Tag Archives: graphic design

Good Design Advice

Recently, a good friend of mine sent me an email asking for design advice. I was flattered that he reached out to me and then briefly thought about how to respond given the vastness of his inquiry. Before I knew it I had written a lengthy email filled with important nuggets from my personal design philosophy, useful links and an invitation to bounce ideas off of me at any time.


Tonight it occurred to me that along the way I have saved up quite a few pieces of advice for designers just starting out, with a few years of experience, or looking to push past a development plateau. Obviously, I linked him to Good F-cking Design Advice, obviously. Some of the suggestions below were in my email, some came to me after I had hit send. Here they are:

1. Have a concept before you start pushing pixels, you’ll work 3-times more quickly. This took me years to start doing regularly, and now it’s my process. I’m a pen and paper guy, that helps me get my plan together and allows for freedom of exploration. Not only sketching for layouts and logo comps, but creating timelines and mind maps for mini-documentaries.

2. Listen to feedback, consider it, then very possibly disregard it to follow your instinct. You have to trust your decisions. This is especially important for editors of any kind. Decisiveness isn’t natural for some, so hone it.

3. Your first idea isn’t always your best. Scrap or set aside your first draft and push through to find the possibly better 2nd or 3rd idea. Time will be the enemy of this pursuit. Stay up later.

4. Clearly communicating is your #1 goal, everything else is secondary to that. Keep it simple. Your job is done when there is nothing left to subtract.

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Minimalist vs. Superfluous


Many people have made a case for minimalist design and their points are certainly not lost on me. There are several great examples of highly successful campaigns, identity systems, fashion and artwork based on a minimal approach. Apple Computer is the most obvious and arguably one of the most successful examples of minimalism from a corporation of all-time. From their product design to their packaging they employ the less-is-more strategy. It works. Their devices are sleek and get out of the users’ way. Their packaging is simple and sophisticated. Beautiful simplicity.

…Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. -William Strunk Jr. in Elements of Style

Simplicity, however, is not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to present a case for superfluous design. This probably sounds a little crazy. It sound’s crazy because since we began working as professionals in the design industry we’ve fought against the idea that the purpose of our work is to “make it look pretty.” In my experience these comments usually aren’t meant to be condescending, but when delivered by a suited executive of relative power, it carries the implication that design can and will only affect the surface.

Good design can and should affect the functionality and purpose of a document. Effective design brings order, hierarchy and clarity. I believe this to be irrefutable fact and yet, I believe you can achieve these goals while stepping out of the minimalist aesthetic. In the design industry, we refer to superfluous design as “design for design’s sake,” shaking our fingers at ourselves.

But let me ask the question outright-what is wrong with design for the sake of beauty? What is wrong with superfluous design in an effort to stand out. If everyone is doing simple and streamlined, why not break the mold and do something extravagant? One who walks in another’s tracks leaves no footprints.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove. -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Is it? I love this quote and keep it present in my mind when making video editing decisions. But removing all ornamentation is not always the path to perfection. What should we remove from the Sistine Chapel? How would you simplify Takashi Murakami’s work while preserving it’s essence? If simple is perfect why do celebrities and royalty pay a premium price for couture gowns? The true minimalist might say because they are filthy rich, unnecessary and ridiculous. I am not a true minimalist. There is beauty and perfection in detail, too.


Let us make one last distinction before I finish. There is a difference between superfluous design – or something that contains unessential parts – and an overworked piece of design. One’s definition of necessary is also important in sorting minimal from superfluous. I appreciate you reading my rant, and if nothing else, superfluous is a fun word to say.

Be Water My Friend

bruce lee imageAs a design student my ethos was simple: Make it look cool at all cost. My first priority was punchy aesthetics and I forced my preferred style (at this point, organized grunge) on every project.

My first ‘real’ job out of school required I work quickly and tear through assignments–often times at the expense of quality. My portfolio didn’t grow by many pieces but I did become one with my software packages and keyboard shortcuts. I also got to dabble outside of print design into motion graphics and some video production assistance. A little over a year later I applied for a graphic/web design position within the same organization and got the job. My thought was that I wanted to completely understand designing and preparing files for print. Done.

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Responsibility of the Designer

the digital armory business card

This weekend I had some time to geek out and watch Gary Hustwit’s documentary film Helvetica. In listening to the designers he interviewed talk about Helvetica and type in general, I started to think about the choices we make as designers and the impact they have on the people we work for.

There are times in a designers career when we question our choice of profession – does what I do matter? Would I make more money and be viewed as more important by my organization if I were a salesperson where my influence on revenue is more obvious? Is what I bring to the table unique and valuable or am I easily replaceable?

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