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Design Aphorisms

Aphorisms are short, sweet, and often capture essential qualities of a thing. Definitions start here.

Original aphorisms

These have come to me without any particular prompting. They may in fact not be original (probably many aren't), but I don't have any specific references.

  • Too much design is just as bad as too little design.

From the literature

“…no design works unless it embodies ideas that are held in common by the people for whom the object is intended.” [AEO11]

From other lists

The following list of design aphorisms is from one + one = three and was copied only to make sure I don't lose this. I claim no rights to the content.

“In design sometimes one plus one equals three.” Josef Albers.

“Good design is a Renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty to produce something.” Paola Antonelli, Museum of Modern Art.

“It's not rocket science. It's social science – the science of understanding people's needs and their unique relationship with art, literature, history, music, work, philosophy, community, technology and psychology. The act of design is structuring and creating that balance.” Clement Mok.

“…some graphic designers don’t just pick colours and take orders for typefaces.” Chip Kidd.

“Everything is design. Everything!” Paul Rand.

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” Steve Jobs, Apple Computer.

“Graphic design is a filtering process.” Muriel Cooper.

“Design depends largely on constraints.” Charles Eames.

“Designers solve problems for clients. Artists solve problems for humanity. The latter is the greatest problem.” John Maeda.

“Style = Fart.” Stefan Sagmeister.

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.” Frank Lloyd Wright.

“I see this as a business that affects people's lives and affects people's brains.” Tibor Kalman.

“Think more, design less.” Ellen Lupton.

“Design is creation in or alteration of the world to meet the needs and desires of people.” Dirk Knemeyer, Thread Inc.

“it is the pervading law of all things organic… of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function.” Louis Sullivan

“The most important skill for almost everyone in the next decade and beyond will be the ability to create valuable, compelling and empowering information and experiences for others.” Nathan Shedroff.

“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” Buckminster Fuller.

“Design addresses itself to the need.” Charles Eames.

“Design is as much an expression of feeling as an articulation of reason. It is an art as well as a science, a process and a product, an assertion of disorder, and a display of order.” Victor Margolin.

“If I’m going to talk about design, that purely arbitrary and immensely human construct, I should say that by design I mean the process both physical and mental by which people give an order to objects, community, environments and behavior.” Bill Stumpf.

“Ideas make design distinctive and identity, function, aesthetics and value make design work.” Pentagram.

“Beauty without depth is just decoration.” Metadesign.

“Design must seduce, shape, and perhaps more importantly, evoke emotional response.” April Greiman.

“…constraint breeds creatively. Difficult situations breed astonishing results.” Jeffrey Veen, Adaptive Path.

“The difference between the forgettable and the enduring is the artistry.” Bill Bernbach.

“It used to be that designers made an object and walked away. Today the emphasis must shift to designing the entire life cycle.” Paul Saffo.

“Form follows emotion.” Hartmut Esslinger, Frog Design.

“Design builds the bridge between the black box of technology and everyday practice.” Gui Bonsiepe.

“The designer leads a kind of karaoke existence, always singing someone else's song, and never saying what he thinks should be said.” Bruce Mau.

“What's dangerous is when designers use a language that people can't understand.” Paula Scher.

“…information only has value when it is successfully communicated. If it cannot be accessed or understood it does not have value.” Dirk Knemeyer, Thread Inc.

“design… deserves attention not only as a professional practice but as a subject of social, cultural, and philosophic investigation.” Richard Buchanan and Victor Margolin.

“What is design? A plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.” Charles Eames.

“When I design. I don't consider the technical or commercial parameters so much as the desire for a dream that humans have attempted to project on an object.” Phillipe Starck.

“If a design doesn't feel good in your heart, what the mind thinks doesn't matter.” April Greiman.

“The design business continues to navel gaze. Designers are still designing for designers rather than working to convince the business world of the importance of design in our everyday lives.” Joe Duffy.

“Content comes first… yet excellent design can catch people's eyes and impress the contents on their memory.” Hideki Nakajima.

“Good design at least part of the time, includes the criteria of being direct in relation to the problem at hand – not obscure, trendy, or stylish. A new language, visual or verbal, must be couched in a language that is already understood.” Ivan Chermayeff.

“A designer should only use these 5 typefaces: Bodoni, Helvetica, Times Roman, Century, Futura.” Massimo Vignelli.

“If we accept graphic design's move into the digital realm, then we must champion new methodologies and theoretical approaches in establishing a history and appropriate critical discourses.” Teal Triggs.

“Good design combines æsthetics with pragmatism in a seamless blend that produces an intended effect (be it to sell a product, to convey an image, or achieve some other deliberate end), while simultaneously shaping and coloring the public sphere in subtle ways, infusing it thereby with beauty, grace, elegance, verve and proportion.” Clement Mok.

“We believe customers just don't buy a product; they buy value in the form of entertainment, experience and self-identity.” Hartmut Esslinger, Frog Design.

“Here is one of the few effective keys to the design problem – the ability of the designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible – his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time and so forth.” Charles Eames.

“No design can exist in isolation. It is always related, sometimes in very complex ways, to an entire constellation of influencing situations and attitudes. What we call a good design is one which achieves integrity – that is, unity or wholeness – in balanced relation to its environment. The reason good design is hard to come by is that its creation demands a high degree of emotional and intellectual maturity in the designer, and such people are not found too often.” George Nelson.

“Design is the conscious effort to impose a meaningful order.” Victor Papanek.

“Available definitions of design are varied, complex, contradictory and in a state of permanent flux. Most would agree, however, that as a cultural concept design is determined by the outside forces that have shaped it and by the contexts within which it has manifested itself, as well as by the numerous faces it has presented to the world.” Penny Spark (An Introduction to Design in the Twentieth Century, 1986).

“The words graphic designer, architect, or industrial designer stick in my throat, giving me a sense of limitation, of specialisation within the specialty, of a relationship to society and form itself that is unsatisfactory and incomplete. This inadequate set of terms to describe an active life reveals only partially the still undefined nature of the designer.” Alvin Lustig.

See Also


AEO11. a M. Aurisicchio, N.L. Eng, J.C. Ortiz, P.N.R. Childs, and R.H. Bracewell. 2011. On the function of products. Intl Conf on Engineering Design. The Design Society. (link)
research/design_aphorisms.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)