely rational scheme achieves by virtue of its correspondence to the needs of the project. The historical styles, on the other hand are simply artificial intellectual constructs decided after the fact for purpose of formal classification.

Interaction design

All curation grows until it requires search, and all search grows until it requires curation.

Your brain can normalize the patterns of an interface and make way for more nuanced abstractions. With enough time and exposure, a user can shed the padding and metaphors that become dead weight, like taking the training wheels off a bike. We’ve been living through that shedding process, and the interfaces of iOS 7 and Windows Metro suggest the keenness of our minds and our adeptness at navigating interfaces. Like them or not, Metro and iOS7 are major touchstones in our relationship to computing, because they signify that we’re beginning to accept a flexible medium on its own terms.

You wouldn’t believe how many customers have asked me to add features that were already there, or couldn’t find basic functions like deleting episodes, because they weren’t apparent enough in the design … A lot of people also never swipe table cells (or tap Edit buttons), therefore never finding the Delete button. I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails since Overcast 1.0’s launch asking how to delete episodes without playing them.

… feedback is the place to express the personality of the product. Indeed, feedback could be said, along with the overall form, to completely define the product’s personality.

With controls, the choice is between operational simplicity and perceived simplicity. Operational simplicity gives every command its own control. … With perceived simplicity, a single control does multiple actions.

Think about your stapler and staple remover. My stapler is on top of my desk, and my staple remover is in my drawer. The reason is that I staple papers more frequently than I unstaple them. You can argue that architecturally speaking the stapler and staple remover are equivalent and therefore should be in the same place. If you look at it intuitively and ask what you do more frequently, some of these decisions just naturally bubble to the top. It all depends on understanding your customers, but not on a very complex level. It is not rocket science to suggest that you" would be more likely to enter a new phone number than to delete one.


There is a classic esthetic which romantics often miss because of its subtlety. The classic style is straightforward, unadorned, unemotional, economical and carefully proportioned. Its purpose is not to inspire emotionally, but to bring order out of chaos and make the unknown known. It is not an esthetically free and natural style. It is esthetically restrained. Everything is under control. Its value is measured in terms of the skill with which this control is maintained.

To a romantic this classic mode often appears dull, awkward and ugly… Everything is in terms of pieces and parts and components and relationships.

The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, creative, intuitive. Feelings rather than facts predominate. ‘Art’ when it is opposed to ‘Science’ is often romantic. It does not proceed by reason or by laws. It proceeds by feeling, intuition and esthetic conscience…

In one sense ‘beauty’ means aesthetic success, in another sense it means only a certain kind of aesthetic success.

… we call something beautiful when we gain pleasure from contemplating it as an individual object, for its own sake, and in its presented form.

The essence of rhythm is the fusion of sameness and novelty; so the whole never loses the essential unity of the pattern, while the parts exhibit the contrast arising from the novelty of their detail.

Virgil Abloh has developed a unique binary to think about his audience: tourists and purists… The tourist, in his formulation, is an un-jaded enthusiast, wide-eyed about new discoveries and eager to learn more. The purist, on the other hand, is an expert who knows the history of the given subject or tradition and has developed criteria to form judgments or seek out the most rare and essential examples. … participants in the upper echelons of art, design, architecture and fashion grudgingly, if ever, take the tourist perspective into account, and often put their psyches and their humanity at risk to perform for their fellow purists.

1. Design is noticed. If you don’t design intentionally, people fill in your blanks, and it may or may not go your way.

2. Design is culture. People, places, games, music… What gives meaning to design resides outside of design.

3. Good design speaks to to the purist and the tourist. Don’t neglect either.

Effective visual design consists of selecting—for each part and for the whole composition—the visual treatment that most effectively realizes the communication goal. Visual design, however, is lifeless when its only concern is for communication efficiency.

From the outside it’s hard to know if a company is going to be able to deliver on their promises, just the same way it’s hard for a female peacock to know if a male is going to have good genetics, so we have to rely on external surface-level signals to make decisions.

The best and most reliable type of signal is known as a “costly” signal because it’s hard to fake. For example, if a male peacock has a giant array of feathers and still manages to drag it around everywhere and survive, it’s a pretty good bet that they are physically fit and have good genes.

The primary function of visual aesthetics in corporate design, in my view, is to send a costly signal to prospective partners that the company is fit to survive. “We are strong, wealthy, and reliable,” they say to your subconscious… Cheap-looking design often signals a lack of resources and taste.

The exception that proves the rule is Berkshire Hathaway’s website, which is the corporate version of shabby chic, like a top model wearing baggy torn-up clothes: a costly signal in its own right. (“Look what I can get away with!”)

There are universal principles of visual design that matter across time and in every cultural context. But also, there are certain processes and materials that are seen as premium. This is context-dependent; it changes over time based on technology and economics. When a design uses a premium material like an illustration or an intricate 3D rendering, it is seen as an honest “costly signal” that the company behind it has lots of resources to spare. This, more than grid alignment or proper typographic hierarchy, is the thing that sends a tingle down your spine and makes you think “I should sign up.”

… if there ever were a prime candidate for a company that needs to do some costly vibe signalling, it’s a startup that needs to convince other startups to build financial products on top of it. Historically Stripe has been a leader in design [for this reason].

You might ask, ‘why this neutral form?’ My answer is that these neutral, functional forms are the most beautiful ones; because they are exempt from the vagaries of fashion they are more enduring and in this way they become characteristic of the type of object. It is this character of the object, its purpose, that I’d like to see expressed, rather than the personality of the designer, with his more or less perishable plays on form.

With aesthetics, we have observed that taste does not offer sufficient certainty. Nor are the quality of the material or the technical execution in themselves enough. It’s only the ‘function of the whole’ that can form a valid basis for operation. We might therefore ask: how, then, do we come to a form? And in light of the preceding argument we should note: the form is not the basis of the things, but a result; it is the expression, the bringing together of the various functions, to which the quality of unity adheres. We then perceive this unity of all functions as a valid, typical form, as gestalt.

You have to search long and hard to find a simple, functional and beautiful chair, beautiful crockery, a functional, all-purpose door handle, a functional and beautiful lamp. It has become clear to us that beauty can no longer be developed out of function alone; instead, the demand for beauty has to be set on the same level as a functional demand, as it is a function too.

Beauty from function—which we still consider an essential codeterminant of beauty as function—is a phenomenon most readily observed when functions are brought to light in the purest way, without sentimental frippery…

The main interest lies in giving an aesthetic shape to the functional form, or rather, perhaps, in shaping the form in such a way that it does not run counter to function but is as practical and as beautiful as possible. This is a matter of experience and judgement; it’s about the harmonious line of a curve and the exact balancing of volumes and proportions, which are just as important as the pure function.

Some things are widely considered to be beautiful, others are seen as ugly. To some extent, this evaluation is tied to the age of the objects. With objects that are subject to technical change, ie whose function is not completely fixed, the form ages rather quickly. A telephone from 25 years ago may look like an oddity today. And a 40-year-old car comes across as a joke, unless you happen to be a vintage car buff admiring it from a technical viewpoint.

… the public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.

I suggest that the experience of beauty whether in music or in visual art does not come directly from our sensations, aural or visual, and often owes nothing to any perceptions which may accompany them, but that it comes from something indescribable in the relation or tension between a shape, vivid, sensation—the note actually sounding or the acute vision of the fovea—and its more tempered context, the remembered preceding notes or the indistinct peripheral field.

… all these activities: ‘workmanship’, ‘design for appearance’, ‘decoration’, ‘ornament’, ‘applied art’, ‘embellishment’, or what you will, are part of the same pattern of behaviour which all men at all times and places have followed: doing useless work on useful things. If we did not behave after this pattern our life would indeed be poor, nasty and brutish.

The second fact, which can be verified by simple observation, is that all useful devices have got to do useless things which no one wants them to do. Who wants a car to get hot? Or to wear out its tyres? Or to make a noise and a smell?

The concept of function in design, and even the doctrine of functionalism, might be worth a little attention if things ever worked. It is, however, obvious that they do not. Indeed, I have sometimes wondered whether our unconscious motive for doing so much useless work is to show that if we cannot make things work properly we can at least make them presentable.

… complexity without order produces confusion; order without complexity produces boredom

Classical aesthetics is: aesthetic design, pleasant design, clear design, clean design, symmetric design. Expressive aesthetics is: creative design, fascinating design, use of special effects, original design, sophisticated design.

Traditionally, the human–computer interaction literature expressed only passing interest in the aesthetic aspects … Discussion of aesthetic issues is infrequent and is almost invariably qualified by warnings against its potentially detrimental effects … Tractinsky et al. (2000) suggest that this might be the result of two different processes. One process is characterized by a “backlash to recent tendencies by the computer industry to oversell glitz and fashion in its products…” Another process relates to the field’s origins “in disciplines that emphasize efficiency” rather than affect … There is little doubt that, in general, the aesthetic criterion is an integral part of effective interaction design … Yet, readers of human–computer interaction textbooks can hardly find any reference to aesthetic considerations in design.

The golden ratio, symmetry, or fractal patterns can be found in the art and architecture of cultures from our beginnings, to today. Humans seem to be in mysterious, inherent agreement about the beauty of certain things. The patterns that keep coming up are all rooted in nature.They became part of our biology because they helped our ancestors survive. … Things that helped us survive activate the reward center in our brain. Recognising signals of safety and nutrition triggered nice feelings in us.

… the line between variety and chaos is a fine one.

Visual activation of negative areas of white space … illustrates the endlessly contextual and interactive nature of visual elements. This idea is captured in a fundamental principle of information design: 1 + 1 = 3 or more. In the simplest case, when we draw two black lines, a third visual activity results, a bright white path between hues … The noise of 1 + 1 = 3 is directly proportional to the contrast in value (light/dark) between figure and ground. On white backgrounds, therefore, a varying range of lighter colours will minimize the incidental clutter.

There is still comparatively so much diversity about that is is difficult to estimate how an environment quite devoid of it would strike us. The quality in design which is called “clinical” is more or less the quality of no-diversity. A little of it, for a change, is pleasant, but a world all clinical might be fairly oppressive…

… the intended result of design can often be achieved perfectly well without the workman being denied spontaneity and unstudied improvisation. This perhaps has special importance because our natural environment, and all naturally formed or grown things, show a similar spontaneity and individuality on a basis of order and uniformity. This characteristic aspect of nature, order permeated by individuality, was the aesthetic broth in which the human sensibility grew.

Some contrast and tension between regulation and freedom, uniformity and diversity, is essential, and it is the play made with it which most sharply characterizes human as distinct from natural workmanship. The delight which has always been felt in things made of wood and marble rests mainly on the contrast between the regularity of their design and the diversity of the material.

The criterion of “power” distinguishes between two modes of vivid aesthetic expression, the sublime and the beautiful. These modes are not mutually exclusive and both can be present in a given building. More generally, however, one mode or the other will be recognised as the signal virtue. The sublime impresses with its forcefulness, due to such qualities as great size, stark simplicity, overwhelming muchness, dramatic play of light and shadows, and rugged strength. Beauty, on the other hand, charms with such qualities as harmony, grace, delicacy, and refinement.

With the old version, the icons didn’t make sense to the beginners, so I decided to improve all the icons and add text labels. The first time I asked Osami Matsuda, our graphic designer, to revise the icons, he refused to put text labels together with the icons because it doesn’t look cool. But after the usability testing, we realized again that displaying graphical icons is not enough to communicate distinct information to beginners, so in the end, we decided to display both icons and labels.

Tweaking and modifying popular design aesthetics is the only way to avoid cliche

the designer must steer clear of visual clichés by some unexpected interpretation of the commonplace. He does this partly by simplifying, by abstracting, by symbolizing. If the resulting image is in any way ambiguous, it may be supplemented by one which is more clearly recognizable.

It makes design easier to reach for people who haven’t necessarily perfected the skill. I would include myself in this category, by the way. I’m not a designer by any means, but I can make something that looks fairly good to modern standards because modern standards are like a white page, pretty nice typography, and that’s about it. As long as you have that, it’s considered a stylish, nice page.

Because all interactions between your audience and your structure occur through the site’s presentation, it must be understandable and engaging. If the presentation is not clear, your audience might not be able to make it to your content. If the presentation is not engaging, your audience might not be motivated to try.


… Ellen Dissanayake … in Homo Aestheticus, argues that art and aesthetic interest belong with rituals and festivals—offshoots of the human need to ‘make special’, to extract objects, events and human relations from everyday uses and to make them a focus of collective attention. This ‘making special’ enhances group cohesion and also leads people to treat those things which really matter for the survival of the community—be it marriage or weapons, funerals or offices—as things of public note, with an aura that protects them from careless disregard and emotional erosion.

Yet even when it’s not being used, the armchair still has a visual presence. As such, the relation between the man and the chair is also an aesthetic one. It has an effect on the human psyche. Thus its form is also a function, and when it is consciously designed, this aesthetic function has a great impact.

The thing that we call art is only one component of this visual culture, yet is has a considerable impact on our environment. The environment, in turn, has a decisive impact on people’s well-being, from which we can conclude that art occupies a key position within our mental and spiritual world…

If we place particular value on something being beautiful, it’s because pure functionality, in its narrow sense, is not what concerns us in the long term. We should no longer have to demand functionality—it ought to be a matter of course. But beauty is less self-evident, and ideas about what is beautiful or not beautiful often differ. That’s why it’s easier to keep on calling for functionality. The pursuit of beauty is much more difficult; it requires a greater effort, and succeeds only under particular creative conditions…

[We] designers yearn to be respected for our minds… we take our real gifts — our miraculous fluency with beauty, our ability to manipulate form in a way that can touch people’s hearts — for granted. Those are the gifts that matter, and the paths through which we create things that truly endure.

I have argued that the power of design to make for human happiness rests not directly on its useful results, which only serve man’s needs and can do no more; but on its power to beautify the environment: on the fact that design is an art, not simply a problem-solving activity and no more.

And nowadays because we build cities of such a quality that no one likes living in them, everyone who can do so gets a motor car to escape from them. Because of them multitude of motor cars escape is now denied us, the country is destroyed, and the cities become still less tolerable to live in. All that is the consequence of contempt for art. Art is not a matter of giving people a little pleasure in their time off. It is in the long run a matter of holding together a civilisation.

Everything we do has some aesthetic implication… art is not something special but a significant part of daily experience, and … a real understanding of life is synonymous with aesthetic enjoyment.


These years of restraint with colour came from one of the core principles of the Braun design philosophy: appliances designed for intense personal use over a long period of time should be as inconspicuous as possible. They should retreat into the background and blend in well with their environment.

Strong colour accents can be bothersome or irritating. Colour-neutral products allow users to design their environments according to their own colour preferences—and later change them more easily if they wish. Therefore we only used colour for decoration in exceptional circumstances.

On the other hand colour was, and is, often used for information purposes—in hi-fi systems or pocket calculators, for example. Here we developed a colour coding system that has been in use for decades.

Colour was always used extremely sparingly and then only to provide information.

Pure, bright or very strong colours have loud, unbearable effects when they stand unrelieved over large areas adjacent to each other, but extraordinary effects can be achieved when they are used sparingly on or between dull background tones.

What palette of colours should we choose to represent and illuminate information? A grand strategy is to use colors found in nature, especially those on the lighter side, such as blues, yellows, and grays of sky and shadow. Nature’s colors are familiar and coherent, possessing a widely accepted harmony to the human eye

At work in this fine Swiss mountain map are the fundamental uses of color in information design: to label (color as noun), to measure (color as quantity), to represent or imitate reality (color as representation), and to enliven or decorate (color as beauty). Here color labels by distinguishing water from stone and glacier from field, measures by indicating altitude with contour and rate of change by darkening, imitates reality with river blues and shadow hachures, and visually enlivens the topography quite beyond what could be done in black and white alone.

One of the ways that I’ve found to add spirit to simple designs is through color. The color need not be showy, only rich and nuanced.


An elegant solution is both an artistic and an intellectual achievement that—while it may come to be taken for granted—never becomes trite or irrelevant.

Why [designed objects] should not have withstood the test of time is much harder to say. Perhaps they were never quite as functional as they were made out to be. Perhaps they were more influenced by contemporary formalist tendencies than one wanted to admit, or suspected, at the time.

If you want a product with a timeless design, think classical. Classic designs are usually sophisticated, clear, and understated … A classic style in a standard interface would have every element aligned, spaced and placed evenly; there would be only a few graphics, in black and white or muted colors; there would be nothing extraneous in the design anywhere … It is usually easier to create classic style designs, because they don’t push the boundaries and they rely on clarity and simplicity to work. There are also more models to emulate and arriving at a design just takes diligent attention to detail. Flashier designs are harder to make effective, because they involve more artistry and require achieving a delicate balance of rules followed and rules broken.

Let me let you in on a little secret: if you are hearing about something old, it is almost certainly good. Why? Because nobody wants to talk about shitty old stuff, but lots of people still talk about shitty new stuff, because they are still trying to figure out if it is shitty or not. The past wasn’t better, we just forgot about all the shitty shit.

There is the classical type that has never been fashionable and will never go out of fashion. There is [also] the more or less anonymous sea of cars that follow the current fashions while trying to look just that little bit different.

What happens in fashion is that something’s in one year and out the next. Exciting, but it doesn’t last. In terms of being inspired by things that are timeless what better inspiration than nature? Nature’s not trendy. You don’t have anything that’s in one year and out the next.

We like the use of primary shapes and primary colors because their formal values are timeless … We like economy of design because it avoids wasteful exercises, it respects investment and lasts longer. We strive for a design that is centered on the message rather than visual titillation. We like design that is clear, simple, and enduring. And that is what timelessness means in design.

Some might say that this blog’s design has some “timeless” qualities. I will let you in on a secret: I am lazy. I want to make as few decisions as possible, but I want those choices to be good ones. I don’t add cruft, because I’d have to make the cruft so that I could add it. And then I’d have to decide where it would go.

Aesthetics are fleeting, the only things with longevity are ideas.

Kitchen utensils are tools in the most direct sense of the word. And that is what we always designed them to be: consistently function-specific with the simplest forms possible and details whose form follows function. Because there were no decorative elements, there was also no fashion context and thus the designs were long-lived and almost timeless. The KM 3/32 kitchen machine cam onto the market in 1957 and was produced for more than 30 years with only minor detail changes. It is undoubtedly one of the most long-lived industrial products ever.


The effectiveness of a clear composition always depends at least as much (often more) on the relationships among the parts as it does on the parts themselves… Altering even a single attribute of one part in a complex composition can have a significant impact on the balance, the unity, and ultimately the harmony of the whole.

In his art, the architect uses all kinds of building materials. We know that as far as good cooking is concerned, the most successful dishes are not the most complicated, whether made of beef, fowl, or fish. Keeping in mind the principle of unity, we are again led to the conclusion that the less different materials we use in a building, the better the building will be, at least in regard to consistency. By consistency, we mean the close union of material and design so that one seems to be the necessary result of the other to such an extent that it becomes difficult to decide if the design was the result of the material, or if the material was chosen because of the design.

What matters—inevitably, unrelentingly—is the proper relationship among information layers. These visual relationships must be in relevant proportion and in harmony to the substance of the ideas, evidence, and data conveyed.

Now, many of the formal elements revealed on a close approach to any thing, even if it is of the finest workmanship, are commonplace; but then most formal elements in themselves are commonplace. It is in the relating of them to each other, and often in the subtlety of those relations, that the art lies.

There are these invisible relations between things that are really, the thing that you’re managing when you’re trying to make something beautiful. It’s not about the things individually being beautiful — all of that helps — but it’s about them being together to form a composition.

… in the course of this exposition he did set out, without any attribution of significance, the system of whole-number ratios assigned to the harmonious musical intervals… The reason this association mattered is that the observance of proportion in architecture could then be related to the laws of nature, with the implication that harmonious proportions in architecture partake of the harmony of the universe.

If to Vitruvius the orders are necessarily the means for making beautiful architecture, it is due regard for proportion that makes the orders—and architecture in general—beautiful. Harmony is achieved only when correct proportions are employed throughout.

… When Vitruvius dealt with the process of design, the most painstaking aspect of his labors was the incorporation of appropriate proportions. … Each component of the column and entablature is assigned a number proportionate to the fundamental dimension, the thickness of the column shaft at its bottom.

The consistency of a design is provided by the appropriate relationship of the various syntactical elements of the project: how type relates to grids and images from page to page throughout the whole project. Or, how type sizes relate to each other. Or, how pictures relate to each other and how the parts relate to the whole.

The important matter is that nothing about the dimensions of a temple composition is arbitrary; all the dimensions are interrelated. A graceful composition is dependent upon the achievement of that integrated relationship.

Ornament and embellishment

The siren song of photographic realism is difficult to resist, particularly given the natural human receptiveness to visual stimulation… Graphical embellishments that serve only to underscore the “realism” of the design such as the sheen of brushed aluminum buttons … eventually grow tiresome despite the initial “oohs” and “aahs”. These qualities rarely add to the long-term visual appeal of the product because they subvert rather than enhance communication.

… it is not our job … to make standard everyday objects easier to sell by adding superfluous kitsch; rather it is our common task to make these objects in such a way that they serve people in the best, most lasting and beautiful manner possible. And it’s precisely this so-called ‘value-creating ornament’ that diverts us from this fine task.

decoration is something extra, an addition. it is not primarily useful. personally i am against decoration. i do not like it either in the old or in the modern sense… most of the streamlined goods, decorated with snaky lines and the funniest lineaments, without any other function than to bluff the uneducated customer, go against every moral sense. designers are responsible for these things. they must have the power to resist such demands of ignorant clients.

The more ostentatious something is, the more people seem to want it. The striving for a higher station in life, the desire for social advancement, often finds expression in misguided extravagance.

Cosmetic decoration, which frequently distorts the data, will never salvage an underlying lack of content. If the numbers are boring, then you’ve got the wrong numbers.

Ornament that is most satisfactory, Ruskin thought, imitates things experienced in the real world. Although the overall design should be first worked out abstractly and its natural motifs simplified, even to the degree of abstraction, purely abstract motifs should be avoided because they are arbitrary and culturally meaningless.

Decorative motifs should be taken from contemplative aspects of life rather than active, because the former category is evocative and the latter is necessarily limited to banal illustration.

Viollet-le-Duc also regarded ornament as a necessary aspect of architecture, but not as something that could be merely applied to a completed structure. Rather, he believed, decoration ought to be integrated with the structure itself, to the extent that it could not be removed without damaging the building in the process.

Finally, an aesthetic objection was that ornament is a kind of mask, the means of hiding defects of workmanship, materials, or basic design.

In due course, critics and historians alike have recognized that unadorned structural articulations in themselves take on a decorative value, with the implication that no matter how a building is designed it will inherently possess a decorative character. Accordingly, no influential theorist has taken up the cause of ornament as an essential issue in a subsequent treatise.


In the case of design for industry there is a different situation. Here the manufacturer often finds it impossible to maintain his sales unless he can periodically offer a new model which looks distinctively different from those of his competitors. It will seldom happen that he can offer a clear improvement in performance, for technical invention and improvement seldom come for the asking. Consequently his usual resource is to change the appearance of the product, and his designer is constantly under pressure to devise something which looks really different from the model which is to be supplanted. He must do his best to produce a new stylistic type. But it is often difficult to change the stylistic type of a product without sacrificing economy or efficiency. The pressure to innovate generally militates against improvement in either; and where a relatively simple product such as a chair or table is in question it may be a considerable achievement even to maintain economy and efficiency unimpaired when a ‘new’ design—i.e. a re-design—is made. The best designs have always resulted from an evolutionary process, by making successive slight modifications over a long period of time, no through a feverish insistence on making frequent obvious changes for the sake of offering something which looks ‘really new and different’. Innovation often hinders improvement.

Art has nothing to do with the fact of new invention, it resides in the quality of what has been invented; and whether the invention was made recently or not is irrelevant to the standing of the work of art. We do not burn our Rembrandts. Novelty can be exciting and delightful in art as in other affairs, but art exists in its own right, independently of novelty.

Visual statements such as illustrations which do not involve esthetic judgment and which are merely literal descriptions of reality can be neither intellectually stimulating nor visually distinctive. By the same token, the indiscriminate use of typefaces, geometric patterns, and “abstract” shapes is self-defeating when they function merely as a vehicle for self-expression. The visual statement, on the other hand, which seeks to express the essence of an idea, and which is based on function, fantasy, and analytic judgment, is likely to be not only unique but meaningful and memorable as well.

Form comes first from a new ideology or philosophy. It very rarely can appear by just working or visually experimenting. Form has to be absolutely about the meaning of the work—what I am trying to say and the most interesting way to say it. Visual novelty is almost a distasteful consequence.

In fact, I am very cynical as to the role of new form in graphic design. Yes, there is always the need to re-create and reinterpret the world anew for each generation: it’s a basic human need. However, we also have to look at how this new form is immediately appropriated. Offered up as a novelty in order to sell people exactly the same thing over and over again.

The remit of design has an ethical dimension for me. Good design is a value.

The better world that we have to build must be made with moral values in mind.

This approach is very different from the all too widespread attitude that treats design as some kind of light entertainment. According to prevailing opinion, everything, from products to music, architecture, advertising, TV shows or whatever, has to be made to have instant appeal to its target audience.

Good is what appeals. The triumph of ‘anything goes’. That is the almost cynical indifference of the postmodern era towards any obligation to values.

This umbrella covers much that, trying to be different at any price, ironically mocks the modern aesthetic that developed from the functional. In my experience, things that are different for difference’s sake are seldom better, but things that are better are almost always different.

Innovate as a last resort. More horrors are done in the name of innovation than any other.

If you free yourself from the idea “I am going to design a new and novel glass,” then you have a chance—if you say in your mind, “I want this vessel to bring this liquid in the best possible way.”

The problem with aiming for “wow” is when you try to innovate, your design process encourages novel new interactions.

Fashion, trend, and style

Style encompasses all those characteristics of a particular approach to problem solving that distinguish one design from other approaches to the same problem. In addition to the apparent formal characteristics of the design, a style describes the means by which aesthetic ends are achieved, the values reflected in those ends, and the culture within which those values prevail.

All styles build upon (or react against) the forms embodied in their predecessors, but significant stylistic movements are never based on superficial embellishment, eclectic imitation, or self-conscious ornamentation. A style that panders to the fashion of the day will be short-lived and soon forgotten. Such is the fate of style for the sake of style, or originality for the sake of originality. Fashion is driven by the need (psychological, social, commercial) for constant change and variety.

Because it governs formal decisions, style is the first thing people notice in a design. It tells the viewer how to interpret the design by providing clues to the cultural context within which it was created and the audience for whom it was intended.

The effectiveness of a graphic style depends more on the selection and combination of formal elements rather than on the particular forms themselves. Effective styles must be distinctive enough to be readily identifiable. They must possess an integrity that reflects the central ideas of the worldview they represent, and be comprehensive enough to generalize across a range of design problems. Finally, and most importantly, they must be appropriate for the problem, the designer and the target consumers. Styles that meet these criteria rarely disappear completely.

As Norbert Elias writes of [Mozart’s time], ‘… the creation of an art product requires the personal fantasy of the producer to be subordinated to a social canon of art-making sanctified by tradition and secured by the power of the art recipient.’ Today, we celebrate the inversion of this relationship. The artist’s independence is revered and their boundary breaking is seen as forward looking and evolutionary. Something that leads the way for regular listeners to catch up to. The idea of artists that write music to cater to the wants of their audience is routinely looked down upon as safe or commercial, and because of this the more successful the songwriter or composer, the more they’re treated like gods and the more their stories are mythologised.

For whereas it’s easy, if you have a little talent, to ride the tide of fashion, it’s much harder to make something completely normal, sensible.

Trendiness is seductive, especially to the young and inexperienced, for the principal reason that it offers no restraints, is lots of “fun,” permits unlimited possibilities for “self-expression,” and doesn’t require conforming to the dictates of aesthetics.

… squiggles, pixels, doodles, dingbats, ziggurats, and aimlessly sprinkled liliputian squares; turquoise, peach, pea green, and lavender; corny woodcuts on moody browns and russets; art deco rip-offs, high-gloss finishes, sleazy textures; halos and airbrush effects; tiny color photos surrounded by acres of white space; indecipherable, zany typography; tiny type with miles of leading; text in all caps (despite indisputable proof that lowercase letters are more readable, less formal, and friendlier); ubiquitous letterspacing; visually annotated typography; revivalist caps and small caps; pseudo Dada and Futurist collages; and whatever “special effects” a computer makes possible. These inspired decorations are, apparently, convenient stand-ins for real ideas and genuine skills

Even though some of these idaas and images may be useful from time to time, when they are employed relentlessly and indiscriminately they become mere clichés. This is what defines trendiness.

Styles or fashions of design are recognisable, and that is the important fact about them. They are … recognised like everything else which we recognise, by means of a few characteristics only, which act as signs of an affinity between all the different objects which belong to the same style of design.

Now, no kind of shape, no kind of design or kind of picture or other work of art can be beautiful. When works of any or every known kind are looked at some will be found beautiful and some not. The fact that all are of the kind known as Romanesque, say, does nothing to guarantee that all of them have merit as works of art. Some do and some do not. Some have more than others.

I lucked out in Overcast’s market timing: I only had to hire a damn good designer for the app icon. I was able to design everything else — every screen, every in-app icon, all of the text — because what’s in fashion today is much easier for non-artists like me to do: whitespace, clean lines, and good typography.

iOS 7 shook up the market and, by pure luck, shifted high-end iOS design away from fashions I could never compete in — heavy use of textures and complex graphical widgets — into what I could actually do: simplicity, space, and typography.

We always take the long view in designing a logo so that it is contemporary enough to reflect its moment yet not so trendy as to appear dated before its time. As the saying goes, “Nothing dulls faster than the cutting edge.”

Brains like familiarity, but they get bored. They are genetically programmed to want to discover new patterns. You don’t want it too new because that seems dangerous. You want it somewhat familiar and somewhat new.

Think of music. The best music has some kind of essence of things you can recognize: a normal beat, harmonies, and melodic phrases, but you don’t want to hear the same old, same old. You want something that’s slightly jarring, and a little bit clever. The newness matters more than any other particular aspect of the aesthetic value. You want newness combined with cleverness.

Somehow new and old at the same time gives the best design. If a design is so new that people can’t relate to it, then they reject it, even if they could theoretically learn how to use it because it’s very clever. Styles are like this in general; if you have a new style for clothing, generally you don’t want it to be too crazy. You want it to be just slightly different, enough that people say, “Oh, that’s cool.”


A system that is not understood in its entirety, or at least to a significant degree of detail by a single individual, should probably not be built.

Communication problems grow as the size of the design team grows. Whether they are obvious or not, when communication problems predominate, the team and the project are both in deep trouble.

Quality is never an accident.

Collaboration only happens if people use the product… and if there’s friction or the experience isn’t that great, or there’s these little paper cuts, I think it gets really annoying for people to use. And so we think for the business to be successful the quality and craft is very important.

The only way I know to promote quality in companies is to keep reminding people about the quality and why it matters. Most of us are in the retention business. We like to see our customers stick around, build trust and loyalty. Quality of the product, and customer is one the key drivers of that - yet many companies forget that.

The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.

‘What’s new?’ is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow. I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question, ‘What is best?’, a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly…

Users flock to simple product. Product adds features, evolves, and takes users for granted. Users flock to simple product.

Do not work with people who don’t want beautiful, who wish to cut corners to increase profitability.

Design is based upon resolving how someone is going to use something. Great design is describing the very best experience for them, then moving towards that ideal. Sometimes that requires some spit, grunt and a refusal to accept ‘It can’t be done’ as the only answer.

Either you know that software can be art, and often should be, or you think what I’m talking about here is akin to astrology. One thing I learned long ago is that people who prioritize design, UI, and UX in the software they prefer can empathize with and understand the choices made by people who prioritize other factors (e.g. raw feature count, or the ability to tinker with their software at the system level, or software being free-of-charge). But it doesn’t work the other way: most people who prioritize other things can’t fathom why anyone cares deeply about design/UI/UX because they don’t perceive it. Thus they chalk up iOS and native Mac-app enthusiasm to being hypnotized by marketing, Pied Piper style.

We should be better, and we should be different, in some ways. I don’t think you can be better unless you are different. But you shouldn’t be different all the time. It makes sense to follow what other people are doing.

We only want to make great products, and when you don’t focus only on making money and have reached a certain level, everything becomes about quality. Right now, there is a certain cultural fascination with fast growth, IPOs and so on, but I want to go slow, really slow and think long-term. It takes time to do good things. You see, this cultural phenomenon of speed and growth at all costs is displayed in every startup, they all look the same, it’s like fast food: it looks good, its taste is consistent, but then you feel horrible afterwards.

… quality is always great, I don’t think there’s too much quality in our lives in general … we should all have nice things. But I think more specifically … I categorise Linear as a high-frequency product, which means that as a user you probably will use it multiple times a day or, at least, multiple times a week. In a product like that, email clients and calendars are similar products … if you hit a little small issue, you might hit it multiple times a day, you might hit it multiple times a week, and so even these smaller things can really add up, and make a user feel like the product is not … high quality. So it’s not only the big things, or the initial version of the features we build that need to be high quality. You also need to make sure that over time you don’t create these little weird spots or bad experiences than will, over time, affect the users and make it feel like it’s not a good product.

But as the feature set gets commoditized, there’s one vector that’s remained untapped because it’s so ineffable and hard to pin down that it’s strategically risky to pursue: taste.

Speed can be a good proxy for general engineering quality. If an application slows down on simple tasks, then it can mean the engineers aren’t obsessive detail sticklers. Not always, but it can mean disastrous other issues lurk. I want all my craftspeople to stickle.

… one of the just really strange facts about the world – and I don’t fully understand why this is the case – is how hard it is for organizations to build good software…

It’s not easy to build a really good website or iOS app or whatever. But it’s not rocket science. And given that it’s not rocket science, why are there so few of them? Just think of any big, major company … They probably have a nice building, a nice headquarters. There are many things they can decide to do and just do it pretty competently. They can turn their capital advantage into an advantage in some other area. If they want to have a great fleet of cars, they can very reliably turn capital into a great fleet of cars… But for whatever reason, they can’t turn capital into good software.

And it would be immensely valuable for them if they could. But they can’t. Or at least, they don’t. And I don’t think it’s for lack of trying or lack of realizing this. And so I think actually, small companies don’t realize how much of an upper hand they have here where if they can create a product that is so much better than the status quo that they start to get organic traction, once you attach a real sales and marketing engine to that, it’s going to be really freaking hard for a big company to effectively compete because, again, this organizational transformation into being good at software is just so profoundly hard.

In other words every object, from the smallest to the largest, has to be conceived with a view to achieving harmony not only in its individual functions but also in the way these play against each other. The fact that this goal is inachievable does not absolve us of the responsibility to keep it in our sights as a goal.

… I’d attribute the success of great designers to two factors.

First, they’ve done it before… most designs are adaptations, extensions and compositions of design ideas that came before. A great designer is able to see the essence of a problem, find analogies to problems previously encountered, and rework old solutions.

Second, they refine their work. Nobody can solve a challenging problem in one step. What distinguishes great designers from mediocre ones isn’t that their first attempts are so much better, but that they critique their work ruthlessly, and keep polishing it until no more improvement seems possible.

We know that in every area of the production of use-goods, which includes the house itself as well as cars, trains and ships, there are an infinite number of projects that we could apply ourselves to with the aim of making something better and more beautiful than the things that already exist.

… what we’re actually striving for is something quite different—namely, an extreme utilisation of materials, where the maximum effect is achieved with the minimum of materials.

… now let’s get back to taste—a disputed area—and to the fact that many other factors apart from taste determine the form of an object. One of these is the material employed, whether it is solid or unsound. Another is whether the object is practical or barely usable. Or whether it corresponds to its purpose perfectly, or only partially. Or obstructs space, or frees it up. Or how much it costs in relation to its true value, ie whether it’s good value or overpriced. These are all rational arguments that we take into account when we buy an object, or at least that we ought to factor in; and together these arguments shape our perception of quality.

The meaning of quality as such is indefinable… [it] has little to do with popular conceptions of beauty, taste, or style and has nothing to do with status, respectability, or extravagance. … Quality deals with the judicious weighing of relationships, with balance, contrast, harmony, juxtaposition between formal and functional factors—their transformation and enrichment.

Further, quality is concerned with ideas not techniques, with the enduring not the ephemeral, with precision not fussiness, with simplicity not vacuity, with subtlety not blatancy, with sensitivity not sentimentality.

Good design adds value of some kind, gives meaning, and, not incidentally, can be sheer pleasure to behold… It is easier to remember a well-designed image than one that is muddled. A well-designed logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise and mirrors the quality of its products or services. It is good public relations—a harbinger of goodwill. It says, “We care.”

Design that lacks ideas and depends entirely on form for its realization may possess a certain kind of mysterious charm; at the same time it may be uncommunicative. On the other hand, design that depends entirely on content will most likely be so tiresome that it will not compel viewing.

The various products coming into the market place make it easier to create a user interface, but they also make it easier to assemble a poor user interface more quickly than ever before.

Focus groups and usability testing alone won’t create an excellent product: talent, good judgment, intuition, skill, and artistry are all needed to product a great interface.

It must be said at once that much furniture of this date was better made than this contemptible example, but really bad workmanship was not uncommon and it may be that the best was rarer than is generally supposed. Much of what survives is quite well made, but that perhaps merely confirms that quality is a good preservative. Things that are well made and well designed tend to survive and things like this drawer tend to perish…

No, for me “Braun design” is not a solution but a term for a basic attitude that sees design as a challenge: The challenge to always start right at the beginning in the quest for a good solution for each and every product, and to understand “good” primarily as a quality for the user rather than for the manufacturer’s wallet. The true entrepreneurial and design achievement in my view is to have reached this basic attitude and then to have maintained it and put it into practice over and over again in the form of concrete designs for so many years.

Recently I received a questionnaire in which was the question, “Which is more important—beauty or function?” I should make a choice between keeping my head or my heart?

What grabs you about anything? It is like good music or a dance or a painting. It has in it some little surprises that come to you along with the realization that the surprises have followed the rules. It is also the essence of the puzzle, the pun, the well-chosen metaphor.

[Mies van der Rohe] said: “I don’t want to be interesting. I just want to be good.” This, I think, a craftsman should have tattooed across his chest.

Eventually everything connects—people, ideas, objects…the quality of the connections is the key to quality per se.

To see that it continues to function, let’s make an honest-to-God effort to find out what good is—and if it’s gooder, do it.

Let me quote a few sentences from this remarkable lecture by Wilhelm Wagenfeld:

“The best by all accounts needs intelligent manufacturers who thoroughly reflect upon the purpose, utility and durability of each and every product.”

“The simpler an industrial product is supposed to be, the more difficult it is to fulfil the requirements.”

Unfortunately, I have discovered that the quality of a concept is more or less proportional to the effort and agony that goes into it. Hence the question, how do I get in the mood to have ideas? is terribly close to the question, how do I get in the mood to do push-ups?

I am more interested in supporting individuals and companies that value quality and realize the difference between more and better. An appreciation for better sets you off on a mission to support fine craftsmanship by buying well-crafted, thoughtful goods and services.


Three basic techniques can be used to simplify a design solution: Reducing a design to its essence. Regularizing the elements of the design. Combining elements for maximum leverage.

Elegant solutions produce a maximum of satisfaction from an absolute minimum of components.

Simple designs can be rapidly apprehended and understood well enough to support immediate use or invite further exploration.

Simple designs have a greater impact than complex designs, precisely because they can be immediately recognized and understood with a minimum of conscious effort.

We are deliberately trying to be as restrained as possible in our creative work, in order not to repeat the mistakes that have shown us just how not to do it. Clearly we cannot take some existing style as our starting point but must instead investigate functions anew…

The principal role of a logo is to identify, and simplicity is its means. A design that is complex, fussy, or obscure harbors a self-destructive mechanism. No amount of literal illustration will do what most people imagine it will do. This will only make identification more difficult and the “message” more obscure. A logo, primiarily, says who, not what, and that is its function.

It is always easier to refine and reduce an elaborate design than to inflate a minimalist one.

The real truth is that everybody is afraid of honest simplicity, because it hides nothing. From the Middle Ages onward, people kept hiding their bodies under more and more clothes—the fancier the better—as their own structure was losing harmony and proportion as less and less importance was given to sports.

Interest cannot be created by multiplying various elements into a busy design. By dispersing points of interest, we only create confusion by conflicting effects that, in the end, give no impression at all.

What about confusing clutter? Information overload? Doesn’t data have to be “boiled down” and “simplified”? These common questions miss the point, for the quantity of detail is an issue completely separate from the difficulty of reading. Clutter and confusion are failures of design, not attributes of information. … So much for the conventional, facile, and false equation: simpleness of data and design = clarity of reading. Simpleness is another aesthetic preference, not an information display strategy, not a guide to clarity. What we seek instead is a rich texture of data, a comparative context, an understanding of complexity revealed with an economy of means.

The cost of designing for quantity-production is high in any case, and so there is a strong incentive to design only in terms of shapes which are easy to communicate: either those of standardized components, or those geometrical shapes which are easily and automatically formed by the standard and readily available machine-tools on which so much of the workmanship of certainty depends.

Simple things should be simple and complex things should be possible.

It seems like one of the reasons why it’s useful to have fewer things in the first place, because, as you get that…exponential growth, it just gets harder and harder to do a good job. There’s definitely instances of maximalism in design where people put a lot of stuff on the screen or in a house or whatever it is that look great, but that’s a lot harder to do.

Graphic design has just as much to do with words as it does with pictures, and a lot of my favorite designers come to design from the world of words instead of the world of pictures.

Sometimes puffy writing is more efficient communication, because it’s the best way to get a complex idea through. I’m learning to appreciate that the clear thing isn’t always the simple thing.

It was 1997, I was learning HTML, and there was one problem with the design that was confusing me: how do I put two things next to each other? Twenty years later, we’re still working out the answer to that very basic question.

I had just come out of Rails consulting when I started Pinboard and really wanted to avoid this kind of overengineering, capitalizing instead on the fact that it was 2010 and a sufficiently simple website could run ridiculously fast with no caching if you just threw hardware at it.

If the choices are presented in a well-structured way, many choices are preferable to few choices. Complexity in numbers is neutralised by simplicity in presentation.

What is simple should be treated simply, and what is difficult should be structured appropriately.

In terms of human history, mankind’s grasp of the concept of simplicity is comparatively recent… throughout most of mankind’s long history, design has been a metaphor for affluence… This is because within the intricately patterned object is concentrated the mastery of difficult skills … elaborate decorations were employed, as were breadth of scale and symbolism, to exert centripetal force to maintain unity among countries or clans… These kinds of mind-boggling accomplishments, which can be achieved only with immense amounts of time devoted by highly trained human hands, breed power… The beginning of modern society and the collapse of central governments … were movements to free design from decoration that was used to produce a coercive force, and the impetus for discovering the value of rationality and simplicity.

Whenever I read a “simple” recipe, my first question is: can I use half the ingredients and half the steps and get something some people will not just love, but perhaps even prefer? Sure. For one thing, you can afford better ingredients if you’re buying fewer of them. Reduction, much like with sauces, can concentrate flavor.

Most experienced designers want concision—clear, robust, consistent, elegant systems that avoid redundancy. Concise designs are smoother to implement, faster to render, quicker to understand, and easier to hand-off and maintain.

Simplicity does not mean want or poverty. It does not mean the absence of any decor, or absolute nudity. It only means that the decor should belong intimately to the design proper, and that anything foreign to it should be taken away.

Complexity is what fills the gaps in poor execution.


A former teacher … used to tell me to design something to be inevitable. The implication: labour at your work until people cannot imagine what you have designed existing any other way. Beauty is work well resolved. It is simple.

Can’t get better ’til it gets bad.

GTA 1 is still my reference point when people talk about the importance—or not—of polish time, of post production, on projects. I saw what GTA 1 was like when it was feature complete, you know, technically had everything that it was going to have, and it was borderline unplayable. Yet you fast-forward six months, and all you’ve done is tweak stuff. You know, you’ve fixed bugs, you’ve tweaked physics, you’ve changed bullet velocities, you’ve improved audio, you’ve done all this stuff. And it came alive.

Pick a random joke in your script. It can even be one you like, and imagine you’ve just been told that the only change you need to make is to improve that joke. I bet you can do it. Now do it with every single joke in your script.

You can start from scratch, which is one way to do it, or you can take something that’s already beautiful and make it even more beautiful.

But I do have a trick that makes things easier for me. Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight.

So revise towards brevity—remove words instead of adding them. Toward directness—language that isn’t evasive or periphrastic. Toward simplicity—in construction and word choice. Toward clarity—a constant lookout for ambiguity. Toward rhythm—where it’s lacking. Toward literalness—as an antidote to obscurity. Toward implication—the silent utterance of your sentences. Toward variation—always. Toward silence—leave some. … Toward presence—the quiet authority of your prose.

Modest excellence

Some things are best just as they are and don’t need much design at all. In fact, most things can be perfectly well designed without details that call attention to themselves.

One of something may be beautiful, but can you stand to see 100 in a row?

Along the visual dimension we find techniques like affordances, feedback, visual styles and graphical visualization. These techniques help an application create visual richness. But the key to richness is whether there is communication happening along the visual channel. Providing cinematic effects, blinking, flashing and other bells and whistles when abused can actually reduce the richness of an application. It is the finesse along this channel that creates a rich visual experience.

Spacing is vital but should be discrete to the point of imperceptibility.

In the centre of the living room there is a loose group of 620 armchairs, my version of a seating landscape. It is a lively and much used area with a view of the garden.

Here is where we sit together, talk, entertain our friends and watch television. Plants, books and pictures lend atmosphere. The composition of these rooms represents the basic intention behind my design: simplicity, essentiality and openness. The objects do not boast about themselves, take centre stage or restrict, but withdraw into the background.

Their reduction and unobtrusiveness generate space. The orderliness is not restrictive but liberating. In a world which is filling up at a disconcerting pace, that is destructively loud and visually confusing, design has the task in my view to be quiet, to help generate a level of calm that allows people to return to themselves. The contrary position is a design that strongly stimulates, that wants to draw attention to itself and arouse strong emotions. For me this inhumane because it adds in its way to the chaos that confuses, numbs and lames us.

With the furniture designs, I tried to achieve an aesthetic quality that is neither representative nor decorative, that doesn’t try to impress, but is a part of its own utility. This quality comes from a clarity and transparency of disposition, through the balance of size and proportions, through the painstaking treatment of the surfaces, and not least because each system is thought through to the tiniest detail—literally each and every screw. For me personally, the aesthetic quality of a living environment or a single object is rooted in a calm that comes from harmony, not in the stimuli of pronounced forms and colours.

The consistency of normalcy improves the experience of living with the objects, because the longer we spend in contact with the products of design, the more their willful attempts at individualism irritate us. Most everything must fade into the background for our built environments to be hospitable.

I am for a design that’s like vanilla ice cream: simple and sweet, plain without being austere. It should be a base for more indulgent experiences on the occasions they are needed, like adding chocolate chips and cookie dough. Yet these special occassions are rare. A good vanilla ice cream is usually enough. Sometimes plainness needs defending in a world starved for attention and wildly focused on individuality. The surest way forward is usually a plain approach done with close attention to detail. You can refine the normal into the sophisticated by pursuing clarity and consistency. Attentiveness turns the normal artful.

Art is not achieved by addition, but by a process of subtraction that we call selection, or choice. The user of a great many materials in the same work does not show the imagination of the designer, but the contrary. The poor designer desparately clings to a rainbow of materials to hide his unimaginative design, like a dishonest cook who covers the bad taste of a piece of meat under a shower of spices.

I don’t like filters, color correction, transitions, digital effects, fancy font treatments or titles. I think they’re cheap and easy—anyone can download and plug in. They’re not a demonstration of creativity but something pre-packaged and emblematic of a more formal mainstream like aesthetic that a lot of younger creators see as aspirational—aspirational because using easy plug-ins makes their homemade videos look like what is seen on TV. Use nothing but straight cuts and footage out of the camera, text is almost always Helvetica—not because I like the look, because it’s the default. Expressing creativity using the most basic, accessible methods is the hardest thing to do and the purest. The very best steak houses serve their filet on a plate with nothing else. Shitty franchises cover theirs in sauce and other shit to distract you from the fact that you’re eating dog food.

Design is a vessel. There’s the whole Buddhist thing about the essence of a bowl being its emptiness—that’s why it’s useful. Its emptiness allows it to hold something. I guess that means that design must talk about something else. If you make design about design, you’re just stacking bowls, and that’s not what bowls are for.

The house must make no insistent demands for itself, but rather aid as a background for life in work. This house acts as re-orientator and shock absorber.

Usually expressive visual choices seem good in isolation, then become overbearing when viewed together. Experience gives a person the eyes to imagine their small choices in aggregate.

What was for me back then, and indeed today, the most important quality to be found in the furniture systems I designed? I think it is their simplicity, their reserve. A bookcase system full of books becomes, itself, almost invisible. All the furniture pieces are designed from an attitude that I once expressed in the somewhat paradoxical statement: Good design is as little design as possible. The aim of design reduction is by no means the sterile sparseness that I and other like-minded designers have been accused of producing. Instead it is the freedom from the dominance of ‘things’. I wanted to design and have for myself a living environment that created free space that one could configure totally individually, a space for movement and one that permitted change. I found, and still find, representative or emphatically homely environments to be limiting and oppressive. The overwhelming variety and shapes and sizes of the artefacts that surround us have something destructive about them.

I once said that my aim is to leave out everything superfluous in order to allow the essential to come through. The resulting forms will be calm, pleasant, understandable and long-lived. The durability of my furniture designs has become convincingly clear. In their simplicity, the cupboards, tables and chairs are beyond any kind of design that can age because it does not submit to the zeitgeist.

Attention to detail

Little things? Perhaps. But I believe that so much in life depends on these little things…

There is a joy in tiny things that are beautiful and work well. This joy is both on the part of the user and in the creator, even though it certainly takes skill, time, and thought to make it so. It’s hard work, and as admirable in its own way as tackling Big Problems. After all, who doesn’t need more joy in their life?

Every detail is important because the end result is the sum of all the details involved in the creative process … Discipline is a set of self-imposed rules, parameters within which we operate. It is a bag of tools that allow us to design in a consistent manner from beginning to end.

Perhaps the decisive factor is fanatical care beyond the obvious stuff: the obsessive attention to details that are often overlooked, like cables and power adaptors.

Hurrah for the small, which is where we spend most of our lives.

Did the designer sweat over all the details, both big and small, of the end-to-end product? Is there a sense that the final product is well-made? We’re not looking for something that’s just functional. We want products that leave people feeling like the folks who built this cared about them and their individual experiences.

Of course, this is a very technical tool, but at the same time you have to have this tool all the time. That means that you can show your lifestyle by the selection of the handset. What kind of handset you are using and what kind of content you are using reflect some of your life. That’s why we are always making a really heavy effort for the tiny details of this handset design. This kind of latch is very important. Feel is very important. The shape, how round it should be, is very important. The little things are very important.

Details demonstrate that some care, some thought, some attention has been paid. And this is ultimately what we all want to feel: that some attention has been paid to us and our needs.

The design of your product is only as good as its smallest part.

Products that we love show an attention to detail: the beautiful curve, the satisfying click, the understandable mental model. This is another way to work: not through grand, top-down design projects, but from the bottom up, by crafting—lovingly, with care—small things.

… proof of the Braun designers’ core beliefs that the quality of the whole is the sum of many well-solved details.

It also builds a healthy appreciation for well-executed details. (There’s a reason why detail-appreciative people tend to use Apple products.) When I come across something that’s subtly polished in one of these ways, I can recognize and appreciate the amount of effort that went into it. Hardly anyone else cares, but I get excited by minutia.

The details are not the details. They make the product. It will in the end be these details that give the product its life.

The design of the Braun cigarette lights was strongly influenced by the ‘less, but better’ principle… With them we attempted to design small sculptural objects for personal use that were simultaneously very simple and whose value arose from the precision and attention to detail.

To suggest that the way we use Helvetica is an easy way out typographically is ridiculous. Simply ridiculous. We spend an enormous amount of time spacing, lining, and positioning type. The fact that we only use a small variety of typefaces demands a certain discipline, a skillful precision, a focus on the finer details. It’s certainly not a-different-typeface-for-every-occasion attitude. Now, that would be an easy way out.


There’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product. And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make. There are just certain things you can’t make electrons do. There are certain things you can’t make plastic do. Or glass do. Or factories do. Or robots do.

Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

The materials of which a building is made, on the other hand, seldom have much importance independently of workmanship. For example, the same kind of clay, the same kind of timber, the same kind of stone as we see here, could each by wrong handling be made quite repellent. It is not the material but the kind of work put into it which counts. Each and every material there is can be made to look nasty easily enough.

… where the naked eye can detect no disparity between achievement and idea, the workmanship is ‘regulated’ or, in cases of extreme precision, ‘highly regulated’. Where slight disparities can be detected let us say that is is ‘moderately free’. Where there are evident (and usually intentional) disparities, as often seen in woodcarving and calligraphy, where precise repetition is on the whole avoided, let us say the work is ‘free’.

The most typical and familiar example of the workmanship of risk is writing with a pen, and of the workmanship of certainty, modern printing. The first thing to be observed about printing, or any other representative example of the workmanship of certainty, is that it originally involves more of judgment, dexterity, and care than writing does, not less: for the type had to be carved out of metal by hand in the first instance before any could be cast; and the compositor of all people has to work carefully, and so on. But all this judgment, dexterity and care has been concentrated and stored up before the actual printing starts. Once it does start, the stored-up capital is drawn on and the newspapers come pouring out in an absolutely predetermined form with no possibility of variation between them, by virtue of the exacting work put in beforehand in making and preparing the plant which does the work: and making not only the plant but the tools, patterns, prototypes and jigs which enabled the plant to be built, and all of which had to be made by the workmanship of risk.

Is is this lack of self-consciousness on the part of the real toymaker, his complete involvement with the spirit of the toy, that enables him to take the meanest material and make it sing.

Jony [Ives] is very much the craftsman. He loves the big picture but he also revels in the details, being in the factory and knowing exactly where every screw goes.

The aggregate imperative of all these principles is the doctrine of “truth to the medium.” It carries with it the corollary of urging fine workmanship, whether or not the result will be in plain view. On the other hand, exquisite craftsmanship should not be wasted in a location where it cannot be clearly seen and justly appreciated. The main point is that the effectiveness of materials in the appearance of a building depends upon the quality of the workmanship. In this regard, Ruskin generally disapproved of machine production of building elements, favoring instead the minute variations introduced by the human hand. Equally, he preferred a building to be constructed from one basic material, usually traditional stone or brick, rather than mixing them according to the various roles the elements would play in the design as a whole.

My father never fully understood what I did for a living, but we could always find common ground in craftsmanship. Good work is grounded in an attention to detail and knowledge of and respect for the materials. The more experience I gain, the truer this proves itself. Pay attention, respect the material, listen to how it guides you, and be gentle. You’ll be surprised by what you can do and how flexible it all can be.

If I must ascribe a meaning to the word craftsmanship, I shall say as a first approximation that it means simply workmanship using any kind of technique or apparatus, in which the quality of the result is not pre-determined, but depends on the judgment, dexterity and care with which the maker exercises as he works. The essential idea is that the quality of the result is continually at risk during the process of making…

The workmanship of a motor-car is something to marvel at, but a street full of parked cars is jejune and depressing; as if the same short tune of clear unmodulated notes were being endlessly repeated. A harbour full of fishing-boats is another matter.


Whether I set a text’s line height to 100% or 150% is not a matter of taste, it is a matter of knowing the principles of typography. However, whether I set a text’s line height at 150% or 145% is a matter of … wisdom in craft, or sophistication.

How do you get from [functional] to beautiful? You don’t get there with cosmetics, you get there by taking care of the details, by polishing and refining what you have. This is ultimately a matter of trained taste, or what German speakers call Fingerspitzengefühl (literally, “finter-tip-feeling”).

However it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality. For two reasons: First, it is very difficult to discuss anything visual since words have different meanings for different people. Second, aesthetic quality deals with nuances and precise shades, with the harmony and subtle equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. You need a good eye trained through years of experience in order to have an informed opinion.

The role of non-designers

I bet you could make a persuasive powerpoint for a C-level audience which hinges on the fiscal argument for design engineers, e.g. “You believe in design, and you’re paying for it, but you are not getting your money’s worth because of the gap between engineering and design.”

Here we confront the difficulty of ‘industrial design’ or ‘form-giving’. A dividing line splits this whole field into two different areas with different approaches: on one side you have contrived decoration, on the other true design. On one side are decorators, on the other designers.

It is regrettable that the majority of industrialists, when they need someone to advise them on matters of form, usually turn to a decorator rather than a true designer. This is a moment when true designers ought to be getting involved in production, for there is a danger that today’s superficial ornamentation will simply give way to a new decorative style. This is a moment when manufacturers and designers have to shoulder an equal responsibility.

Design is a potent strategy tool that companies can use to gain a sustainable competitive advantage. Yet most companies neglect design as a strategy tool. What they don’t realise is that design can enhance products, environments, communications, and corporate identity.

Lost understanding comes from more mature companies that have a design department. In this case, the company does some type of probing user research and deep understanding is found. The problem here lies not in the results, but in the communication of the results. The research does, indeed, inform the design, but only internally, to the design team itself. Unfortunately, the research doesn’t inform the broader company’s thinking. All too common in these mature companies is to take a well-researched product design, and then hobble it by having other departments, which don’t share this deeper understanding, make inconsistent product decisions that countermand the original design. Examples of these decisions would be dropped features or changes in the hardware specification.

Why is the design of so many companies, then as now, such a tragedy? It must be obvious by now that good design is also commercially successful… So many companies had and have the chance to be capable in this respect. There are so many good intentions and initial efforts and there is just as much fainthearted and inconsequential failure, mediocrity and confusion.

A designer that knows the reality knows, too, where the deciding factor lies, be it 1954 or 1991: it lies with the company management, their insight, their attitude, their abilities and their concrete achievements. Handing out a couple of vague and abstract statements of intent from the executive along the lines of “we aspire to excellent design with our products” is still, sadly, just about all that company managers are generally prepared to do for design. It is about as effective as the flap of a butterfly’s wing.

Small companies must realize that most bad design comes not from a lack of design experience, but from a series of bad management decisions. Bad products are usually set up to fail from the beginning. If you can get the management on board, you can make amazing products.

Many companies don’t see that a product design can lose its path a thousand times over when moving from design to shipping. The design that usually makes it out the door rarely matches the vitality of the original concept.

This situation with design today is similar to the role of quality in the 1960s when Philip Crosby wrote “Quality Is Free.” … Crosby’s diagnosis was this: a company needed to pass through a clear management maturity scale to make quality, properly and permanently, an integral part of the company culture. Just wanting quality wasn’t enough and establishing a quality department wasn’t enough. A deep cultural and managerial shift had to exist that reflected the commitment to quality. You couldn’t treat quality as if it were a fad – something to be tacked on to the end of a project.

So many companies are competing against each other with similar agendas. Being superficially different is the goal of so many of the products we see. A preoccupation with differentiation is the concern of many corporations rather than trying to innovate and genuinely taking the time, investing the resources and caring enough to try and make something better.

I was like “Why is the iPhone the only phone that scrolls with such high fidelity and no lagginess?” and [Steve Jobs] goes “John, it’s because nobody else gives a shit.”

Taste in product creation overlaps a lot with design: doing it well requires it to be valued, rewarded, and embedded in the company’s culture and upper leadership. If it’s not, great taste can’t guide product decisions, and great designers leave.

The first premise of this design method is that the architect’s scheme for a building is not just the free play of his own fancy but a response to the patron’s needs. In other words, the design must be governed by the functional program, which, by and large, must be articulated in detail by the patron or agents of the patron. The program, through the imposition of limits, challenges the architect’s imagination and channels the creative impulses.

This form of teamwork depends on human consensus… It only works, however, if you really understand the other person’s work, respect their accomplishment and continually re-evaluate their interests… Braun continues to benefit from such personal relationships. Without them you cannot even begin to make acceptable design, and nothing can replace them, no matter how clever your marketing is.

Simplicity is a deep commitment that must be understood by management, communicated throughout the product process, and rewarded when it’s achieved.

Antonio Citterio wrote to Rolf Fehlbaum of Vitra: “As a designer I am convinced of the fundamental importance of the client, in terms of both his function and his person. All architecture and all products have a mother and a father: the architect or designer and his client.”

If you can combine a forward-thinking designer with a forward-thinking engineer, then the sparks really fly and you get impossible solutions made possible.


I assumed my senior committee members were pretentious and jaded, considering themselves—bizarrely—too sophisticated to admit they cared about the one thing I cared about most: design.

the protagonist in every great story faces insurmountable obstacles, and must sacrifice, be creative, or redefine themselves in order to win.

If you struggle with imposter syndrome, wait till you start teaching. For one, the things that I do know I don’t realize others don’t know. It’s become so natural. It’s hard to explain to others.

For a while, we tried an algorithmic onsite interview question that was on the hard side … We stopped asking the question because every new grad we interviewed failed the question … We simply weren’t prestigious enough to get candidates who can easily answer those questions, so it was impossible to hire using the same trendy hiring filters that everybody else had. In contemporary discussions on interviews, what we did is often called “lowering the bar”, but it’s unclear to me why we should care how high of a bar someone can jump over when little (and in some cases none) of the job they’re being hired to do involves jumping over bars.

If there is a fight between generalists and specialists, the generalists usually win.


A really good designer is good because of their aptitude and willingness firstly to discover and constrain the shapes of problems, and then creatively apply different approaches until an amicable solution is found. A really good designer is not good because they know the most about Figma or the best type foundries, but because they’re dedicated to being curious and good at listening.

In practice most designers manipulate proportion on the basis of a highly developed perceptual sensitivity acquired through years of experience, rather than through mechanical techniques…

…reading [a] description can help us better appreciate what the hand-printer does and why, but it could never enable us to do the hand-printer’s work. Words are great for knowing-that and knowing-why, but not for knowing-how.

The tangibles of computer technology are obviously easier to cope with than the intangibles of design.

The student who has been concentrating on learning the intricacies of the computer feels a sense of accomplishment once he or she has mastered the machine. This creates the impression that one is now a competent designer when, in fact, one has been conditioned to “see” (like Pavlov’s dog) mechanics rather than aesthetics, speed rather than direction.

I’d mash up About Face (process), the 1987 Apple HIG (patterns), The Humane Interface / Inmates… (philosophy) with scaffolded instructional structure (exercises, practical how-tos) like Drawing on the Right Side… Probably also include some material on history and conceptual models, a la “Designing the User Interface.”

The simple things are worth doing well because they happen every day.

Every time I assume a talented person isn’t painfully aware of the flaws in their work, I am wrong.

I don’t believe in this “gifted few” concept, just in people doing things they are really interested in doing. They have a way of getting good at whatever it is.

Architectural training today increasingly tends to emphasize technological training, largely in response to the demands of senior partners in firms hiring new graduates. Many employers take for granted a familiarity with CAD—computer-aided design. What they do not take into consideration is that education is not the same thing as job preparedness, and that the more beginners are educated in analytical thinking, the more readily they acquire practical skills and become effective in office procedure.

guitar playing is roughly two levels of progression: the first is to learn the basics of guitar playing — the pentatonic scale, and all the embodied knowledge necessary to execute various types of guitar picks. But the level above is essentially the process of expanding the set of prototypes in your head. You want to know what’s good in the genres you’re interested in, you want to know what’s been tried before, and you want to know — as Mayer puts it — ‘that you can do that then’.

By observing great examples of design with your own eyes, attempting to duplicate them with your own hand, you will feel, see, and eventually understand the invisible lines behind a great product at a deeper and deeper level. Some of these lines are more obvious, while others may be so delicate that the very designer that drew them might not consciously realize exactly why and how they happened.

1. What you’ve been taught. 2. What you assume is true because you’ve heard it repeated by others. 3. What you feel, no matter how subtle. 4. What you don’t know. 5. What you learn from your own experience. These are the ways we know nearly everything about the world around us.

I grew the most by wrestling and struggling to build things or solve real problems. I always viewed making stuff as the real work and [reading books] as a side hobby. Slowly I used the ideas from all the reading to frame and explain what I was doing with my hands, but I believe the hands always come first.

I think for me, the big work has been to start to be clear on what I wanted to achieve with the designs I created, then spend a lot of time looking to see if I achieved the goals. From my perspective, learning about design starts with delivering designs. That's when the real research begins and the big insights come.

I didn't [have a strategy] as I was learning, but in hindsight, here's what I did and what I teach to my apprentices and interns that want to get better at design: design something every day. It doesn't matter what it is. Being a good designer is like being a good athlete. Wanna be great at basketball? Shoot 100 shots every day. The same is true for design. If you design 1 thing every day that pushes you to learn something new, in 6 months you'll be a significantly better designer than you are today.

Few things: learn the other disciplines that go into making a product: engineering, PM, etc. [this] helps round out a more complete picture of decisions that ultimately shape end result. Make time to relax your brain. My best design ideas have come to me while slugging up a long climb on my bike, mind goes blank, ideas show up.


In order to understand the aesthetic in its ultimate and approved forms, one must begin with it in the raw; in the events and scenes that hold the attentive eye and ear of man, arousing his interest and affording him enjoyment as he looks and listens… The sources of art in human experience will be learned by him who sees how the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowd; who notes the delight of the housewife in tending her plants.

Normal perception depends on ignoring, but the appreciation of beauty and the creation, so called, or art, depends on not ignoring. It depends on looking, and proverbially, the more you look the more you see. What you see, in anything beautiful, is not only all the features of it but also all the visible relations between them.

Perceiving, as we know, is essentially the abstraction of signs from the total of what is seen and the ignoring of all the rest. But when we start really to look at anything beautiful we largely forget the signs and pay attention to we ignored before. In the language of communication theory, first we attended to the signal and disregarded the ‘noise’: but now it is the signal we ignore and the noise we attend to. Or perhaps we should rather say that when we look at a work of art the noise becomes signal.

… the experience of beauty aroused by works of art is not… aroused merely by a few characteristics sufficient for the purposes of ordinary, cursory, recognition. On the contrary, it comes of looking at the thing and paying attention to all its features and all the visible relations between them. To recognise the style of a design and to appreciate the beauty of it are two quite different things and come of two quite different approaches to it.

…the uncommon beauty of common things…

There is, however, a tradition that is held in common by natural philosophers, explorers, pioneer woodsmen—anyone who in his daily life has been compelled to face new problems. That is a tradition of respect and concern for the properties and the quality of everything in the world around them.

Learning to design is, first of all, learning to see. Designers see more, and more precisely. This is a blessing and a curse—once we have learned to see design, both good and bad, we cannot un-see. The downside is that the more you learn to see, the more you lose your “common” eye, the eye you design for.

So what is noticing? A pinpoint of awareness, the detail that stands out amid all the details, it’s catching your sleeve on the thorn of the thing you notice and paying attention as you free yourself … What do you notice? Whatever you notice. Behaviour, thought, overheard words, light, resemblance, emotion, totality, particularity, whatever you find in the habitat of your perceptions, anything, no matter how minute, whether you’re working or reading or taking the subway. The pattern is particular to you, an element of what gets construed as “style“.


Elegance cannot be easily summarized in a few rules of thumb. It depends heavily on taste, and taste can only be developed through prolonged exposure to a series of high quality examples forming the benchmark against which subsequent solutions can be judged.

The word taste as used nowadays has two distinct meanings. It may mean the appreciation of beauty or it may mean merely the appreciation of style and fashion. In the first case, when we speak of a person’s taste we are speaking of his personal preferences among works of art as determined by his individual sensitivity to their beauty. In the second we are speaking of his knowledgeable discrimination between different styles and fashions, that is to say between different kinds of work, and more particularly, of his preference for one fashion rather then another, one kind rather than another. It is in the latter sense that the word will always be used in this book.

I came to this castle and I was confronted with tasteless furniture and tasteless pictures. Only then did I realise how closely the bad taste of rulers was connected with their bad way of ruling.

The importance of history

But for the familiarity with a few obvious names and facts about the history of painting and design, history is a subject not taken too seriously. This does not imply that just because some work is a product of the past it is privileged, willy-nilly, to join the ranks of the immortals. The historical process is (or should be) a process of distillation and not accumulation. In a certain sense it is related to natural selection—survival of the fittest. Furthermore, to shun history is to reinvent the wheel—the probability of repeating what has already been done.

Don’t be like I was. Don’t be afraid of history. Take all of it you can get.

Both versions of the manipulative aesthetic-that which invented anew and that which merely violated norms-depended upon an audience familiar with the norms and with the rules that controlled the norms. Deviations from the norm appealed to a high level of cultivation as expressions of intellectual play. According to the circumstances in which they appeared, they could be interpreted as witty, ironic, allusive, or even allegorical, and always as poetic.

Yeah they have something that connects back historically and touches a place in your heart, and yet leverages really leading edge technology. There’s that nice tension.

It may seem surprising that I, as a designer of the late twentieth century, as a designer of technical products, also draw inspiration from design cultures such as traditional Japanese architecture and view their achievements with total respect and recognition. But it would be even more surprising if there was nothing in the long history of design that had inspired me or helped strengthen my beliefs. The lack of historic interest in many contemporary designers is, in my view, a weakness.

The nineteenth century brought an awareness that an earlier sense of historical continuity, in which change unfolded in a continual present, had been irrevocably lost. Perhaps it was that consciousness of a separation from the past that then charged the delectation of historical architecture with the urgency of an unprecedented relevance. In all previous eras the emerging mode of architecture had made the old obsolete, thereby making only the current taste seem worth savoring. But that kind of cultural self-confidence has been lost in the course of the social, economic, and political upheavals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These movements did not bring with them a sure a sense of how values were to be expressed in the visual arts. The feeling of being cast adrift caused knowledge of the past to seem like a cultural compass, and history became a kind of secular theology. In this context a new, didactic value accrued to historical architecture, making it a source of inspiration for architectural theory.

The tract writers, especially Antonio Sant’Elia, reacted sharply to the history consciousness that attended the speculations of nineteenth-century theorists. Their passionate embrace of the technological progress that was anticipated in the early twentieth century encouraged them to reject all aspects of past architecture. In its place they espoused an ahistorical approach to architectural design that could be applied anywhere at any time, never representing any particular era or place. If they succeeded in creating a truly universal architecture, transcending period and locale, it was also one that belonged nowhere in particular. And although it often conveyed the spirit of optimism that accompanied the advent of modernism, the effect was also one of an alienated and alienating presence. This downside was not foreseen by the pioneers of modernity, although it was recognised as such by philistine detractors almost from the beginning. Only several decades following its adoption, when its resistance to assimilation in the urban environment was abundantly clear, did its ahistorical nature become fully apparent. Even so, some of the greatest figures of the modern movement recognized the indispensability of historical architecture to their own creative enterprise. Among those who did were Le Corbusier and Wright.

Reactionary aesthetics

Whatever you now find weird, ugly, uncomfortable and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature. CD distortion, the jitteriness of digital video, the crap sound of 8-bit—all of these will be cherished and emulated as soon as they can be avoided.

Items of furniture are a different matter, because their function is fundamentally unchanged and their development essentially complete, even if certain changes occur in their use and in the technical possibilities of manufacture. In such cases changes arise not on account of function but as a result of shifting tastes. The role of age is now reversed: what is old becomes beautiful: customs, nostalgia for the bygone splendour of the landed gentry, the yearning to return to the way things used to be, all become confused with the inherent value of the objects.

Lack of humility and originality and an obsession with style are what seem to encourage these excesses. Absence of restraint, equating simplicity with shallowness, complexity with depth of understanding, and obscurity with innovation distinguish the quality of work of these times. The focus on freedom and canon-bashing further suggests a longing to reject the past…

The value of a work of art can only be judged by a generation for whom its style no longer has strong associations. Once that time comes nothing is any longer passionately decried as ‘hideous’ or ‘frightful’.

The connection between taste, style and association is interesting. Whenever someone exclaims that a putative work of art is ‘horrible’ or ‘revolting’ or flings some epithet at it, what he usually means even though he may not realise it, is that the work is in a style which for him has horrible or revolting associations, and is for him a private symbol. It is this fact which explains a phenomenon that recurs in each generation and by which each generation in its turn seems to be utterly astounded as though it had never happened before. The process is this: The young generation grows up chafing under restraints, or imagined restraints, imposed by the older generation which fathered it, and grows up, of course, in an environment largely made by the older generation. That environment, the whole recognisable style of the older generation, comes inevitably to be associated by the younger generation with the restraints and mental aches of growing up. So, because of that association, once the second generation comes to maturity it turns against the style of the first which symbolises the bondage of its youth. But, by now, the second generation has fathered a third, and when that comes to maturity it rejects the work of the second generation for the same reasons, and also looks back with lively interest to the work of the first generation which its own parents so much detested.

The widespread acceptance of an architectural aesthetic based on the rules of the classical orders and the serene harmony they produced somehow prompted a contrary reaction. This reaction generated a rival aesthetic founded on the concept of violating the rules. Perhaps such a development could occur because the canonic use of the orders, fraught with conflicts and complications, invited perverse solutions to design problems. Whatever the initial motivation, an alternative aesthetic did evolve, so that the resulting two versions of the classical tradition ended up constituting a stylistic duality. The importance of this duality transcends use of the orders themselves; it has continued in Western culture as one of the fundamental options of artistic expression.

What a designer is

I define the gestalter in the following manner, as a person:

capable of grasping and clearly presenting the problems of our man-made environment;

capable of analysing them according to well-defined methods;

capable of drawing conclusions from these analyses;

capable of creating objects that respond to the function assigned to them by society or man;

capable of constructing them in a way that maximises their usefulness and efficiency;

capable of ensuring that their production corresponds with the available technical means, and is as economical as possible;

capable, finally, of uniting all these factors in a harmonious whole which clearly expresses this unity, that is to say, the gestalt particular to this object.

A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense.

The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

The role of design is to be the interpreter of technology

It would be wrong to conceive the work of the designer as anything but the service of giving messages, events, ideas and values of every kind a visible form.

Design requires a lot of different talents that can’t be directly compared. Some have deeper imagination, are better with the purely functional aspects, have more talent in polishing details, have better technical skills, and some will shine with an unbreakable will to ship. It is a long way from novice to pro, but what we all have in common is the trained ability to see what others don’t, to create what others can’t see but only feel.

Mental grasp, intuition, an eye for form and colour, the ability to design constructively and architecturally and an assured sense of composition

What design is

There is a general perception that only things that look obviously designed—for instance, things that are cool or fashionable—have actually been designed and that everything else has not. When design is defined this way, you cannot blame someone for assuming it is special, not an essential part of daily life. Somehow, we have been conditioned to think that design is out of the ordinary.

Christopher Alexander described design as the goodness of fit between form and context (Alexander, 1964).

A chair is the first thing you need when you don’t really need anything, and is therefore a peculiarly compelling symbol of civilization. For it is civilization, not survival, that requires design.

You’re usually either defamiliarizing the familiar or making the unfamiliar seem inviting

Art is valued for its originality and expressiveness. Its focus is on individual artifacts crafted through the manual and aesthetic virtuosity of the artist. Design, in contrast, is valued for its fitness to a particular user and task. Certainly, design is concerned with producing a life-enhancing aesthetic experience where possible, but the design aesthetic is always related to the intended function of the resulting product… design is concerned with finding the representation best suited to the communication of some specific information.

An initial understanding of the problem based on thorough background research is followed by an iterative cycle of generation and evaluation until the solution that best meets the requirements is selected for production.

Visual design attempts to solve communication problems in a way that is at once functionally effective and aesthetically pleasing.

To design is to plan, to order, to relate, and to control. In short, it opposes all means of disorder and accident.

… ‘design is the process by which useful things are given the most beautiful and effective form, considering overall the function of these things’. you see, i limit the signification of design. i do not speak about all things drawn up and produced according to a design. i am speaking about useful things, and i believe that one of the most important arguments in design is use.

Content is the raw material of design. Form, in turn, is the reorganization and manipulation of content. To form is to fix visual relationships in a given space… Design entails a part-whole relationship expressed in terms of facture, space, contrast, balance, proportion, pattern, reptition, scale, size, shape, color, value, texture, and weight. These are the means; unity, harmony, grace, and rhythm are desirable ends.

To design is much more than simply to assemble, to order, or even to edit; it is to add value and meaning, to illuminate, to simplify, to clarify, to modify, to dignify, to dramatize, to persuade, and perhaps even to amuse. To design is to transform prose into poetry.

It is certainly very near the truth to say, that if you cannot find any analogy at all with your desired result, then you cannot invent deliberately. If you design the result of a sky-hook or any other for which no system is known and no analogy can be found, then you can only prepare your mind and wait for something to turn up.

It must be emphasised that design, of every kind, is a matter of trial and error. There are always some trial assumptions which no calculation or drawing can verify. Men can not foresee the future. Design, like war, is an uncertain trade, and we have to make the things we have designed before we can find out whether our assumptions are right or wrong. There is no other way to find out.

Any time one or more things are consciously put together in a way that they can accomplish something better than they could have accomplished individually, this is an act of design.

When the software designer defines the visual representation of her program, when she describes the pictures that the user will interpret, she is doing graphic design, whether she realizes it or not. … When the software designer defines the interactive aspects of her program, when she places these pseudo-mechanical affordances and describes their behaviour, she is doing a virtual form of industrial design. Whether she realizes it or not. The software designer can thus approach her art as a fusion of graphic design and industrial design.

There are … two approaches to design: … expressing yourself and … solving a problem for a customer.

Design is content with intent. Content without intent is noise. Intent without content is decoration.

All design work seems to have three common traits: there is a message to the work, the tone of that message, and the format that the work takes. Successful design has all three elements working in co-dependence to achieve a whole greater than the sum of the individual parts.


All visual messages share a similar inventory… They are made up of elements arranged in compositions, which audiences interpret through visual codes or a grammar of form appropriate to the surrounding culture. Particular qualities in the rendering of elements, structure of compositions, and adherence or non-adherence to cultural codes constitute style, which we often associate with particular time periods, contexts, or philosophies.

If we have to define it, we perceive something as beautiful if its color, shape, form, or proportion somehow are appealing or delightful to us.

However, remember that innovation is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking … were scored on four scales: Fluency: The total number of interpretable, meaningful, and relevant ideas generated … Flexibility: The number of different categories of relevant responses. Originality: The statistical rarity of the responses. Elaboration: The amount of detail in the responses.

[These are some different definitions of personality.] The effectiveness with which one can achieve positive reactions. Designates those things about the individual that are distinctive and set him apart from other persons. What is most typical and deeply characteristic of a person. The reaction of other individuals to a person is what defines his personality.

Those I use the word personality, many terms also refer to the same idea: Look and feel, tone and manner, attitude, narrative voice, emotional impact, particular flavor, unique identity.


Although colo space is a commodity, salespeople become tetchy if you treat it as such. They will insist on talking to you over the phone and bristle at the suggestion that their job could be replaced by a web form. It is a good idea not to think about how much their salary or commission adds to your costs.

The cloud is a fog of sweet, sweet promises. Amazon promises eleven nines of durability. Eleven nines! The Sun will be a charred cinder before a single bit gets flipped in a file you’ve stored on S3. Amazon promises no single points of failure. Instead, you get a single cloud of failure, the promise that when the system comes crashing down, at least you won’t be alone.

But I’m not about to drop everything to start making apps with this new platform. It’s brand new and technically still in beta, which means it’ll be at least 3 years until I can consider using it for something important. Until a certain age and saturation level, I can’t assume that my audience will have Silverlight installed in their browsers.

The best thing we can do isn’t necessarily to try to pay for [every internet service we use], which is unrealistic and often not an option. Our best option is to avoid supporting and using proprietary monocultures.

This is why it’s so important to keep as much of your data as possible in the most common, widespread, open-if-possible formats, in local files that you can move, copy, and back up yourself. And if you care about developing a long-lasting online audience or presence, you’re best served by owning your identity as much as possible.

If you care about your online presence, you must own it. I do, and that’s why my email address has always been at my own domain, not the domain of any employer or webmail service.

For something as important as email, I’ve never trusted everything to a proprietary provider. My email address has never ended in someone else’s domain name, and has never been hosted in any way that would preclude me from easily switching to another provider

It’s a prime [camera] lens, meaning it does not zoom: it’s fixed to one medium-distance focal length, and you can zoom with your feet.

Treat places like Medium the way you’d treat writing for someone else’s magazine, for free. It serves the same purpose: your writing gets to appear in a semi-upscale setting and you might temporarily get more readers than you would elsewhere, but you’re giving up ownership and a lot of control to get that.

Even at smaller scale, these lessons apply. An independent developer or small company can’t afford to waste time messing with flaky, overly complex, or high-needs server infrastructure … Using mature, reliable, widespread tools isn’t just about scaling more easily — it’s about being as low-needs as possible so you can spend more of your time and attention on things that matter more to you.

Linux distributions [for web servers] are an unfortunate oversupply of paralyzing choices. The easiest path is to learn one major distribution very well and use it everywhere. You want conservative, slow-moving, and very popular: that way, updates almost never break anything and it’s all very stable (conservative), you don’t need to re-learn the basics and tools constantly (slow-moving), and there are tons of Google results and tutorials for every question you’ll have (very popular).

“Boring old” is the key to server-administration happiness. Stick to the boring and the old, and you’ll rarely need to deal with anything. The lower down the stack, the more important that becomes. This is why I still very happily use MySQL (InnoDB-only) instead of a trendier, newer database: it’s very fast when used properly, and I’ve never seen it crash, corrupt data, or perform irregularly. And I’ve run a lot of heavily-used MySQL servers. Not a single crash, ever.

I’ve never been more proud to be operating a large podcast app that’s built on standard RSS, open access, and standard playback of podcasters’ original files directly from their servers, with no garbage ads being inserted, no behavioral tracking for advertisers, no proprietary lock-in, and absolutely no requirements that podcasters register with me, do anything differently, lose any control, agree to any terms, or even be aware of my app at all to be played, shared, and promoted in it.

The bloated web

I never make technology-buying decisions based on future promises, rumors, or potential. I let other people be the bleeding-edge extremely early adopters, and I stick with what I know will work and stay out of my way. I don’t buy things that are “getting better”, because they usually don’t. Whatever caused them to be lacking in their current release will usually prevent them from being great in future releases.

As soon as a system shows signs of performance, developers will add enough abstraction to make it borderline unusable. Software forever remains at the limits of what people will put up with. Developers and designers together create overweight systems in hopes that the hardware will catch up in time and cover their mistakes.

ACME hosts their service on AWS, and at one point they were paying $23,000 in monthly fees. Through titanic effort, they have been able to reduce that to $9,000 a month. I pay just over a thousand dollars a month for hosting, using my own equipment … So while I consider bookmarking a profitable business, to them it’s a $4,000/month money pit. I’m living large off the same income stream that is driving them to sell their user data to marketers and get the hell out of the game.

Every state lottery webmaster, along with the web savants manning PowerBall headquarters itself, seemed to have gone through the same thought process: We know that millions of people play our lottery. We know that every Wednesday at 11 PM, our website will get flooded with traffic. We know that the ONLY information those visitors will want is the winning numbers… so let’s put those numbers on a bloated page filled with images… and serve it using IIS!!!

Webflow has buttons to add effects. It’s easy to add effects. Effects will be added, because there’s a button to add them. Everything for the next few years will slowly fade in as you scroll. I don’t know why. Stripe did it.

[Craigslist] looks like a “mess” by modern web-trend standards, but it works. It’s run by a very small staff of just 30 people, serving 47 million unique visitors and making an estimated $100 million per year. The web-business world has a lot to learn from Craig Newmark and Jim Buckmaster.

I don’t know if the web’s decline in relevance can be turned around, but megabytes of Javascript frameworks and cluttered layouts full of widgets and garbage ads aren’t helping … The entire culture dominant among web developers today is bizarrely framework-heavy, with seemingly no thought given to minimizing dependencies and page weight.

Most of the talk about web performance is similarly technical, involving compression, asynchronous loading, sequencing assets, batching HTTP requests, pipelining, and minification. All of it obscures a simpler solution … If you’re only displaying five sentences of text, use vanilla HTML. Hell, serve a textfile! Then you won’t need compression hacks, integral signs, or elaborate Gantt charts of what assets load in what order.

I want to share with you my simple two-step secret to improving the performance of any website. 1. Make sure that the most important elements of the page download and render first. 2. Stop there. You don’t need all that other crap. Have courage in your minimalism.

I wrote down the technical requirements of my web design practice. It’s not a long list: Simple, responsive layout. Web fonts and nicely set text. Performant, scalable images. All of these have been more than met for at least five years

Business models

… if you think about a traditional marketing organization … the incentives are to talk up the product or to pre-announce things ahead of when they’re ready because … if they find out a year later that it sucks, that’s fine … in the short-term because you’ve already got the revenue for the sale … if you have to compete on the merits of the product and rely on people being honest about how well it works, that forces you to build a product development organization that can compete on merits…

if you can get there, you have an upper hand relative to more traditionally incentivized companies because they’ve probably gotten a bit lazy and ossified and less competitive on this axis… even after they stopped dismissing us, you can’t just click your fingers and be like, “Okay, now we’re going to start creating good products.”

In retrospect, four very important aspects determined Braun’s new orientation. The first was based on a deep and serious conviction—a desire to avoid, at all costs, a more or less superficial concept of how the company should differentiate itself. They wanted to manufacture products that were genuinely useful and that met people’s needs better than before.

Cegłowski’s first law of Internet business teaches: “Never get in the way of people trying to give you money”

We charged money for a good or service. I know this one is controversial, but there are enormous benefits and you can immediately reinvest a whole bunch of it in your project … Your customers will appreciate that you have a long-term plan that doesn’t involve repackaging them as a product.

The money part turns out to be easy. People will pay for a decent service. As long as you stay small and don’t forget to have revenue, you too can build a bookmarking website. There is plenty of room to specialize!

It is pleasant to work on something that people draw benefit from. It is especially pleasant to work on something lasting. And I enjoy the looking-glass aspect of our industry, where running a mildly profitable small business makes me a crazy maverick not afraid to break all the rules.

The cult of growth denies the idea that you can build anything useful or helpful unless you’re prepared to bring it to so-called “Internet scale”. There’s no point in opening a lemonade stand unless you’re prepared to take on PepsiCo. I always thought that things should go the other way. Once you remove the barriers of distance, there’s room for all sorts of crazy niche products to find a little market online.

This is something most people forget. Sure, you won’t be the next Adobe with your one-man shop… but you can earn a great living even if a fraction of a percentage of their userbase decides to give you $30.

I don’t feel comfortable trusting my business’ success to a private third party over whom I have zero control.

It’s ridiculous, incorrect, and insulting to those (like me) who have chosen the traditional business model — charge money, spend less than you make — for this author to suggest that giving away your product for free and paying your expenses with VC money is the “first step” to make your app development “a profitable business”.

I don’t need every customer. I’m primarily in the business of selling a product for money. How much effort do I really want to devote to satisfying people who are unable or extremely unlikely to pay for anything?

Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot about competition. The biggest lesson has been that in most cases, products and companies live and die by their own actions, not their competitors’.

Podcasts are hot right now. Big Money is coming. Big Money isn’t going to sell nicely designed, hand-crafted, RSS-backed podcast players for $2.99 or ask you to pay what you want to support them, because that doesn’t make Big Money. They’re coming with shitty apps and fantastic business deals to dominate the market, lock down this open medium into proprietary “technology”, and build empires of middlemen to control distribution and take a cut of everyone’s revenue.

If you want to find some modest success and independence by launching your own product, and wished to do so without too much risk, I invite you to try this playbook: Pick an idea in a large market that will always be in demand and work on a product that caters to a subset of use cases exceedingly well.

By choosing an idea that is not a fad and doing so in a large and preferably growing market, you can afford to take a much slower route. As long as you keep plugging away at the problem, at some point, you will have enough of a product to start charging for it.

Hustle culture

Instapaper is one person and no funding. I work completely from home. I don’t even put an unhealthy amount of hours into it, and it’s very low-needs (and therefore, low-stress) to keep the service running. This is a lifestyle that I’m not willing to give up for the promise of taking VC money, hiring a bunch of people, making everything free, and hoping to cash out after a few years of nonstop “crunch mode” by selling it to a big company so they can ruin and “sunset” it a year later.

Hustle culture is a form of laziness. Even if people who embrace hustle culture are hard-working doers, they tend to be lazy thinkers. When you can’t prioritize, you have to hustle. How many hustlers would benefit from slowing down and plotting an intelligent strategy instead?

I read once that hunting and gathering societies only work about 20 hours a week. Wednesday is just as much a part of your life as Saturday, but you have to remind people of that. There’s a lot figuring out how to pace projects and follow through on responsibilities with strength and quality, all while carving out time. My life is going to be filled with just as many Wednesdays as Saturdays, and I would like to claim more than 2/7ths of my life for myself, thanks.

I don’t want to be a part of any company that’s so poorly managed, or simply so cheap, that employees are expected to forego a healthy lifestyle. No job is worth that.

The tech business is proud of its workaholism, but it really shouldn’t be. It’s a sign of immaturity and poor management, not drive.

After the self-employment penalties in taxes and benefits, I’m probably coming in under what I could get at a good full-time job in the city, but I don’t have to actually work for someone else on something I don’t care about. I can work in my nice home office, drink my fussy coffee, take a nap after lunch if I want to, and be present for my family as my kid grows up. That’s my definition of success.