Truth in design

Lately, I've been wondering how design communicates. Adrian Hanft at Be a Design Group rhetorically asks if bad design is good design. Linking to several posts that hint at a bottom line insurrection against design, he argues that good work isn't simply a bias for pretty things, it, rather, makes something clear.

One link, the Design Observer post on The Tyranny of Good Design, appealed indirectly to me by building on the idea of clarity. It had this take on the design of the Google logo.

I began to think about the Google logo (having previously, and with a good deal of superiority, dismissed it as hopelessly amateur) when I noticed clients mentioning it, and telling me how much they liked its frequent graphic makeovers. These comments usually came from hard-nosed business people who’d no sooner allow their own logos to be messed around with, than turn up at a board meeting wearing only a loincloth. Something about Google’s playfulness was getting through to these sober business types.   

Offering his thoughts below the Tyranny post, Gary Boodhoo steered me to Prof. John Maeda's Simplicity blog (there's a theme I can rally around!), which compares the evolution of the Yahoo! and the Google logos. Looking at the comparison, I was at first focused on the actual logos until I realized that what made the Google logo effective wasn't the color, typeface, proportionality, spacing - any of what might be called artful engineering. It was the fact that stacked against the increasingly cluttered Yahoo! home page, the Google page has remained refreshingly spare. The Google logo stood out more, which made the frequent makeovers that much more effective.

And since we're about ideas here, it led me to this thought. Like the beauty of profound equations, simple design is economical, and expressing in its way, something true. It's the opposite of what Jessica Helfand calls thornament, a design tendency toward the needlessly complex.


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