Brain Pickings

The Designer Says: The Collected Quips and Wisdom of Famous Graphic Designers


“Everything hangs on something else.”

On the heels of last year’s tiny gem The Architect Says comes The Designer Says: Quotes, Quips, and Words of Wisdom (public library) — a charming, similarly-spirited compendium of more than one hundred beautifully typeset remarks by some of today’s and yesteryear’s most celebrated graphic design minds, including favorites like Saul Bass, Charles Eames, Debbie Millman, Milton Glaser, Louise Fili, Paula Scher, and Maira Kalman.

Saul Bass, revered by many as the greatest graphic designer of all time and little-known children’s book artist, captures the essence of intrinsic motivation blind to extrinsic reinforcement:

I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.

Charles and Ray Eames (Image via Bo Bedre)

Reconstructionist Ray Eames acknowledges the inextricable chain of influence in art and the combinatorial nature of creativity:

Everything hangs on something else.

Charles Eames, man of ample quotable wisdom, reminds us of the usefulness of useless knowledge:

My dream is to have people working on useless projects. These have the germ of new concepts.

Seymour Chwast shares a valuable distinction:

I read once about the concepts of the lateral idea and the vertical idea. If you dig a hole and it’s in the wrong place, digging it deeper isn’t going to help. The lateral idea is when you skip over and dig someplace else.

Legendary curmudgeon and wit Paul Rand, who worked closely with Steve Jobs and who too illustrated some delightful vintage children’s books, echoes Anaïs Nin’s case for making by hand:

It is important to use your hands. This is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator.

Paul Rand (Image via Irish Times)

Celebrated Italian designer Bruno Munari, oracle of Neapolitan hand-gestures, argues that in the mind of the graphic designer, like that of the inventor, creation and curation go hand in hand:

A graphic designer usually makes hundreds of small drawings and then picks one of them.

Information visualization godfather Edward Tufte reminds us of the weight of function over form, integrity over vanity:

If your words aren’t truthful, the finest optically letter-spaced typography won’t help.

Edward Tufte (Image: Sadalit)

Erik Spiekermann echoes Dr. Seuss’s advice to children:


But perhaps most heartening of all are the words of Alan Fletcher, who eloquently articulates the joy of fulfilling work that comes from having found your purpose:

I’d sooner do the same on Monday or Wednesday as I do on a Saturday or Sunday. I don’t divide my life between labor and pleasure.

Pair The Designer Says with the collected wisdom of famous writers on their craft.

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