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How Comic Books Taught Khoi Vinh About Designing With Grids [Video]

Khoi Vinh, who left the New York Times to launch a startup, talks about his creative process in this insightful short film by Raafi Rivero.

How Comic Books Taught Khoi Vinh About Designing With Grids [Video]

Khoi Vinh loves grids. The “Internet famous” former design director of NYTimes.com has written books about grids, given SXSW talks about grids, designed WordPress themes based on grids, and now–courtesy of a lovely short documentary by Raafi Rivero–explains his grid-focused process in language anyone can appreciate (not just fellow design nerds).

In the film, Vinh says his love of the grid as a design tool comes from his deep interest in “getting objective” about design, and removing what he calls “emotional cloudiness” from it. He’s not talking about using focus groups or data to drive creative decisions, but rather about relying on the clarity that a grid structure offers to illuminate design solutions that are driven by something stronger than personal taste or passing fads. This “power,” as he describes it, “can be intoxicating once you get the hang of it.”

Director Raafi Rivero incorporates Vinh’s philosophy into the film’s visuals throughout, without resorting to flashy on-the-nose graphics. Like Vinh, Rivero notices and highlights the subtlly pleasing order that grids impose on our surroundings–whether it’s the layout of a comic book, an array of glowing monitors in an editing bay, or the way a streetlight cuts across the glass-and-chrome facade of a building. The film is full of interesting bits from Vinh about his process, too. “I didn’t know much about design,” he admits of his beginnings. “It came from a love of comic books”–specifically, an appreciation for those unsung heroes of comic book creation, the letterers.

Design is a hard thing to define, which often makes it hard for non-designers to understand the value of (or appreciate when it’s done well). Communicator-practitioners like Khoi Vinh–and Raafi Rivero–do us all a service by bringing the value of good design down to earth, where it belongs.

[Watch the film here]

About the author

John Pavlus is a writer and filmmaker focusing on science, tech, and design topics. His writing has appeared in Wired, New York, Scientific American, Technology Review, BBC Future, and other outlets.