In November 2011, my friend and fellow designer Rory King and I started an experimental zine called Sway. Sway was birthed out of a shared desire the two of us had to return to the experimental, exploratory work we did while we were in college. Realizing since we graduated, we had not engaged in the type of work we did there, we wanted an outlet to use graphic design as a platform to explore our various interests as well as grow as designers.
Each issue followed the same format we created at the beginning: each issue had a theme and both of us had six spreads to respond to that theme. Each issue had predetermined typefaces and a set paper size but the rest was open to whatever we wanted to do. Over the following year, we produced nine issues, all of which I’m proud of for various reasons. In the middle of completing the ninth issue, we had a sense that this format had run its course and put Sway on a temporary hiatus while we figured out what to do with it next.
Something interesting happened this week. I feel like I fell back in love with graphic design.
Somewhere along the way got disenchanted, I got interested in other things, I got burnt-out. Looking at typefaces didn’t excite me the way it used to. Suddenly conversations about design styles and possibilities—conversations I used to live for—didn’t interest me anymore. I’d find myself thinking, “Is it even worth anymore?”
But this week, my passion seemed to return. I think there are a few things I can attribute this to:
I’d been reading Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job this week and though the book isn’t really about designing it is about caring for your craft. I wanted to care again.
Experimental Jetset released their new identity for the Whitney Museum. I’ve done very little work in identity design so it always seems to impress me the most, especially when it’s so thoughtfully executed. This is one of those projects that makes me sit back and go, “Man, I want to design something like that.”
The Newsweek.com redesign completely knocked me on the floor. In school, I thought I’d head towards a career in editorial design. Somewhere I got turned around and have made a career on the web. Seeing a site that blends these two paths so wonderfully gets me excited about the possibilities.
I firmly believe that what you look for, you will find. Maybe I was looking for something to help me fall back in love with design. I’m not really sure, but I know I found it. It was a good week for design. It was the kind of week I needed, one full of reminders why I’ve always loved this gig, sometimes I just get distracted. Thanks for helping me find my way back.
Matt Gemmell, in an excellent piece on Apple, interface design, skeuomorphism versus flat, and truth in interface design:
There’s a question I try to ask myself when I’m creating something: “Is this true?”
I define truth here not as factual accuracy, but as fidelity to both intent and embodiment. A design is true if it fulfils its requirements judiciously, and yet surprises and delights its intended audience. An app is true if it has a purity of vision and focus, and serves its intended customers on their terms. A piece of writing is true if it resonates with the people who read it – even if the details must be changed in order to better do that.
Truth, in this sense, is the opposite of betrayal, or carelessness. It’s the antithesis of compromise, for any reason except making something as good as possible.
I’m also using “true” to mean essential; not in the “required or indispensable” sense, but rather fundamental and elemental. Containing everything that should be, and nothing else.
I’ve been thinking about authenticity in design lately. What does that even mean? What does authentic design look like on the web? What’s this mean for designers in 2013? These questions keep me up at night and I don’t have the answers, none of us do; we’re all just figuring this out as we go. This is what I’ve come up with so far.
“Solving problems is the lowest form of design. Because design wants more from us. It wants our humanity. It wants our optimism. It wants our honesty. It wants our ideas for what a better world looks like. Some days, those are small ideas. Some days, those are big ideas.”
Milton Glaser, when asked if he designs out of necessity or habit:
Well I’m 83 and I realized that when I wake up in the morning the thought of not having someplace to go to work is the thing I dread most, that if I didn’t get up, get dressed, and come here, I would go nuts. And what is most significant to me is that I might do something that I haven’t done before and I might learn something I didn’t know before. Because my work is very different than it was a year ago, or two years ago, or five years and I feel at the brink of a different kind of knowledge that I never had. So I don’t know what to call that; is it necessity? i think it’s necessity, I really think I’d go nuts if I didn’t have it to do…part of it is the realization that there is a purpose to my life.
I hope when I’m 83, I’ll retain that same sense of wonder, that feeling like there is still something new to do, discover, create, and learn.
“Designers stand between revolutions and everyday life … [They] have the ability to grasp momentous changes in technology, science, and social mores, and to convert them into objects and ideas that people can actually understand and use.”
My freshman year of college I took a class called “Design Foundations.” For all freshman design students at the university, this class is the beginning of their formal design education. My class was Monday and Wednesday mornings at 8:00am in the basement of a building in the middle of the campus. I can still smell the Autumn leaves and feel the crisp air of walking to that class each morning. We had an adjunct professor who only taught this course, and he taught it differently than the rest of the Design Foundations that semester.
There were were no computers; our supplies for his class were simple: a few black pens of various thickness, a 24x36 white Bristol tablet, bottles of black and white paint, a ruler and an X-ACTO knife. We never used color in his class, every project was completed in black and white. Every project completed in his class that semester was to teach us the foundations (see what I did there?) to a good piece of design: contrast, motion, and noise. The professor believed that by learning how to achieve and utilize these three elements, we’d be able to skillfully guide our viewer’s eye through the page. The class was very abstract and I remember not understanding why we were drawing lines with Sharpies or painting various size cubes in 10 different shades of gray. It wouldn’t be until after the class was over that I discovered that with our simple tools, we were learning how to arrange layouts, how to control space, set up a heirarchy, and create balanced compositions.
“I really like that designers get to sit at intersections. They mediate between different fields and groups of people. The ability to synthesize these sometimes opposing, sometimes compatible perspectives to make something that is understandable is the most valuable gift a designer can bring. To me, this is more important than making something beautiful for its own sake.”
“A lot of what we do as graphic designers is fleeting. A magazine might hang around for a week or two but it will eventually end up on the seat of the airplane for the flight attendants to clean up or in the bottom of the bird cage. A poster arrives in the mail and if its lucky it will get filed away with the other rolled up orphans in the closet waiting to be framed someday. I like to design books because they are a more lasting and memorable form of our craft.”
Liz Danzico has a wonderful list of the five things every design should know. I love all five of them, but number three, Make practice spaces, especially intrigued me:
Design is only as meaningful as the way it is communicated. Think not of design reviews and presentations as the only opportunity to talk about your work. Consider every day an opportunity to talk about the thing you believe in. Look at the exchange with your barista, the dog walker, the phone call with your great aunt, the family dinner table all as opportunity to test out your idea in the wild. Life offers a practice space for an idea. Use it to practice live.
USA Today, the country’s second largest newspaper1 recently unveiled a new logo and brand system that spans their entire publication—crossing platforms between web, iPad, mobile devices, and, of course, the physical newspaper designed by Wolff Olins. Rebranding an organization this large is risky. Even riskier? Rebranding an organization so steeped in tradition in a field steeped in tradition, struggling to stay afloat in an increasingly digital world. It seems impossible for a rebranding of this scale to be successful right? Don’t you remember Tropicana? Or Gap? Those should be minimal compared to the backlash you’d think USA Today will get.
But the reception appears to be well-received2. The more I see the new branding and the more I read about the process behind it and plans for it to evolve, the more in awe of it I become. It’s bold, it’s daring, and, in my estimation, shows what the future of branding looks like.
Herman Miller has a new series on their site called Why Design where they will be profiling designers. From the site:
At Herman Miller design is the language we use to ask questions and seek answers to the problems our customers face. The design process is a journey into the unknown—or as George Nelson once quipped, “I have never met a designer who was retained to keep things the same as they were.” Before we decide what we do and how we do it, we like to begin by asking the question “Why?” In Why Design, a new video series, we explore the world through the eyes of our designers, and share something of why we value their point of view.
The first profile is Yves Béhar and is an inspirational video on how surfing is like improvisational jazz and how that compares to the design process. It’s a great first profile and I’m looking forward to future additions to the series.
“Listen for what your customer needs, not what they ask for. Good design isn’t about giving customers everything they request—it’s about listening to these needs and then showing the thing they can’t articulate.”
It’s a short read but there are tons of great quotes from interview with Randy J. Hunt the creative director at Etsy. Being a topic I’m endlessly fascinated with, I especially enjoyed what he had to say about storytelling:
I operate from the belief that design does not rise above content. One of the most compelling forms of content is the narrative, a story. In this sense design is inherently tied to storytelling, as stories are a powerful mechanism for delivering content, and the design operates in service of content. (Yes, there are times when design is the content, but that’s for another day.)
Additionally storytelling becomes helpful in doing design work itself. If you can tell a story about your ideas, your rationale, and your thinking to a collaborators, client, customers, or even potential hires, you can help make the work compelling and get people excited about it.
And then this bit about handmade is fantastic:
“Handmade” as a worldview is really about prioritizing a set of values. Handmade is about intimacy – a closeness between people, things, our environment. And it’s about things operating at a scale in which meaningful connections and relationships are possible. So in this case “handmade” is really a metaphor for “human scale”, which is a more durable idea. In the broadest sense, it’s about a distributed, networked view of the world as opposed to a consolidated, hierarchical view of the world.