"Good design is invisible.” —Dieter Rams
Today Apple announced a brand new visual overhaul to iOS led by Senior Vice President of Design Sir Jonathan Ive. Ive, forever inspired by industrial designer Dieter Rams, has spent the last decade perfecting Apple’s hardware. From the iMac to the iPod, iPhone to iPad, Ive and his team have worked to religiously follow Rams’s famous maxim of designing hardware that is “invisible”, hardware that recedes, void of decoration to allow the functions of the device to be its centerpiece.
Since Ive took over software design in October, debates about skeumorphism versus flat design and the future aesthetic of iOS have run rampant, each side proclaiming to be the better of two. The new design, eskewing fake textures and buttons for translucency and typographic navigation, shows that the skeumorphism versus flat debate was the wrong one. Though the design may no longer be classified as skeumorphic, it surely isn’t flat either. The change in Apple’s iOS is about going from stylized interfaces to invisible interfaces. And it turns out we’ve been headed this direction for years.1
“The teaching of art is the teaching of all things.”
I’ve been going back and listening to some old episodes of BBC’s wonder In Our Time podcast. I really enjoyed this one on the famous Victorian art critic John Ruskin and this quote from Ruskin’s writing stopped me dead in my tracks.
I took four art history courses in school (two general art, and two design-specific) and found that the best art history courses always teach you more than expected. I think learning about art also teaches you about cultures and people and religion and politics. I’ve found the more I learn about art, the more I want to learn about everything surrounding it.
One of my favorite professors in school was my first design history professor and the reason he was my favorite was because I found the most interesting things I was learning were not the things inside my design text book. He had an uncanny ability to make connections between cultures and images making for a more holistic history course that guided by design movements. Think James Burke or John Berger. Learning about art is learning about the world.
“The best professionals understand their medium at a deep level. They embrace its history to shape its future. They’re pioneers not of originality, but of progress, breathing modernity into the very bones of their subject, re-envisioning it in a new light. To truly understand something, you should never stop learning from it, as it’s this very process that allows us to grow as a professional, and in turn shape future generations of what you do today.”
—Peter Coles, You’re not Mr. Purple. Some guy on some other job is Mr. Purple. You’re Mr. Pink
I think the most valuable class I’ve ever taken that has made me a better designer was not a Photoshop class or HTML class or even a typography, it was a design history course. By looking at the history of this craft, from Sumerians writing on stone tablets to Gutenberg’s printing press to Saul Bass making film titles to Carson throwing away the rules, I could see how it’s all connected, how it all builds on what came before, expanding it and pushing it forward.
By looking back, you can see how how to move forward. I can jump into this long, twisting history and add something meaningful, pushing the craft into the future.
In honor of the opening of the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at RIT, Design Observer is dedicating the week to all things Massimo and Lella. To kick things off, they posted a great interview with Massimo conducted by Debbie Millman that was originally published in her great book, How To Think Like A Graphic Designer. It’s a great interview and a great insight into one of my design heroes. I always keep his thoughts on elegance and vulgarity in the back of my mind when designing:
Vulgarity is something underneath culture and education. Anything that is not refined. There are manifestations of primitive cultures or ethnic cultures that could be extremely refined and elegant, but don’t belong to our kind of refinery or culture. Culture is the accumulation of at least 10,000. You can really say that intellectual elegance is the by-product of refinement. One of the greatest things about vulgarity is that it tends to continuously disappear.
And then Michael Beirut, who many consider the Vignelli’s protégé and an equally successful designer in his own right, has written a lovely piece on Lella, often the invisible partner in the Vignelli’s working relationship. Massimo has been my favorite designer for years now but up until now, I haven’t read much on Lella:
I quickly came to understand the relationship between these two brilliant designers. Massimo would tend to play the role of idea generator. Lella served as the critic, editing the ideas and shaping the best ones to fit the solution. Massimo was the dreamer, focusing on the impossible. Lella was ruthlessly practical, never losing sight of the budgets, the deadlines, the politics, the real world. It was Massimo’s worldview that had defined my studies in design school. Lella’s concerns were entirely foreign to me. So I may as well say it right now: I learned an enormous amount from Massimo about how to be a good designer. But I learned how to be a successful designer from Lella.
If these first two posts are any indication of what’s to come, I’m looking forward to the rest the week and extremely excited to see these two designers get the praise they deserve.