On Design
On Design

Honesty is a designer’s greatest asset. You decide to design when you’re dissatisfied with convenient answers. You dig to the root, and you trust that the right forms and structures will filter upward. This is intuition, or clarity. “Clarity / In the sense of transparence, // I don’t mean that much can be explained // Clarity in the sense of silence” (from George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous).

Convention is the hard-won baseline of good design. Legibility comes from using conventions respectfully and with rhythm. A wordy, frilly essay is poorly designed, because the rhythm of meaning is confused. Trying to be original is destructive — it results in “making things up.” Like a human ear on a mouse: grotesque.

Simplicity is the end of any designed product. Design is a spiritual practice: through intense devotion, you arrive at simple understanding. The ideal product peacefully integrates broad goals with trajectories. It should be a cleared trail, not a novelty by the roadside.

Style shouldn’t be pursued, but it’s not something to avoid. Eternal qualities need to be expressed in ephemeral styles, like species. By perceiving the flow of meaning about a subject and organizing its form, a designer produces a living design. This means that good design must die. What inspires must expire. Healthy, ethical, and energetic designs — like the logos of Paul Rand or those of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv — live long, charmed lives.

Contrasts are blades to sculpt mental models. This says this, that says that. Dissatisfaction doesn’t come from lacking — it comes from half contrasts, limp gestures, slack tensions. On this page, black text says “This means something.” White space says “That means nothing, or infinite possibility.” So, on the one end, definite meaning, on the other end, indefinite meaninglessness.

Form follows soul. As a designer you’re not trying to breathe life into anything — just don’t take the life out of it. You’re conveying living things — words, art, messages. Any wrong move has the potential to jar, overpower, constrain, blemish, or reduce your precious cargo.

San Ramon
May 2021