12 Graphic Design Truths from 20+ Years in the Trenches
Updated: Sep 28
This month Kauai Design turned 20. Here are some takeaways from my time in the trenches.
1. Less is more.
“Good design is as little design as possible.”
“Eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”
“Genius is the ability to reduce the complicated to the simple.”
“Simplicity and Clarity. Great design is born of those two things.”
“A designer has achieved perfection when there is nothing left to take away.”
—Antoine de St. Exupery
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
—Leonardo Da Vinci
2. Start with a concept. Be able to verbalize it before you visualize it.
“Practice safe design. Use a concept.” —Petrula Vrontikis
3. Effective design makes complicated things simple, and abstract things real.
4. Tap into expansive, divergent thinking as you gather data, opinions, ideas, and design possibilities. Pull back to a big picture perspective for analysis and concept development.
5. Flip to reductive, convergent thinking to extract the essence from your research and to execute the concept. Engage the whole brain in the design process.
“Design is the search for a magical balance between business and art; art and craft; intuition and reason; concept and detail; playfulness and formality; client and designer; designer and printer; and printer and public.” — Valerie Pettis
6. How it works (functionality) trumps how it looks (aesthetics).
“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” —Steve Jobs
7. Make it easy to read. Most people flat out won’t read it if …
• the type is too fussy or otherwise challenging to read
• the words, sentences and/or paragraphs are too long
• the lettering is too small
• the contrast is too low
• the text is too dense on the page
• the reading level is too complex (above 8th grade level)
8. Make generous use of white, or negative, space. The eye needs a place to rest, and open space draws the viewer’s eye like a magnet.
“Design is as much an act of spacing, as an act of marking.” —Ellen Lupton
9. Step into the shoes of the audience, not just the client, who tends to see through his or her own filter.
10. Graphic designers are visual translators of information and emotion into images and words.
“One trait shared by designers is high levels of empathy: the ability to logically, poetically, and telegraphically transfer ideas from one mind to another.” —Debbie Millman
11. Some designs are timeless; others not so much.
“You know something you’ve created is good when, after ten years you can look at it and not wince.” —Chip Kidd
12. Having design software does not a designer make.
“Computers are to design as microwaves are to cooking.” —Milton Glaser
A giant thank you to all of my clients for 20 years of joyful, creative collaborations and to my vendors who helped make it all possible.