It’s late in the day, you’ve been working on a project for weeks, and you’re stumped. The client meeting is in hours, and you’ve got tons of ideas, none of which seem to be quite right. Then, self-doubt creeps in: What made you think you could do this in the first place? Did [insert design great here] have creative blocks?
The short answer is yes. The difference is that all those designers we now place on pedestals figured out how to push through (or embrace) the pain, and then wax poetic about it. And now, thanks to The Designer Says (Princeton Architectural
Press), a new book compiled and edited by Sara Bader, you can access the inspiring witticisms, quips, and pearls of wisdom of some of the world’s best graphic designers. So the next time you’re struggling with an idea, know that Saul Bass had his moments of failure, too.
In our excerpt below, see what other industry luminaries, from Charles Eames to Michael Bierut, have to say about the rules of type, the ups and downs of the creative process, and the importance of keeping it all in perspective. For more still, buy the book for $9 here.
"The nature of process, to one degree or another, involves failure. You have at it. It doesn’t work. You keep pushing. It gets better. But it’s not good. It gets worse. You got at it again. Then you desperately stab at it, believing "this isn’t going to work." And it does!"
"I read once about the concepts of a 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.
"It is important to use your hands. This is what distinguishes you from a cow or a computer operator."
"Imitate. Don’t be shy about it. Try to get as close as you can. You’ll never get all the way, and the separation might be truly remarkable."
"You approach each project searching for a dozen great ideas, not just one or two. After about seven designs, you realize there really are infinite ways to look at a problem. I now completely enjoy the process, though I’m keenly aware that all but one of those dozen great ideas will eventually be killed. It’s strangely liberating."
"I have a bunch of calendars I used before I went digital. Every once in a while, I’ll open up one from 1991 and look at all the names and appointments and things that, at the time, seemed so important. Meetings that I was really worried about, things that I was getting calls four times a day about, and I wonder, "Where did it all go? Where are they now?" It’s so strange, everything has disappeared. The only thing that stays behind is the work."
"To suggest that the way we use Helvetica is an easy way out typographically is ridiculous. Simply ridiculous. We spend an enormous amount of time spacing, lining, and positioning type. The fact that we use only a small variety of typefaces demands a certain discipline, a skill precision, a focus on the finer details. It’s certainly not a different-typeface-for-every-occasion attitude. Now, that would be an easy way out."
—Experimental Jetset (Marieke Sotlk, Danny van den Dungen, Erwin Brinkers)
"One of the things I have observed, looking back historically, is how elegant a seventeenth-century book looks. One of the reasons it looks so elegant is because of the restrictions: there was only one typeface available, there weren’t that many fonts, and virtually all you could do was play with sizes, italics, and so forth."
"No one loves authenticity like a graphic designer. And no one is quite as good at simulating it."
"It would seem unlikely that a manufacturer of short-lived paperboard boxes could make the slightest cultural impact upon his time. But the facts show that if even the humblest product is designed, manufactured, and distributed with a sense of human values and with a taste for quality, the world will recognize the presence of a creative force."
"My work is play. And I play when I design. I even looked it up in the dictionary, to make sure that I actually do that, and the definition of "play," number one, was "engaging in a childlike activity or endeavor," and number two was "gambling." And I realize I do both when I’m designing."
"I try to staff our studio with people who have curiosity and passion. And you must keep a constant lookout for who you might want to hire next, because often the curiosity of our team leads them on to other things. You can’t keep brilliance; you let it shine, and then you have to let it go."
"If a client comes to you and says that they’re not really sure what to do, that’s one of the best relationships you can possibly have—when there’s an acknowledgment of a goal but the path to the end product is unknown, and they’re open to the collaboration."
"My M.O. became about trying stuff and not worrying about the grid or the structure until I have a feeling for what I’m doing. Then you tidy it up after. If you start off tidy, it’s really hard to get messy."
"My dream is to have people working on useless projects. These have the germ of new concepts."
[ILLUSTRATION: Bubbles via Shutterstock]