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On Design

29 July, 2022 - 80 min read


The discipline of design is often confused with art. I often struggled with form vs functionality. My idea of design was beauty. I understood the basic elements of design—colors, shape, symmetry, typography, visuals and space.

After spending time with designers and digging deeper into the topic, I came to realization design is more than just beauty. Art is about the artist. Design is about the environment in which people interact within themselves and their surroundings. While art is subjective, design is objective. Art expresses creativity. Design uses creativity. Design is all about functionality and if something is truly functional then beauty speaks for itself. Design in the absent of content is not design, it is a decoration.

Design does not follow optics or look down upon industries that are frowned upon. The impact of design is non-judgemental and transformative. Designers are always welcoming and “open” the doors for others. Designers are thoughtful of human psychology because designers solve problems for humans. Designers also don't judge constraints. They work with constraints.

Design is a multidisciplinary approach. It is a symbiosis between the engineering, business and the end users. It should work with everyone to understand problems and constraints so it can build solutions that are accepted by everyone. Designers always start with end users not the raw materials such as colors and shapes. A great designer always thinks in a system.

Design that considers the end user and their needs and that advocates for helpful, ethical solutions to complex problems is needed more than ever. This work requires a conscious, thoughtful application of empathy, strategy, communication, and management of the technology itself, all through a lens of creativity. These skills cannot be automated!

Caught in the balance between product, business, and user needs, designers should always uplift the user needs. The end user, typically not in the room when a product is being developed, lacks representation; it’s the duty of the designer to advocate on their behalf. User-focused design means repeatedly asking why—why now and why this way.

The ultimate goal of a designer has to be well-being — not delight. Understand how the product interaction touches deeper motivations and impacts people’s broader lives. This I call it a thoughtful designer.

Design thinking

IDEO transformed human-centered design led by David Kelley. Humans don't care about fancy pixels. They want tools to make their jobs easier.

Design thinking is the process that helps with approaching and solving problems creatively. Design thinking focuses on the human side. When it comes to solving problems, it incorporates human behavior into the design process solution. You need to consider three aspects if you want your idea to be meaningful and successful: Feasibility, Desirability and Viability. The solution needs to improve people's life in some manner, but at the same time it needs to be feasible and make business sense.

There are 5 phases of design thinking process. The design thinking process has five steps, which empathize and answer questions like: Who you are designing for? What their needs are? This process wants to solve the problem from the customer's point of view. Building a solution from each other's ideas inside the team. This will allow you to provide solutions from different point of views while taking into account different disciplines.

  • Frame a question
  • Gather inspiration
  • Generate ideas
  • Make ideas tangible
  • Test to learn
  • Share the story

Incorporate human behavior into design. The end goal for the design thinking process is that the solution leads to innovation, putting empathy and collaboration as the main focus for the final solution. ABC Nighttime made a great segment about IDEO's design thinking process for when they needed to re-design a shopping cart. It is worth a watch.

We cannot talk about design thinking without talking about Dave Kelley from IDEO. Dave Kelley worked closely with Steve Jobs. He was the one who designed the computer mouse for Apple among some other revolutionary products. There is a great video where you can see Dave Kelly and IDEO in action. Stanford University was one of the pioneers when it comes to promoting the design thinking program: a design process focus in the human approach to tackle problems through design. Steve Jobs was a big advocate for this process and the mix of technology and liberal arts for all Apple products.

User research (UX)

Solutions cannot be designed without researching the underlying core problems. We expect to use products to solve our problems in the easiest and fastest way possible. We don't want to think about how to use a product. We have mental models on how products should look and behave and we apply those all the time when we use any product.

UX covers a broad range of disciplines and skills, such as testing, research, prototype, interactions, visuals, sounds, accessibility, animations, wireframes, developing user journey, user flows, information architecture, sitemap, etc. UX, in short, is all aspects of a product/service as experienced by the users.

The UX designer's mission is to develop products that fit perfectly in people's lives, products that have a human-centered approach, and help users achieve their goals. UX designers work on making computer-human interactions as smooth and “human” as possible.

Business goals vs and users goals: A UX designer takes into consideration the business goals just as much as the user’s goals. A good UX designer will try to find the sweet spot of merging the needs and goals of the two. This needs spending a lot of time on solution-seeking and paying attention to both sides constantly, and knowing what to prioritize.

UX research is based on observation, understanding, and analysis. UX researchers use multiple research methods to discover problems, patterns, user mental models, how users think and behave. To develop more insightful research, UXers work hand in hand with data analysts, marketing teams, data scientists, and stakeholders. Good research guides successful designs.

UX designers focus on the following:

  • User Flows
  • Testing
  • Accessibility
  • Crafting Personas
  • Interactions
  • Wireframes
  • Research
  • User Journey
  • Sitemaps
  • Error Handling
  • Sounds & Animations
  • Prototyping
  • Information Architecture

User interface (UI)

Interface is what humans need to interact with when experiencing products. In industrial design, it could be physical products. In software design, it can be digital interactions. Nonetheless, interface is the space that brings humans and machines together.

To work with UI means finding ways to develop interactions that allow the user to have a better experience. The UI can not be confusing, demanding, or cause stress to the visitors. Instead, user journeys should be so fluid that their navigation becomes intuitive and effortless.

Heuristic evaluation (Nielsen and Molich) is a usability method for finding flaws in a user interface design. This involves having a set of checklist of criteria and judging the design based on the usability principles: the "heuristics", and using the checklist to see what principles were violated by the design in the opinion of the evaluator. Below are the 10 Nielsen heuristics:

  • Visibility of system status: A system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through feedback in real-time. By knowing what the current status is, a user can change it and have a better understanding of what you need to do to reach your goal. For instance, when you make a payment online, you need to know that payment was approved and everything went well, without having to go to the bank.
  • Match between system and the real world: People find comfort in familiarity, this is the reason why this principle is so important in Jakob Nielsen's view. If people don't understand the terms used in a system, they will feel unsure and feel forced to go elsewhere to find explanations and complete their goals. The system should always speak the users' language, and use concepts familiar to the user.
  • User control and freedom: The users should always be given the ability to control and have the freedom to undo, and redo their performed intentional & unintentional actions. Make sure your design allows users to learn by exploring, poking around, trying things out. This means consequences of errors need to be less severe. For example—Dialog, operations should have a Cancel option.
  • Consistency and standards: Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing across an interface/system. You need to make sure the same words mean the same thing and launch the same action in your interface. Also, your design needs to have external consistency too. People come to your UI with existing expectations for how things should work and where they should be placed.
  • Error prevention: Prevent unconscious errors by either eliminating error-prone conditions or present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.
  • Recognition rather than recall: Users should not have to remember what certain things do from one place to another, this is why you should minimize the user's memory load. Make objects, actions, and options visible. People have limited short-term memories, designs that promote recognition reduce the amount of cognitive effort required from users.
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use: Designers often focus only on first-time users, but once a system is used again and again, users need ways to speed up their process. A system should cater to both new users and expert users by including accelerators, meaning having multiple ways and methods for accomplishing certain routine tasks quickly and easily.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design: Remove unnecessary elements from the interface and focus on the essentials. Create less noise and distractions in your design, and let users have a smoother experience and faster way to accomplish their goals.
  • Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors: The simple 3 steps to respect this principle are the following: inform users when an error has occurred, tell users exactly what the problem is, using plain language (no codes) and offer a way/solution to fix the error.
  • Help and documentation: Things like onboarding pages, tooltips, walkthroughs, videos, chatbots, comprehensive FAQs, are great ways to provide help and documentation.

Visual language

Communication requires language. The visual language of design is no exception. Design elements are like letters and words. Below is the list of visual grammar that can be used to build interactions and experiences.

  • Objects – The basic elements we have to work with. Can be abstract or concrete.

    • Abstract Objects are idealized shapes that can’t physically be created. For example take a point. A point by definition has no area. It only has a position. Any point we try to draw will have some kind of area if we are to see it and once it does, it ceases to become a point. It can only exist as an abstract concept and not as a physical thing. Abstract objects include:

      • Points – A position on a coordinate system without area. Points have no dimensions.
      • Lines – A series of points adjacent to each other. Points have one dimensions.
      • Surfaces – A series of lines that are adjacent to each other and perpendicular to their direction. Surfaces have two dimensions.
      • Volumes – An empty space defined by surfaces, lines, and points. Volumes have three dimensions.
    • Concrete objects are perceived within defined limits called contours. Inside and including the contour itself is our object, our shape, our form, and outside the contour is everything else. Forms or shapes can be geometric, organic, or random (sometimes called abstract). A circle is an example of a concrete object. It’s contour being the curved line that encloses it. Concrete objects have:

      • Form – defined by a contour of surfaces and lines. A form is how a thing looks.
      • Size – Forms can be large or small. They are perceived relative to the person viewing, other forms in the composition, and the format of the design.
      • Color – we perceive different wavelengths of light as color. A form can be any color, though we are limited to seeing only those colors in the visual spectrum.
    • Structures – The patterns formed from our basic elements. Can be abstract or concrete.

      • Abstract Structures when the structure lines of a structure are invisible and inactive the structure is considered to be abstract. Consider the image below. The circles are clearly arranged in a pattern. There is a structure present, but the lines defining that structure are invisible.

        • Formal – even distribution of elements and spacing (structure units) between them.
        • Informal – lacking regularity in the arrangement of objects. Even if a pattern is observed the structure is informal if the objects do not follow straight structural lines.
        • Gradation – structure units change in form or size, but at an even rate.
        • Radiation – structure units radiate from a common center.
        • Spiral – uneven distribution from a common center.
      • Concrete structures have either visible or active structure lines. Where abstract structures indirectly show the structure, concrete structures directly show the structure. Concrete structures can be visible compositions on their own such as the patterns that form into textures.

        • Visible structures do not have to include objects. As long as the structure lines are visible, the structure itself is visible.
        • Active structures are those where the structure lines influence the form of the objects within the structure.
    • Activities – The processes we can represent with our basic elements and patterns.

      • Repetition – Anytime several objects share some characteristic repetition is created. When more than one characteristic is shared the dominant one is used to describe the repetition. Repetition helps create consistency and design flow.
      • Frequency/Rhythm – When the distance between repeated objects is identical we have frequency. When the distance is varied between several frequencies we have rhythm.
      • Mirroring – When light waves are reflected from the surface at the same angle they fall onto it, an object is symmetrically rendered around an axis and mirroring is created.
      • Mirroring against a volume – When the surface has several different angles of reflection it becomes a volume. Volumes distort the reflected object and the mirroring is no longer symmetrical about an axis.
      • Rotation – When an object moves around a point or axis it rotates around that point or axis. The point or axis of rotation can be inside or outside the object.
      • Upscaling/Downscaling – When objects are scaled up or down their dimensions remain in proportion to each other. Their width-to-height ratio remains constant.
      • Movement – Within a visual design movement can only be shown as a representation of movement. This representation can be shown as a sequence or some illusion of motion.
      • Path – An object showing movement travels along an imaginary line or curve, which is the object’s path.
      • Direction – A moving object has a direction defined by a line or curve that leads from start to end point.
      • Superordinate and subordinate movement – Objects can rotate, move back and forth, or swing as they travel along a path. This secondary movement is the subordinate movement, whereas movement along the path is the superordinate movement.
      • Displacement – When only part of an object moves it’s form is displaced. Displacement is define by an angle between the original point and the new displaced point.
      • Direction of displacement – Displaced objects move in a specific direction.
    • Relations – The relationships between objects, patterns, and processes. They’re the way everything in your design relates to each other and the viewer. Objects placed in a composition relate to each other, they relate to the overall design, the format and, they relate to the viewer. Through relations with each other, elements can attract or repel, they can imply movement and flow. Through relation to the overall design, elements convey a concept and theme. Through relation with the viewer elements communicate different messages.

      • Attraction/Static – Any time two objects appear in a design they appear to either attract or repel each other. A single object, not in movement, and with equal forces of attraction and repulsion applied, appears static.
      • Symmetry/Asymmetry – Objects identically arranged around an axis are symmetrical. Objects not identically arranged around an axis are asymmetrical. Symmetry is considered beautiful, but static. Asymmetry is more interesting because it is dynamic.
      • Balance – When the visual weights of objects in a composition are in equilibrium, the composition is in balance.
      • Groups – When objects display repetition or are in close proximity to one another they form a group.
      • Fine/Coarse – The distance between structure lines defines the fineness or coarseness of an object or structure.
      • Diffusion – An irregular dispersion of objects with varying fineness and coarseness is called diffusion.
      • Direction – Structures can actively define direction.
      • Position – A group of objects in a composition can define a position. That position can be in the center or along the edge or corner of the composition.
      • Space – Space is the empty areas between major and minor objects and is as important to a design as the areas where the space is filled with objects. Learning to see and use the space in your designs is one of the most important things any designer can learn.
      • Weight – All objects in a design have a visual weight based on size, color, form, surrounding space, etc. Our eye is drawn to elements with the greatest visual weight.
      • Amount/Dominance – The amount of objects in a given area of a design contributes to the visual weight of that area. Areas or objects in a design with the most visual weight are dominant and create entry points and focal points in a design.
      • Neutral – Elements in a design that do not stand out from other objects are neutral in relation to those other objects. When too many objects in a design are neutral the entire design can become neutral.
      • Background/Foreground – The position of objects, their relative weights, the space around them and, their relative proportions all contribute to which elements are seen as being in the foreground and which are seen as part of the background.
      • Coordination – When objects share the same coordinates, value, focus, and are perceived to be same perspective they are in coordination with each. Two identical objects aligned vertically are not in coordination as the one on the bottom is perceived to be closer than the one on the top.
      • Distance – Closeness and remoteness are relative. The distance between objects is perceived based on the viewer’s perspective. Objects that appear close in 2 dimension can appear very far apart when the composition is seen in a 3-dimensional perspective.
      • Parallel/Angle – Two lines that never intersect are parallel. When lines intersect they form an angle. Angles exist only in relation to something else.
      • Negative/Positive – Negative and positive are terms that relate to opposite values such as light and dark. Positive elements appear to be in the foreground and negative elements appear to be in the background.
      • Transparent/Opaque – Light shines through transparent objects and can not penetrate opaque objects.
      • Tangent – Two elements that touch and share a common point are tangential to each other.
      • Overlapping/Compound – When part of one object lies on top of another object, the first overlaps the second. When overlapping objects visually appear to be one object they become a new compound form.
      • Subtraction/Coincidence – When an object is overlapped by another subtraction occurs in the overlapped part of the underlying object. When two objects share form and size and are position in a way that when seen from above they appear to be one, the objects are in coincidence.
      • Penetration/Extrusion – When one object is pushed through a larger object the first penetrates the second. When an object is forced through the opening of another object in such a way that the opening alters the form of the first object it has been extruded.
      • Influence – When an object’s form appears to be altered by another object, the altered object has been influenced by the other object.
      • Modification – An object that has been slightly altered has been modified. Modification does not change the basic characteristics of an object. A rectangle whose corners have been slightly rounded still appears to be a rectangle.
      • Variation – When objects are repeated with minor variance or modification the repetition is called variance.

Design legends

Name Bio
Dieter Rams He is an industrial designer whose collaborations with Braun and Vitsoe have produced some of the most iconic consumer products of the 20th century. Rams is known for consumer products that has defined the most recent of our society—an electric razor, blow-drier, electric tooth brush, or a lighter. Rams is credited as the lead inventor of the patented F1 mactron pocket lighter design from 1971. His greatest economic success was for the American company was the Sensor razor which went on to sell 100 million units in 1989. His design philosophy is simple, yet hard—less, but better.
Paul Rand He was one the most influence American art directors and graphic designers of history. I had a privilege to listen to a story about how Morningstar's logo came about which was designed by Paul Rand. He also worked with Steve Jobs. He took the position of design consultant at companies such as ABC, UPS and IBM. In an era where creative direction and art direction was somewhat unknown, Rand was a pioneer in this area.
Bruno Munari Munari was an Italian artist, designer, and inventor who contributed fundamentals to many fields of visual arts in modernism, futurism, and concrete art, and in non-visual arts with his research on games, didactic method, movement, tactile learning, kinesthetic learning, and creativity.
Rowena Reed Kostellow Miss Reed taught industrial design at Pratt Institute for more than fifty years. She deeply studied and analyzed abstract visual relationships between volumes in 3D space. For her form truly mattered.
Donald A Norman Norman is an American researcher, professor, and author. Norman is the director of The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego. He is best known for his books on design, especially The Design of Everyday Things.
Josef Albers Albers teaches is an expert in color theory. His work is essential work on visual literacy. Josef Albers was a German-born artist and educator.
Edward R. Tufte Edward Rolf Tufte, sometimes known as "ET", is an American statistician and professor emeritus of political science, statistics, and computer science at Yale University. He is noted for his writings on information design and as a pioneer in the field of data visualization.
Kelley Brothers IDEO founder and Stanford d.school creator David Kelley and his brother Tom Kelley, IDEO partner know a thing or two on how to unleash the creativity that lies within each and every one of us.
Ed Catmull Edwin Earl "Ed" Catmull is an American computer scientist who is the co-founder of Pixar and was the President of Walt Disney Animation Studios. He has been honored for his contributions to 3D computer graphics.
Dieter Rams

Rams is a legend in the industry because his products spoke functionality with form. He is a German industrial designer. Braun design team is where he made a huge impact in electrical objects such as radio and home appliances (TP 1 & 3 radio was famous, calculator, furniture). Braun's products were everywhere in every part of home! Braun's products were domestic in its era. His products were functional, long-lasting, high quality, and highly aesthetic. Some products hadn't changed in many years and didn't need to be replaced. They weren't emotionless. It had emotional relationship.

Rams was angry when Braun was acquired by Gilette. Having to constantly change design to meet marketing need. He had to report to almost 10 CEOs when Braun got acquired. "If you don't have someone who stands behind you, then you can forget it." In 1995, he left design department. In fact, he was pushed out and given a title, “Executive Director, Corporate Identity.” Finally, he left in 1997. Then got a bit involved with Vitsoe. The philosophy was adopted—Living better, with less, that lasts longer.

The Rams philosophy is studied by many students including Naoto Fukasawa from Tokyo and Jonathan Ive (one of the original Apple's designer). They used Rams as a role model and inspiration. iPod was hugely inspired by it—icons, graphics, grid system and aesthetics.

Rams was heavily influenced by Japanese culture. His home garden is Japanese inspired which he is lived in for over 50 years. Even cutting trees is design. And they need to be cut for maintenance. The Zen philosophy stands out in his work.

Visiting Japan, I was immediately impressed by the simplicity.

This influenced his own philosophy which sums down to:

Less, but better.

Rams thoughts on what a good design should be and everything that revolves around it:

  • Design can have a strong orientation.
  • Design should be an answer to solving a problem not making more problems.
  • One of the core principles of product was letting it do the job and get out of the way.
  • Product design is the total configuration of a product—its forms, color, material and construction. You cannot understand good design if you can't understand people.
  • For design to be understandable by everyone it should be simple as possible. The time of thoughtless design for thoughtless consumption is over. It should be less, but better.
  • To overcome mediocrity, Rams recommends young designers to be highly collaborative, who think beyond what they are responsible for on a daily basis. Designers who think—“what will our society look like in the future?” will be better off in their design path.
  • We don't need anything faster. We need something more sensible and better. Auto industry wants faster and faster and that is why Rams is not interested with auto industry. Even Tesla is not that impressive to him. The problem is beyond energy. It has to deal with traffic and the environment. We need to rethink the transportation system not just the technology. This is an emphasis on systems thinking.
  • If he had to revisit his origin of design, he would focus on architecture. Shaping our environment (urban development) is the most important thing. It starts with designing the landscape not designing the machine. Design in media is increasingly associated with beautification. He hates the term beautification. We never just wanted to make something beautiful. We wanted to make things better, as he has always wanted. What we need is less, but better. Rams does not want to design a single object, but want to design the entire environment (the entire system).
  • Design is politics. Creating a world that is a better place and to give people freedom.
  • Engineering can be harsh at times with new ideas. The engineering team says, “Ugh, typical designers...we can't do that!” But those same ideas are no longer novelty. They become commercial products soon.
  • On logos, he always put a small one in the back. The battle he ultimately lost with the last CEO because he wanted large logos in the front. Rams argued when you enter a room you don't shout and say, “I am so-and-so.” You do it quietly. Just imagine when you have many products, it irritates and overwhelm people.
  • The product graphics are very important.
  • Consistency matters because it speaks the same language. Don't confuse people.
  • It is better to improve one thing than to be constantly forced to come up with something new which is often not new but is formalistically superimposed. That's why he prefers the term re-engineering. Thinking from inside to outside not the other way. Apple is a great example of this philosophy.
  • Good design just happens, it's an outgrowth of our education. It's an evolution after another.
  • Design doesn't just mean expensive.
  • Design should not deal with things like confusion.
  • Everything has a story. Even the objects he doesn't like, have stories.
  • It worries him that people are no longer looking each other in the eye. They are staring at their tablets and walking across the streets like that. It is significant how humanity has changed. Contemporary products are no longer serving humanity.
  • Technology is moving faster every day. Think of all the computers. If you get a computer today, it's already obsolete tomorrow. Today no industry is interested in improving. This is also a phenomenon—it's better to just buy a new one. We have to get away from the "un-culture" of abundance because there is no future with so many redundant things. He thinks that all this digitization is becoming more and more a part of our life. He thinks it diminishes our ability to experience things. We have to be careful now, that we rule over the digital world, and not ruled by it. For example, there should be no light during the day. Use natural light even during the cloudy days. Use natural materials, no paint brushes. Craftsmanship should stand out without layering anything on the top. This could be a problem however people who like colors.
  • Designers started to reject Ram's principles but with climate change, Rams is back. He was vocal about his actions impacting the planet in 90s. He paused and asked—“Am I part of the problem? I am making all molding and plastic stuff.” That is when 10 design principles came from.

    • Good design is innovative. The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
    • Good design makes a product useful. A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
    • Good design is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
    • Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
    • Good design is unobtrusive. Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
    • Good design is honest. It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
    • Good design is long-lasting. It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
    • Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.
    • Good design is environmentally-friendly. Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
    • Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.
  • “Less, but better” is not just a design concept, it's also about our behavior. Less would be better everywhere. Rams principles are not about principles, but about attitude. Rams design principles have influences so many which focuses on removing visual clutter and living with what you need.

His advice to the next generation of designers:

Keep your eyes wide open when you are walking in the city, neighborhoods. Don't trust everything the teachers tell you, because it's not all correct.

How important is design in protecting our future and the planet? True innovation are rare these days. It seems to me that the term "design" is mushrooming. Design has become a synonym for a backdrop, for beautiful appearance, for the stylish, and I fear we could lose our orientation at a point in time when orientation is needed as never before.

People are anxious about the future. Look at America with this new President. Increasing fear. The last thing we need is fear and anxiety. Politicians are obviously incapable of removing that fear. But most of my colleagues—architects, urban planners or designers—they are capable of doing this. Design only works when it really seeks to achieve something for humanity.



Paul Rand

It is no secret that the real world in which the designer functions is not the world of art, but the world of buying and selling. For sales, and not design are the raison d’etre of any business organization. Unlike the the salesman, however, the designer’s overriding motivation is art: art in the service of business, art that enhances the quality of life and deepens appreciation of the familiar world.

Design is a problem-solving activity. It provides a means of clarifying, synthesizing, and dramatizing a word, a picture, a product, or an event. A serious barrier to the realization of good design, however, are the layers of management inherent in any bureaucratic structure. For aside from the sheer prejudice or simple unawareness, one is apt to encounter such absurdities as second guessing, kow-towing, posturing, nit-picking, and jockeying for position, let alone such buck-passing institutions as the committee meeting and the task force. At issue, it seems, is neither malevolence nor stupidity, but human frailty.

The smooth functioning of the design process may be thwarted in other ways, by the imperceptive executive, who in matters of design understands neither his proper role nor that of the designer; by the eager but cautious advertising man whose principal concern is pleasing his client; and by the insecure client who depends on informal office surveys and pseudo-scientific research to deal with questions that are unanswerable and answers that are questionable.

Unless the design function in business bureaucracy is so structured that direct access to the ultimate decision-maker is possible, trying to produce good work is very often an exercise in futility. Ignorance of the history and methodology of design — how work is conceived, produced, and reproduced — adds to the difficulties and misunderstandings. Design is a way of life, a point of view. It involves the whole complex of visual communication: talent, creative ability, manual skill, and technical knowledge. Aesthetics and economics, technology and psychology are intrinsically relate to the process.

One of the more common problems which tends to create doubt and confusion is caused by the inexperienced and anxious executive who innocently expects, or even demands, to see not one but many solutions to a problem. These may include a number of visual and/or verbal concepts, an assortment of layouts, a variety of pictures and color schemes, as well as a choice of type styles. He needs the reassurance of numbers and the opportunity to exercise his personal preferences. He is also most likely to be the one to insist on endless revisions with unrealistic deadlines, adding to an already wasteful and time-consuming ritual. Theoretically, a great number of ideas assures a great number of choices, but such choices are essentially quantitative. This practice is as bewildering as it is wasteful. It discourages spontaneity, encourages indifference, and more often than not produces results which are neither distinguished, interesting, nor effective. In short, good ideas rarely come in bunches.

The designer who voluntarily presents his client with a batch of layouts does so not out prolificacy, but out of uncertainty or fear. He thus encourages the client to assume the role of referee. In the event of genuine need, however, the skillful designer is able to produce a reasonable number of good ideas. But quantity by demand is quite different than quantity by choice. Design is a time-consuming occupation. Whatever his working habits, the designer fills many a wastebasket in order to produce one good idea. Advertising agencies can be especially guilty in this numbers game. Bent on impressing the client with their ardor, they present a welter of layouts, many of which are superficial interpretations of potentially good ideas, or slick renderings of trite ones.

Frequent job reassignments within an active business are additional impediments about which management is often unaware. Persons unqualified to make design judgments are frequently shifted into design-sensitive positions. The position of authority is then used as evidence of expertise. While most people will graciously accept and appreciate criticism when it comes from a knowledgeable source, they will resent it (openly or otherwise) when it derives solely from a power position, even though the manager may be highly intelligent or have self-professed “good taste.” At issue is not the right, or even the duty, to question, but the right to make design judgment. Such misuse of privilege is a disservice to management and counterproductive to good design. Expertise in business administration, journalism, accounting, or selling, though necessary in its place, is not expertise in problems dealing with visual appearance. The salesman who can sell you the most sophisticated computer typesetting equipment is rarely one who appreciates fine typography or elegant proportions. Actually, the plethora of bad design that we see all around us can probably be attributed as much to good salesmanship as to bad taste.

Deeply concerned with every aspect of the production process, the designer must often contend with inexperienced production personnel and time-consuming purchasing procedures, which stifle enthusiasm, instinct, and creativity. Though peripherally involved in making aesthetic judgments (choosing printers, papermakers, typesetters and other suppliers), purchasing agents are for the most part ignorant of design practices, insensitive to subtleties that mean quality, and unaware of marketing needs. Primarily and rightly concerned with cost- cutting, they mistakenly equate elegance with extravagance and parsimony with wise business judgement.

These problems are by no means confined to the bureaucratic corporation. Artists, writers, and others in the fields of communication and visual arts, in government or private industry, in schools or churches, must constantly cope with those who do not understand and are therefore unsympathetic to their ideas. The designer is especially vulnerable because design is grist for anybody’s mill. “I know what I like” is all the authority one needs to support one’s critical aspirations.

Like the businessman, the designer is amply supplied with his own frailties. But unlike him, he is often inarticulate, a serious problem in an arena in which semantic difficulties so often arise. This is more pertinent in graphic design than in the industrial or architectural fields, because graphic design is more open to aesthetic than to functional preferences.

Stubborness may be one of the designer’s admirable or notorious qualities (depending on one’s point of view) — a principled refusal to compromise, or a means to camouflage inadequacy. Design cliches, meaningless patterns, stylish illustrations, and predetermined solutions are signs of such weakness. An understanding of the significance of modernism and familiarity with the history of design, painting, architecture, and other disciplines, which distinguish the educated designer and make his role more meaningful, are not every designer’s strong points.

The designer, however, needs all the support he can muster, for his is a unique but unenviable position. His work is subject to every imaginable interpretation and to every piddling piece of fact- finding. Ironically, he seeks not only the applause of the connoisseur, but the approbation of the crowd.

A salutary working relationship is not only possible but essential. Designers are not always intransigent, nor are all purchasing agents blind to quality. Many responsible advertising agencies are not unaware of the role that design plays as a communication force. As for the person who pays the piper, the businessman who is sympathetic and understanding is not altogether illusory. He is professional, objective, and alert to new ideas. He places responsibility where it belongs and does not feel insecure enough to see himself as an expert in a field other than his own. He is, moreover, able to provide a harmonious environment in which goodwill, understanding, spontaneity, and mutual trust — qualities so essential to the accomplishment of creative work — may flourish.

Similarly, the skilled graphic designer is a professional whose world is divided between lyricism and pragmatism. He is able to distinguish between trendiness and innovation, between obscurity and originality. He uses freedom of expression not as a license for abstruse ideas, and tenacity not as bullheadedness but as evidence of his own convictions. His is an independent spirit guided more by an “inner artistic standard of excellence”(1) than by some external influence. At the same time as he realizes that good design must withstand the rigors of the marketplace, he believes that without good design the marketplace is a showcase of visual vulgarity.

The creative arts have always labored under adverse conditions. Subjectivity emotion, and opinion seem to be concomitants of artistic questions. The layman feels insecure and awkward about making design judgments, even though he pretends to make them with a certain measure of know-how. But, like it or not, business conditions compel many to get inextricably involved with problems in which design plays some role.

For the most part, the creation or effects of design, unlike science, are neither measurable nor predictable, nor are the results necessarily repeatable. If there is any assurance, besides faith, a businessman can have, it is in choosing talented, competent, and experienced designers.

Meaningful design, design of quality and wit, is no small achievement, even in an environment in which good design is understood, appreciated, and ardently accepted, and in which profit is not the only motive. At best, work that has any claim to distinction is the exception, even under the most ideal circumstances. After all, our epoch can boast of only one A.M. Cassandre.

  • Words such as design, form, beauty, artistic, creative, and graphic are hard to design as it involves subjective interpretation.
  • Design focuses more on conception than it does on execution. The design of an idea might be conceived by a designer but it cannot come to fruition without the skills of a printer or a stone cutter.
  • Graphic design is essentially about visual relationships. It is the designer's job to select and fit the material together and make it interesting.
  • Form and function is the integration of the beautiful and usefulness.
  • Designer experiences, perceives, analyzes, organizes, symbolizes, synthesizes; considers spectator's feelings; draws upon instincts and intuition; must go through rigorous mental exercise.
  • The designer is primarily confronted with three classes of material: a) the given material: product, copy, slogan, logotype, format, media, production process; b) the formal material: space, contrast, proportion, harmony, rhythm, repetition, line, mass, shape, color, weight, volume, value, texture; c) the psychological material: visual perception and optical illusion problems, the spectators’ instincts, intuitions, and emotions as well as the designer’s own needs.
  • If there is vagueness in problem statement, it is the designer's job to restate the problem. Driving clarity is essential!
  • Since graphic design deals with spectator, it is the goal of the designer to be persuasive or at least informative. Painters need not concern with this since a painting is open to interpretation.
  • Trademark and logo are symbols. There are good symbols and bad symbols. The flag is a symbol of a country. The cross is a symbol of a religion. A trademark is created by a designer but made by a corporation.
  • Stripes draw attention. They are memorable. Nature has created stripes (Zebras). They are effective.
  • Ideas do no need to be esoteric to be original or exciting. Originality is related more to the unexpected idea than to some flamboyant or peculiar technique. To defamiliarize the commonplace, to see it as if were for the first time, is the artist's goal.
  • The artist is a collector of things imaginary or real. He accumulates things with the same enthusiasm that a little boy stuffs his pockets. The scrap heap and the museum are embraced with equal curiosity. He takes snapshots, makes notes and records impressions on tablecloths or newspapers, on backs of envelopes or matchbooks. Why one thing and not another is part of the mystery, but he is omnivorous.
  • Repetition is an effective way of achieving unity. Repetition also means remembrance.
  • Humor is misunderstood and plays a significant role in design process and artifacts. Plato, in The Republic declares: Therefore do not use compulsion, but early education be rather a sort of amusement.
  • The deployment of any visual image must begin with some tangible idea or conscious.
  • Collage and montage draws spectators engagement because it requires personal discovery and exploration on what an artist is trying to convey. The value of audience participation is critical!
  • Type matter involves readability. However, this function by a designer is taken too literally and overemphasized at the expense of style and individuality.
  • Symmetry offers the spectator too simple and too obvious a statement. It offers little or no intellectual pleasure, no challenge. With asymmetric, designer is able to achieve great interest.
  • In his writings specifically around typography, he puts emphasizes on there is no such thing as American font. A long-standing debate in many disciplines. American type is the combination of many geographies, culture and people.
  • Meaningless solutions are produced when too much emphasize is placed on freedom and self-expression. Conversely, meaningful solutions are produced with defined limits. The latter is the instinct of play and will most likely yield novel solution. The rules are the means to the end, the conditions the player must understand thoroughly and work in order to participate. Without specific formal limitations and without the challenge of play, both teacher and student and teacher cannot help but be bored. The student has the illusion of creating great art in an atmosphere of freedom, when in fact, the designer is handicapped by the absence of certain disciplines which would evoke ideas and make playing with those ideas possible and interesting.
  • Rand lists number of design exercises to work up your design muscle: crossword puzzle, the tangram, hokusai's drawing, chinese characters, the modular, the grid system, mason's mark, tatami, albers, cubist collages, matisse, picasso, mu ch'i, the photogram, piet zwart, japanese craftsman.
  • Taboos and prejudices have long created limiting barriers to experimentation and to meaningful work in the arts, that is against the color black. However, the color black has many virtues. It is perfect for contrasting. Looking around us, nature has many elements of black. In Japanese painting, black (sumi) is often the only color employed.
  • Together black and white act as complementary colors. Bright light reflected by the white area nullifies the reflected light from the black area. This makes the black seem blacker and white more brilliant.
  • The field of packaging include materials, construction, and application. The Chanel packaging and design is an excellent study. In a well designed package, the designer does not seek to exploit consumer's visual memories and attachments by sentimental distortion but to express his objective appreciation of the fact that people do have strong affective reaction to things.
  • The last two chapters Politics of Design and Integrity and Invention are worth re-reading. Rand worked with large organizations when design was at its infancy, so he knows how design was perceived in the world of commercialization. I have both chapters filled with annotations and notes. There is a lot of wisdom in them.

Bruno Munari
  • A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense.
  • The designer of today re-establishes the long-lost contact between art and the public, between living people and art as a living thing. Instead of pictures for the drawing-room, electric gadgets for the kitchen. There should be no such thing as art divorced from life, with beautiful things to look at and hideous things to use. If what we use every day is made with art, and not thrown together by chance or caprice, then we shall have nothing to hide.
  • When the objects we use every day and the surroundings we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we have achieved a balanced life.
  • Design came into being in 1919, when Walter Gropius founded the Bauhaus at Weimar. Part of the prospectus of this school reads: s'The function of art has in the past been given a formal importance which has severed it from our daily life; but art is always present when a people lives sincerely and health. 'Thus our job is to invest a new system of education that may lead to a complete knowledge of human needs and a universal awareness of them.'...What Gropius wrote is still valid. Tis first school of design did tend to make a new kind of artist, an artist useful to society because he helps society to recover its balance, and not to lurch between a false world to live one's material life in and ideal world to take moral revenge in.
  • The vase once had an extremely common use. Most probably it was used for cooking-oil. It was made by a designer of those times, when art and life went hand in hand and there was no such thing as a work of art to look at and just any old thing to use.
  • The greatest freedom comes from the greatest strictness. — Paul Valéry
  • When the objects we use every day and the surroundings we live in have become in themselves a work of art, then we shall be able to say that we gave achieved a balanced life.
  • To understand means to be capable of doing. — Goethè
  • People haven’t got time to stop in the street, size a poster up, see what it refers to and then decide whether or not it interests them. Communication must be instant and it must be exact.
  • When one studies something characteristic of a people it is wise to look at its best side, at least if one wants to learn anything. Ugly things are ugly in much the same way the world over. Only the best can teach us, and the best of anything is individual. Each country excels in some things, and in the rest is just the same as other countries: mediocre.
  • The stylist works by contrast. After a season of violet, one can predict a season of yellow.
  • It is certainly quite wrong to read a poem in a hurry, as if it were a telegram.
  • What is a car, for many people, if not a piece of travelling sculpture?
  • As long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people.
  • What then is this thing called Design if it is neither style nor applied art? It is planning: the planning as objectively as possible of everything that goes to make up the surroundings and atmosphere in which men live today. This atmosphere is created by all the objects produced by industry, from glasses to houses and even cities. It is planning done without preconceived notions of style, attempting only to give each thing its logical structure and proper material, and in consequence its logical form.
  • By designing without any stylistic or formal preconceived notions, and tending towards the natural formation of things, one gets the essence of a product. This means using the most appropriate materials of the correct thickness, reducing working hours to a minimum, combining a number of functions in one element, making all attachments simple, using as few different materials as possible for each single object, trying to abolish the need for finishing off in detail, doing any necessary lettering during the original pressing, and bearing in mind that the object should take up as little storage space as possible and should assemble itself automatically when ready for use.
  • I TAO PI PU TAO’: If the idea is there, the brush can spare itself the work. (Ancient rule of Chinese painting.)
  • An artist is a man who digests his own subjective impressions and knows how to find a general objective meaning in them, and how to express them in a convincing form. — Maxim Gorky
  • A poem only communicates if read slowly: only then does it have time to create a state of mind in which the images can form and be transformed.
  • Any knowledge of the world we live in is useful, and enables us to understand things that previously we did not know existed.
  • Concern yourself with things before they come into existence. — Tao Te-ching
  • Naturally, this puts an end to the already tarnished image of the work of art as a rare and even unique thing, independent of what it expresses.
  • According to an ancient Chinese saying, infinity is a square without corners.
  • We therefore have an object that is absolutely useless to man, an object good for nothing better than being looked at, or at the most sniffed (though it seems that some producers have now invaded the market with roses that do not even have the virtue of scent). This is an object without justification, and one moreover that may lead the worker to think futile thoughts. It is, in the last analysis, even immoral.
  • Today it has become necessary to demolish the myth of the ‘star’ artist who only produces masterpieces for a small group of ultra-intelligent people. It must be understood that as long as art stands aside from the problems of life it will only interest a very few people. Culture today is becoming a mass affair, and the artist must step down from his pedestal and be prepared to make a sign for a butcher’s shop (if he knows how to do it). The artist must cast off the last rags of romanticism and become active as a man among men, well up in present-day techniques, materials and working methods. Without losing his innate aesthetic sense he must be able to respond with humility and competence to the demands his neighbors may make of him.
  • Anyone working in the field of design has a hard task ahead of him: to clear his neighbor’s mind of all preconceived notions of art and artists, notions picked up at schools where they condition you to think one way for the whole of your life, without stopping to think that life changes — and today more rapidly than ever. It is therefore up to us designers to make known our working methods in clear and simple terms, the methods we think are the truest, the most up-to-date, the most likely to resolve our common aesthetic problems. Anyone who uses a properly designed object feels the presence of an artist who has worked for him, bettering his living conditions and encouraging him to develop his taste and sense of beauty.
  • We know that only the technical means of artistic achievement can be taught, not art itself. The function of art has in the past been given a formal importance which has severed it from our daily life; but art is always present when a people lives sincerely and healthily. ‘Our job is therefore to invent a new system of education that may lead — by way of a new kind of specialized teaching of science and technology — to a complete knowledge of human needs and a universal awareness of them. ‘Thus our task is to make a new kind of artist, a creator capable of understanding every kind of need: not because he is a prodigy, but because he knows how to approach human needs according to a precise method. We wish to make him conscious of his creative power, not scared of new facts, and independent of formulas in his own work.’
  • ...these are certainly not objects produced by designers, for designers do not have such raging imaginations. They confine themselves to making candlesticks that look like candlesticks.

Rowena Reed Kostellow
  • Pure, unadulterated beauty should be the goal of civilization!
  • Industrial design is about exactly what is there. The forms of industrial design are direct support for experience: they shape the conduct of our days: they structure the experience of being alive now.
  • Our goal is the training of a designer so familiar with the principles of abstraction that he automatically thinks of a visual problem in terms of organized relationships and then feels free to study other aspects of the problem, or to confer with specialists in related fields. He is a designer who can, visually, cross boundaries and suggest new forms for new materials or new techniques.
  • Miss Reed always told us that “Unity is the visual glue that holds everything together. You know that you have achieved it when all the visual relationships within the design are organized in such exquisite dependent relationship that every element supports and strengthens every other and any minor change would upset the perfect balance and tension.
  • She had a gift for friendship and nurtured long-term, personal relationships with many of her former students. They phoned at all hours, and came and went from her apartment, driving her to and from Pratt, taking her to lunch and dinner. They escorted her on her travels and slept on her couch when they came to town. They ran errands, helped her sort through piles of papers and slides, and brought her out to the country for weekends after she gave up her own country home.
  • Teaching is a marvelous adventure—like having a huge laboratory in which to carry out experiments.
  • Of course, a product is no good to anyone unless the function is properly worked out. The object should express what it is very directly, but it is possible for a design to express what it is and also be a beautiful object in its own right. We introduce the student to an ordered sequence of purely visual experiences by which an artist may develop his understanding and his recognition of the abstract elements in any design situation. Our goal is the training of a designer so familiar with the principles of abstraction that he automatically thinks of a visual problem in terms of organized relationships and then feels free to study other aspects of the problem or to confer with specialists in related fields. He is a designer who can visually cross boundaries and suggest new forms for new materials or new techniques.
  • Like a piano teacher, she made you do the exercises over and over so many times that you lost all your tricks. — Tucker Viemeister

Donald A Norman
  • Design is beyond window dressing products.
  • Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.
  • Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.
  • Rule of thumb: if you think something is clever and sophisticated beware-it is probably self-indulgence.
  • The idea that a person is at fault when something goes wrong is deeply entrenched in society. That’s why we blame others and even ourselves. Unfortunately, the idea that a person is at fault is embedded in the legal system. When major accidents occur, official courts of inquiry are set up to assess the blame. More and more often the blame is attributed to “human error.” The person involved can be fined, punished, or fired. Maybe training procedures are revised. The law rests comfortably. But in my experience, human error usually is a result of poor design: it should be called system error. Humans err continually; it is an intrinsic part of our nature. System design should take this into account. Pinning the blame on the person may be a comfortable way to proceed, but why was the system ever designed so that a single act by a single person could cause calamity? Worse, blaming the person without fixing the root, underlying cause does not fix the problem: the same error is likely to be repeated by someone else.
  • A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem.
  • Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value.
  • The problem with the designs of most engineers is that they are too logical. We have to accept human behavior the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.
  • The vicious cycle starts: if you fail at something, you think it is your fault. Therefore you think you can’t do that task. As a result, next time you have to do the task, you believe you can’t, so you don’t even try. The result is that you can’t, just as you thought. You’re trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • It is easy to design devices that work well when everything goes as planned. The hard and necessary part of design is to make things work well even when things do not go as planned.
  • One way of overcoming the fear of the new is to make it look like the old.
  • Norman’s Law: The day the product team is announced, it is behind schedule and over its budget.
  • When things go right, people credit their own abilities and intelligence. The onlookers do the reverse. When they see things go well for someone else, they sometimes credit the environment, or luck.
  • Finally, people have to actually purchase it. It doesn’t matter how good a product is if, in the end, nobody uses it.
  • In the university, professors make up artificial problems. In the real world, the problems do not come in nice, neat packages. They have to be discovered.
  • The design of everyday things is in great danger of becoming the design of superfluous, overloaded, unnecessary things.
  • Poor feedback can be worse than no feedback at all, because it is distracting, uninformative, and in many cases irritating and anxiety-provoking.
  • It is the duty of machines and those who design them to understand people. It is not our duty to understand the arbitrary, meaningless dictates of machines.
  • Original ideas are the easy part. Actually producing the idea as a successful product is what is hard.
  • Affordances define what actions are possible. Signifiers specify how people discover those possibilities: signifiers are signs, perceptible signals of what can be done. Signifiers are of far more importance to designers than are affordances.
  • Don't criticize unless you can do better. Try to understand how the faulty design might have occurred: try to determine how it could have been done otherwise.
  • In design, one of the most difficult activities is to get the specifications right.
  • Why do we need to know about the human mind? Because things are designed to be used by people, and without a deep understanding of people, the designs are apt to be faulty, difficult to use, difficult to understand.
  • The meanings of today may not be the meanings of the future.
  • Cognition and emotion cannot be separated. Cognitive thoughts lead to emotions: emotions drive cognitive thoughts. The brain is structured to act upon the world, and every action carries with it expectations, and these expectations drive emotions. That is why much of language is based on physical metaphors, why the body and its interaction with the environment are essential components of human thought. Emotion is highly underrated. In fact, the emotional system is a powerful information processing system that works in tandem with cognition. Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value. It is the emotional system that determines whether a situation is safe or threatening, whether something that is happening is good or bad, desirable or not. Cognition provides understanding: emotion provides value judgments. A human without a working emotional system has difficulty making choices. A human without a cognitive system is dysfunctional.
  • When people fail to follow these bizarre, secret rules, and the machine does the wrong thing, its operators are blamed for not understanding the machine, for not following its rigid specifications. With everyday objects, the result is frustration. With complex devices and commercial and industrial processes, the resulting difficulties can lead to accidents, injuries, and even deaths. It is time to reverse the situation: to cast the blame upon the machines and their design. It is the machine and its design that are at fault. It is the duty of machines and those who design them to understand people. It is not our duty to understand the arbitrary, meaningless dictates of machines.
  • If the system lets you make the error, it is badly designed.
  • With the passage of time, the psychology of people stays the same, but the tools and objects in the world change.
  • Design is successful only if the final product is successful—if people buy it, use it, and enjoy it, thus spreading the word. A design that people do not purchase is a failed design, no matter how great the design team might consider it.
  • Procedural knowledge is difficult or impossible to write down and difficult to teach. It is best taught by demonstration and best learned through practice.
  • A device is easy to use when the set of possible actions is visible, when the controls and displays exploit natural mappings.
  • Alas, sometimes clever people are too clever for our good. Some well-meaning plumbing designers have decided that consistency should be ignored in favor of their own, private brand of psychology.
  • Because retrieval is a reconstructive process, it can be erroneous. We may reconstruct events the way we would prefer to remember them, rather than the way we experienced them. It is relatively easy to bias people so that they form false memories, “remembering” events in their lives with great clarity, even though they never occurred. This is one reason that eyewitness testimony in courts of law is so problematic: eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. A huge number of psychological experiments show how easy it is to implant false memories into people’s minds so convincingly that people refuse to admit that the memory is of an event that never happened.
  • We are creative and imaginative, not mechanical and precise. Machines require precision and accuracy; people don’t. And we are particularly bad at providing precise and accurate inputs.
  • Some things can only be solved by massive cultural changes, which probably means they will never be solved.
  • Recognize that most of our interactions with products are actually interactions with a complex system: good design requires consideration of the entire system to ensure that the requirements, intentions, and desires at each stage are faithfully understood and respected at all the other stages.
  • Question everything. I am particularly fond of “stupid” questions. A stupid question asks about things so fundamental that everyone assumes the answer is obvious.
  • If the skill is easily automated, it wasn't essential.
  • We only need to remember sufficient knowledge to let us get our tasks done. Because so much knowledge is available in the environment, it is surprising how little we need to learn. This is one reason people can function well in their environment and still be unable to describe what they do.
  • Yet surprisingly in this era of screen-based devices, paper tools are still enormously popular and effective, as the number of paper-based diaries and reminders indicates.
  • Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself.
  • Human intelligence is highly flexible and adaptive, superb at inventing procedures and objects that overcome its own limits. The real powers come from devising external aids that enhance cognitive abilities.
  • Design is concerned with how things work, how they are controlled, and the nature of the interaction between people and technology.
  • Creeping featurism is the tendency to add to the number of features of a product, often extending the number beyond all reason. There is no way that a product can remain usable and understandable by the time it has all of those special-purpose features that have been added in over time.
  • Root cause analysis is the name of the game: investigate the accident until the single, underlying cause is found. What this ought to mean is that when people have indeed made erroneous decisions or actions, we should determine what caused them to err. This is what root cause analysis ought to be about. Alas, all too often it stops once a person is found to have acted inappropriately. Basically, it means that when searching for the reason, even after you have found one, do not stop: ask why that was the case. And then ask why again. Keep asking until you have uncovered the true underlying causes.
  • When companies try to increase sales by matching every feature of their competitors, they end up hurting themselves. After all, when products from two companies match feature by feature, there is no longer any reason for a customer to prefer one over another.
  • Often people will use their own conceptual models of the world to determine the perceived causal relationship between the thing being blamed and the result. The word perceived is critical: the causal relationship does not have to exist; the person simply has to think it is there.
  • So the hierarchy of goals is roughly: satisfy hunger; eat; cook; read cookbook; get more light. This is called a root cause analysis: asking “Why?” until the ultimate, fundamental cause of the activity is reached.
  • A conceptual model is an explanation, usually highly simplified, of how something works. It doesn’t have to be complete or even accurate as long as it is useful.
  • It is amazing how often people solve the problem before them without bothering to question it.
  • Market-driven pressures plus an engineering-driven company yield ever-increasing features, complexity, and confusion. But even companies that do intend to search for human needs are thwarted by the severe challenges of the product development process, in particular, the challenges of insufficient time and insufficient money.
  • The most effective way of helping people remember is to make it unnecessary.
  • Technology does not make us smarter. People do not make technology smart. It is the combination of the two, the person plus the artifact, that is smart. Together, with our tools, we are a powerful combination. On the other hand, if we are suddenly without these external devices, then we don’t do very well. In many ways, we do become less smart.
  • Once again, the designer should assume that people will be interrupted during their activities and that they may need assistance in resuming their operations.
  • Never underestimate the power of social pressures on behavior, causing otherwise sensible people to do things they know are wrong and possibly dangerous.
  • To understand products, it is not enough to understand design or technology: it is critical to understand business.
  • So we must design our machines on the assumption that people will make errors.
  • Product development involves an incredible mix of disciplines, from designers to engineers and programmers, manufacturing, packaging, sales, marketing, and service.
  • Producing a good product requires a lot more than good technical skills: it requires a harmonious, smoothly functioning, cooperative and respectful organization.
  • When a new way of doing things is vastly superior to another, then the merits of change outweigh the difficulty of change. Just because something is different does not mean it is bad. If we only kept to the old, we could never improve.
  • Most of human behavior is a result of subconscious processes. We are unaware of them. As a result, many of our beliefs about how people behave—including beliefs about ourselves—are wrong. That is why we have the multiple social and behavioral sciences, with a good dash of mathematics, economics, computer science, information science, and neuroscience.
  • We need to remove the word failure from our vocabulary, replacing it instead with learning experience. To fail is to learn: we learn more from our failures than from our successes. With success, sure, we are pleased, but we often have no idea why we succeeded. With failure, it is often possible to figure out why, to ensure that it will never happen again.
  • Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding.
  • Most radical ideas fail: large companies are not tolerant of failure. Small companies can jump in with new, exciting ideas because if they fail, well, the cost is relatively low.
  • Most new inventions fail. And even the few that succeed to take decades to do so.
  • In general, people tend to think of innovation as being radical, major changes, whereas the most common and powerful form of it is actually small and incremental.
  • In the real world, the problems do not come in nice, neat packages. They have to be discovered. It is all too easy to see only the surface problems and never dig deeper to address the real issues.
  • Good designers never start by trying to solve the problem given to them: they start by trying to understand what the real issues are. As a result, rather than converge upon a solution, they diverge, studying people and what they are trying to accomplish, generating idea after idea after idea.
  • Human centered design is the process of ensuring that people’s needs are met, that the resulting product is understandable and usable, that it accomplishes the desired tasks, and that the experience of use is positive and enjoyable. Effective design needs to satisfy a large number of constraints and concerns, including shape and form, cost and efficiency, reliability and effectiveness, understandability and usability, the pleasure of the appearance, the pride of ownership, and the joy of actual use. HCD is a procedure for addressing these requirements, but with an emphasis on two things: solving the right problem, and doing so in a way that meets human needs and capabilities.
  • The best products come from ignoring these competing voices and instead focusing on the true needs of the people who use the product.
  • True customer-centric and customer-driven companies (rather than competition-driven) can avoid feature-creep.

Joseph Albers
  • Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.
  • In visual perception, a thing is never seen as it really is
  • A strong challenge to a class is to work with 3 or 4 given colors selected by a teacher or student. This and a continued use of disliked colors will teach that preference and dislike as in life so with color usually result from prejudices, from lack of experience and insight.
  • Color is fooling us all the time. All the time, like women do, you see, life is interesting.
  • In my color book there is no new theory of color. But, in it, there is a way to learn to see.
  • I have not taught art. Instead of art, I have taught philosophy…I never have taught [techniques for] how to paint. All my doing was to make people to see.
  • We can hear a single tone but rarely do we see a single color unrelated to other colors.
  • Anyone who predicts the effect of colors proves that he has no experience with color.
  • I have said to my students ‘I am putting you into a vacuum and asking you to breathe.’
  • This book presents results of search, not of what is academically called research.
  • As it is not a compilation from books, it does not end with a list of books — either books read, or books not read. Instead, this book ends with an acknowledgement of my students who are the authors of sample studies, and whom I therefore consider my indirect but first collaborators.
  • I like to state that my students in color have taught me more color than have books about color.
  • “Action” is the noun for the verb “to act”.
  • The word as such [value], when unspecified, permits application in innumerable directions... Unfortunately, the careless use of “value,” particularly with regard to equal lightness—as well as false examples reproduced in books—has destroyed it as a means of measure.
  • As basic rules of any language must be practiced continuously, and therefore are never fixed, so exercises toward distinct color effects never are done or over. New and different cases will be discovered time and again, and should be presented to the class again and again. In this way the study will be a mutual give and take. It will also show that all thorough study is basic, and that all education is self-education. This indicates that we expect from every student several solutions to each problem. In the end, teaching is a matter not of method but of heart. Therefore, the most decisive factor is the teacher's personality. His enthusiastic concern with the student's growth counts more than how much he knows. It is well known that "the teacher is always right," but rarely does this fact elicit respect or sympathy; even less often does it prove competence and authority. But the teacher actually is right and always will gain confidence when he admits that he does not know, that he cannot decide, and, as it often is with color, that he is unable to make a choice or to give advice. Besides, good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.
  • The results of our trial-and-error experimentation, mostly done after class, are exhibited at the beginning of the next class. These studies we call the admission tickets" to the class.)
  • In the previous chapters we have presented a studio course, or, if you prefer, a laboratory or workshop course which opposes an administrative attitude of "theory and practice." Naturally, practice is not preceded but followed by theory. Such study promotes a more lasting teaching and learning through experience. Its aim is development of creativeness realized in discovery and invention-the criteria of creativity, or flexibility, being imagination and fantasy. Altogether it promotes "thinking in situations," a new educational concept unfortunately little known and less cultivated, so far.
  • These exercises are not meant to illustrate, or to decorate or beautify something, but aim at the development of the ability to produce the desired color effects. This reiterates our disbelief in self-expression, either as a way of study or as its aim, in schools.
  • After too much non-teaching, non-learning, and a consequent non-seeing, in too many art "activities" -it is time to advocate again a basic step-by-step learning which promotes recognition of insight coming from experience, and evaluation resulting from comparison. This, in sum, means recognition of development and improvement, that is, of growth, growth of ability. This growth is not only a most exciting experience; it is inspiring and thus the strongest incentive for intensified action, for continued investigation (search instead of re-search), for learning through conscious practice.
  • Singing a tune and playing it on instruments- even more, conducting several instruments- provides more contact, more insight than merely hearing the tune. So cooking, normally and naturally, teaches more than reading recipes.
  • We practice first and mainly a study of ourselves.

Edward R. Tufte
  • Above all else show the data.
  • Graphics reveal data.
  • Of course, statistical graphics, just like statistical calculations, are only as good as what goes into them.
  • A silly theory means silly graphic.
  • Graphical excellence begins with telling the truth about the data.
  • Graphical excellence is that which gives to the viewer the greatest number of ideas in the shortest time with the least ink in the smallest space.
  • Allowing artist-illustrators to control the design and content of statistical graphics is almost like allowing typographers to control the content, style, and editing of prose.
  • The emphasis is on maximizing principles, empirical measures of graphical performance, and the sequential improvement of graphics through revision and editing. Insights into graphical design are to be gained, I believe, from theories of what makes for excellence in art, architecture, and prose.
  • Most of all, then, this book is a celebration of data graphics.
  • Get it right or let it alone. The conclusion you jump to may be your own. — James Thunder
  • As to the propriety and justness of representing sums of money, and time, by parts of space, tho' very readily agreed to by most men, yet a few seem to apprehend that there may possibly be some deception in it, of which they are not aware. — William Playfair, The Commercial and Political Atlas (London, 1786)
  • Different people see the same areas somewhat differently; perceptions change with experience; and perceptions are context-different.
  • Misperception and miscommunication are certainly not special to statistical graphics.
  • Why do artists draw graphics that lie? Why do the world's major newspaper and magazines publish them?...Lurking behind the inept graphic is a lack of judgment about quantitative evidence, Nearly all those who produce graphics for mass publication are trained exclusively in the fine arts and have had little experience with the analysis of data. Such experience is essential for achieving precision and grace in the presence of statistics, but even textbooks of graphical design are silent on how to think about numbers. Illustrators too often see their work as an exclusively artistic enterprise--the words "creative," "concept," and "style" combine regularly in all possible permutations, a Big Think jargon for the small task of constructing a time-series a few data points long. Those who get ahead are those who beautify data, never mind statistical integrity.
  • The doctrine of boring data serves political ends, helping to advance certain interests over others in bureaucratic struggles for control of a publication's resources. For if the numbers are dull dull dull, then an artist, indeed many artists, indeed an Art Department and an Art Director are required to animate the data, lest the eyes of the audience glaze over. Thus the doctrine encourages placing data graphics under control of artists rather than in the hands of those who write the words and know the substance. As the art bureaucracy grows, style replaces content. And the word people, having lost space in the publication to data decorators, console themselves with thoughts that statistics are really rather tedious anyway.
  • If the statistics are boring, then you've got the wrong numbers. Finding the right numbers requires as much specialized skill- statistical skill-and hard work as creating a beautiful design or covering a complex news story.
  • Many believe that graphical displays should divert and entertain those in the audience who find the words in the text too difficult.
  • If you have to explain it, don't use it.
  • ... no nation ranks higher in its collective passion for statistics. In Japan, statistics are the subject of a holiday, local and national conventions, awards ceremonies and nationwide statistical collection and graph-drawing contests. "This year," said Yoshiharu Takahashi, a Government statistician, "we had almost 30,000 entries. Actually, we had 29,836." Entries in the [children's statistical graph contest were screened three times by judges, who gave first prize this year to the work of five 7-year-olds. Their graph creation, titled "Mom, play with us more often," was the result of a survey of 32 classmates on the frequency that mothers play with their offspring and the reasons given for not doing so.... Other children's work examined the frequency of family phone usage and correlated the day's temperature with cicada singing.' — Andrew H. Malcolm
  • It wastes the tremendous communicative power of graphics to use them merely to decorate a few numbers.
  • Like weeds, many varieties of chartjunk flourish.
  • Painting is special, separate, a matter of meditation and contemplation, for me, no physical action or social sport. As much consciousness as possible. Clarity, completeness, quintessence, quiet. No noise, no schmutz, no schmerz, no fauve schwärmerei. Perfection, passiveness, consonance, consummateness. No palpitations, no gesticulation, no grotesquerie. Spirituality, serenity, absoluteness, coherence. No automatism, no accident, no anxiety, no catharsis, no chance. Detachment, disinterestedness, thoughtfulness, transcendence. No humbugging, no button-holing, no exploitation, no mixing things up. — Ad Reinhardt, statement for the catalogue of the exhibition, "The New Decade: 35 American Painters and Sculptors," Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1955.
  • Graphical elegance is often found in simplicity of design and complexity of data.

Kelley Brothers
  • Creative confidence is like a muscle—it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience. Our goal is to help build that confidence in you.
  • Creative confidence is a way of seeing that potential and your place in the world more clearly, unclouded by anxiety and doubt.
  • We think of creativity as using your imagination to create something new in the world.
  • In the business world, creativity manifests itself as innovation.
  • For the people we've worked with, opening up the flow of creativity is like discovering that you've been driving a car with the emergency brake on—and suddenly experiencing what it feels like when you release the brake and can drive freely.
  • In our experience, everybody is the creative type.
  • Creative energy is one of our most precious resources.
  • A growth mindset is a passport to new adventures.
  • Effort is the path to mastery, so let's at least give it a try.
  • Designers always act with intention.
  • Everything in modern society is the result of a collection of decisions made by someone.
  • Failure sucks, but instructs.
  • We believe the lessons learned from failures may make us smarter—even stronger.
  • Relentless practice creates a database of experience that you can draw upon to make more enlightened choices.
  • Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.
  • When our self-worth isn't on the line, we are more willing to courageous and risk sharing our raw talents and gifts.
  • A sketch is worth a thousand words.
  • Courage is only the accumulation of small steps.
  • Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.
  • Daydreaming gets a bad rep, but prolific mind wanderers score higher on tests of creativity.
  • The first step toward a great answer is to reframe the question.
  • Nurture the kind of prepared mind that seizes the moment when an epiphany occurs.
  • Creative confidence people are not just passive observers. They live in the active voice. They write the scripts of their own lives, and in doing so they have a greater impact on the world around them. They believe actions can make a positive difference.
  • The most effective way to practice design thinking is by showing, not telling.
  • Don't turn talk a substitute for action.
  • Show, don't tell.
  • The most innovative companies in the 21st century have transitioned from command-and-control organizations to a participatory approach that involves collaboration and teamwork.
  • Few people think about it or are aware of it. But there is nothing made by human beings that does not involve a design decision somewhere. — Bill Moggridge

Ed Catmull
  • Failure isn't a necessary evil. In fact, it isn't even at all. It is a necessary consequence of doing something new.
  • It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
  • Unleashing creativity requires that we loosen the controls, accept risk, trust our colleagues, work to clear the path for them, and pay attention to anything that creates fear.
  • When faced with a challenge, get smarter....I have met people who took what seemed the safer path and were the lesser for it....Always take a chance on better, even if it seems threatening.
  • You don’t have to ask permission to take responsibility.
  • To ensure quality, then, excellence must be an earned word, attributed by others to us, not proclaimed by us about ourselves.
  • …societal conditioning discourages telling the truth to those perceived to be in higher positions.
  • Failure is painful, and our feelings about this pain tend to screw up our understanding of its worth.
  • How do we face our failures without fear?
  • Self-interest guides opposition to change....Once you master any system, you typically become blind to its flaws; even if you can see them, they appear far too complex and intertwined to consider changing.


To summarize some of my takeaways on what a great designer does:

  • Design is beyond window dressing products.

    A designer is a planner with an aesthetic sense. — Bruno Munari

    Design is the animating principle of all creative processes. — Vasari

  • Designers must take holistic approach in problem-solving.

    Design can promote social togetherness-but it can also damage it. This is why the responsibility carried by designers is so great. — Dieter Rams

  • The best designers are obsessed with solving problems, not aesthetics.

    Design is a problem-solving activity. — Paul Rand

  • Design is not about more, but less. It is assertive!

    Free yourself from the ballast of too many things. A willingness for order-for simple, calm, restrained forms with longer, more aesthetic, useful lives-seems to me to be of far more importance than constantly trying to invent the next best thing. However, good design does not come through + the fulfillment of demands alone. Good everyday design should always be design that speaks for itself. — Dieter Rams

  • Design doesn't exist in a vacuum, it requires a thoughtful collaboration. Designers partner closely with engineers, researchers, product managers, and other stakeholders to bring work to life.

    You'll become known for doing whatever others see you do. Particularly true in the world of designers. When designers work in isolation, only showing up to present their carefully crafted work, the perception of their role becomes that of "making pretty pictures." Designers must invest in working openly and transparently to shift their work's perception into that of strategy, research, and influence. If designers share regular updates on the what and why of their work, invite others to participate in design decisions, and enable more customer research and synthesis, the perception of design changes. Away from magically creating visuals to that of intentional, thoughtful, strategy and experience design. You can start today, right now, by sharing an update to your organization about what has been top of mind for you, how you're thinking through problems, and what you are most excited to contribute through your work. — Tanner Christensen

  • Design is the fight against entropy.

    To me a true designer is a rebel. A creative, a rule breaker. Someone who can’t be confined, which is why they decided to take part in this profession. Yet today, the new designer is the opposite. Following rules, adhering to systems, guided by templates and guidelines. — Tobias van Schneider

  • Human-centered design involves using the power of story to cultivate empathy for the human experience and excitement for potential solutions.

    The process that ensures that the designs match the needs and capabilities of the people for whom they are intended. — Donald A. Norman

    Dignity, like understanding, is a general term, a principal of action. — Paul Rand

  • Designers solve tough problems but also define elegant solutions.

    I’d like to close by talking about what it means to be a designer. It’s often overlooked (and somewhat out of fashion to mention) but craft remains the foundational skill of a designer. Good designers not only understand how to develop solutions, but how to develop elegant solutions. Deep knowledge of the materials at hand, be they physical, digital or virtual, allows for good designers to not simply solve problems, but to do so with finesse, with an eye on implications, impact and extensibility. When scrawling a doodle on a sticky note, an experienced designer is thinking not only of the idea itself, but three or four moves ahead. In truth this is an experience based skill which can only be honed over time, by those willing to dedicate their careers to these approaches. — Nick Foster

    Creativity isn’t Design, just as Mathematics isn’t Economics. — Nick Foster

  • Design doesn't have a ceiling. There is always something to fix.

    Creative confidence people are not just passive observers. They live in the active voice. They write the scripts of their own lives, and in doing so they have a greater impact on the world around them. They believe actions can make a positive difference. — Tom Kelley and David Kelley

  • Experience is the best teacher of design elements.

    The most effective way to practice design thinking is by showing, not telling. — Tom Kelley and David Kelley

    Creative confidence is like a muscle—it can be strengthened and nurtured through effort and experience. Our goal is to help build that confidence in you. — Tom Kelley and David Kelley


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