Photo: Blake Snow
For anyone with an intermediate understanding of graphic design, you’ll know that some shapes look better when visually centered as opposed to mathematically centered. I thought that truth would hold up over the weekend while hanging square records on my office wall. It didn’t.
As eagle-eyed readers will notice, the right side of the montage is a fourth of an inch lower than the left. I had my pencil, level, helpmeet (Hi, Lindsey!) and string handy, thinking I could crack this nut in minutes. An hour later, and while cursing my inability to recall basic geometric calculations, I thought to myself, “If I can keep it visually aligned, I’m sure it’ll look okay.”
By the time I finished, it was mathematically obvious: My estimation was wrong. Having already invested upwards of two hours on the job, and with the kids asking for the umpteenth time if we were “leaving for the pool yet?”, I hastily skewed some right side records to minimize the visual damage. In doing so, I messed up the two inch margins in between prints.
Although I once excelled at math in school, it’s a good thing I never became an engineer.
See also: Maybe mathematical art is a message from God
I had a recent conversation with a colleague of mine who was asking about good design, specifically for websites. Here’s what I told him:
“Don’t try to make a website look good. Ensure that it doesn’t look cheap and that it wouldn’t hurt an audience from further viewing it. There’s a difference. By focusing on not making [a site] look bad, it will naturally look good.”
Over the past five years, that has always been my approach, and it has been a very successful one for me. I’m not the best designer, but I do know how to make something look clean and professional which is what it should be doing anyway. A website is to content as a glass is to water. Don’t let the glass distract from the importance of the water.
See also: Intelligent Design (May 2005)
Too many people try to think outside of the box, especially when it comes to product design. I guess they think that being outside of the box will automatically classify their efforts as creative. This belief couldn’t be further from the truth. Good design doesn’t always require creativity. Innovation does. So I guess before starting to design a product you need to decide, “Am I’m designing or innovating?” Once you get that down, you’ll be much more successful with your creations.
A quick example of this might be if you were a shirt designer. You might decide to “design outside of the box” by moving the shirt pocket from the left side to the right. The shirt was already working fine though as shirt users expect the pocket to be on the left side. In this case, you wouldn’t reinvent the shirt, just redesign it to make it look better. Maybe try a new pattern or a different color, but don’t try to innovate the already functioning shirt. You have to consistently use common sense to achieve intelligent design.