Whatever we do, if not understood, fails to communicate and is wasted effort. We design things which we think are semantically correct and syntactically consistent but if, at the point of fruition, no one understands the result, or the meaning of all that effort, the entire work is useless. Sometimes it may need some explanation but it is better when not necessary. Any artifact should stand by itself in all its clarity. Otherwise, something really important has been missed.
If you are an artist, you can do anything you want. It’s perfectly all right. Design serves a different purpose. If in the process of solving a problem you create a problem, obviously, you didn’t design.
Choose things that are timeless. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. There are folding chairs that cost $10 to $15 that are great design, just as there are chairs that cost thousands that are junk.
Our favorite cups are plain white Wedgwood ones designed long ago. Five hundred years from now, they will still be beautiful. And they didn’t mess it up with decoration. There was no need to.
You can reach timelessness if you look for the essence of things and not the appearance. The appearance is transitory — the appearance is fashion, the appearance is trendiness — but the essence is timeless.
Here is an example of interaction between one field of design and another. I call this the Bodoni Table, because the Bodoni typeface has big thick vertical strokes and very thin serifs, just as you see in this table.
This is a result of continuous cross-pollination between one experience and another. It is not true that if you’re a graphic designer, you can’t design furniture. You can design it, because design is one. The discipline of design is the same.
I have been a reader of the New Yorker for more then half a century and I always treasured the tremendous visual equity of its design. During its long life, many technological developments happened in the typographical field. Type design and typesetting became more accurate, but these technical innovations were not reflected in the magazine.
When we were asked to redesign the New Yorker, we immediately discarded the idea of a complete restyling and focused instead on the notion of restoration, as we would have done on an historic building damaged by years of bad weather and other calamities.
So we looked at every detail of the magazine, evaluated its merits and kept or changed them whenever necessary, with better alternatives. Therefore we changed many details, from the basic typeface, to the basic grid (it had not existed before) to maintain consistency throughout the magazine. We introduced color to better highlight certain sections and consolidated the structure for better legibility and appearance.
In the end, the magazine looked like a New Yorker after a shower.