Just Sayings

These are quotes I’ve collected over the years. If I’ve collected many quotes from one person, I’ve grouped those up. You can jump to Maciej Cegłowski, Marco Arment, Massimo Vignelli, or others.

Frank Chimero

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Maciej Cegłowski

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

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.

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.

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 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.

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!!!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Marco Arment

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 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.

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.

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.

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

[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 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.

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”.

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

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?

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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’.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Massimo Vignelli

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense.

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.

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 wan tit 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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The role of design is to be the interpreter of technology

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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

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.

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’.

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.

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.

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?