Resource List: Great Advice from Design Greats
For the past eight years, Anthony Furia RGD has collected design quotes* that resonate with him. After a while, a pattern of commonalities in the mindsets of successful designers began to emerge from this collection of insightful nuggets.
So here are 10 pearls of wisdom from some of design's greats, curated by Anthony, along with his own take on each of them.
These quotes* have informed and inspired Anthony's design approach and practice over the years:
"When you make something no one hates, no one loves it either."
- Tibor Kalman
This insight is a reminder to me that you can't please everyone and trying to do so only serves to water down the impact and efficacy of design. The worst response to any design is not a backlash of negative opinion, it is that nobody noticed it at all.
“I know that in the act of creativity, being careful guarantees sameness and mediocrity, which means your message and your brand will be invisible. You can be cautious...or you can be creative...but there is no such thing as cautious creative.”
- George Lois
Similar to Tibor's quote, this one from advertising legend George Lois speaks to me about having the courage to stand up for big, bold ideas. Ideas that are unproven, uncomfortable and could very well fail - but knowing that the greatest risk to any brand is not taking one at all.
“Good graphic design is like a date. Do they dress well? (style) Are they attractive? (form) Do they have anything to say? (content)”
- Stefan Sagmeister
Stefan is a master of answering complex questions, like "what is good graphic design?" and making them easily understood through relatable analogies. Any designer seeking to not just capture attention with their work, but hold it, will be served well by this quote.
"The designer who voluntarily presents their client with a batch of layouts does so not out of prolificacy, but out of uncertainty or fear."
- Paul Rand
Any designer who presents a plethora of concepts to a client should really pause on this wisdom from Paul Rand and ask themselves: Are there really this many effective solutions to this problem? Is each one really as good as the others? Or am I afraid that showing the best solution will make me seem like I haven't worked hard enough? I understand Paul's quote to mean that presenting multiple options for a client to choose from means, instead of working harder to find the best possible solution, you put the onus on the client (who isn't a designer) to make a design decision. Paul Rand reminds you that you are being hired for your expertise. It is in the client's best interest that you use it.
“Avoid software. The problem with software is that everyone has it. Use any and all tools.”
- Bruce Mau
You don't create innovative work like Bruce Mau by using the same industry standard tools as everyone else. Think concept first, not software, and explore all the possibilities, tools and techniques available to you.
“Be a more ruthless critic and a more careless artist”
- Christoph Niemann
This quote has become a guiding principle in my creative process. I understand it to mean that the two sides of any creative process i.e creation and critique, should not co-exist, but be intentionally separated into two different mindsets. There is a time to create, which should be free and loose without any rules or boundaries or structures or frameworks, it is a carefree space where thoughts of judgement, editing, refinement and critique are banned from your explorational trains of thought. It is a safe space to get in touch with your inner weird and never second-guess yourself. Only once you have delved into all the creative depths, and every inkling of an idea has been exhausted, does the critical savagery and fierce ruthlessness of the big red marker come out and do its concept slaying.
“Deadlines are important. But don’t be afraid to ask for more time. No client is in a rush for bad work”
- Massimo Vignelli
This quote always surfaces in my mind whenever I feel rushed to meet a deadline and dissatisfied with the work as it stands. You will be surprised just how many clients will actually thank you for asking for more time to ensure that what they are paying for is as good as it can be. It shows them that you care. And care is rare.
“If you do good work for good clients, it will lead to other good work for other good clients. If you do bad work for bad clients, it will lead to other bad work for other bad clients.”
- Michael Bierut
Every designer needs to swallow this confronting notion as an uncomfortable industry truth. Your work is your reputation. Being careful about what you make and who you make it for will ultimately determine your success and longevity in this profession. Wherever and whenever possible always choose to put in more effort on a project than is asked of you and choose clients, or employers, who value you, your craft and your expertise.
“Minimizing risk inevitably means minimizing beauty, creativity and distinction.”
- Michael Bierut
Present this quote to a client next time they tell you that your concept is a bit too "out of the box". I honestly can't think of a better way to waste a marketing budget than to do something risk-adverse and utterly common. No matter how good the strategy, no matter how good the message, if the design delivery is boring and expected then no audience will even bother turning their head to look at it.
“Clients tend to respect an opinion in direct proportion to what they paid for it, the quality of design is often irrelevant.”
- Paula Scher
This means you aren't charging enough. If you want to be valued by others, value yourself first. Listen to Paula.