Artemy Lebedev

§ 89. Simply phobia

June 2, 2002

A good half of a video cassette recorder or a stereo system’s functions only serve to entice the customer into buying them. A pretty pattern on a shoe sole is only needed to enrapture the customer when the shoes are standing on a shelf. How often do you think the customer scrutinizes the sole pattern of the shoes he’s been wearing for the second month?

Human penchant for the hyped-up is cynically exploited by business moguls. But the hype does not always have a calculation behind it.

People are afraid of coming across as not smart enough. Especially the creative kind. More so are authors of tutorials. And still more so are designers.

To gloss things over, they resort to all sorts of claptrap. The less comprehensible is the expression, the lower is the probability of being accused of lacking originality. If an average designer were put at the helm of the world, road markings would be beautified to look more like squiggles and curlicues.

No comfort? No meaning? No logic? No pleasure? Never mind: designer’s mental ways are far above these mundane questions. The customer is not in the know either, since a layman almost never can say whether design is good or not.

Designer gets fascinated by the creation process. The customer is blinded by the first impression. A week, a month, a year passes, and design makes its way into the real life where it’s all different.

There are few people on earth who know that the most crucial feature of a cellular phone is the easy dial (not a periods calendar or a pulse rate meter), while in a TV remote control it’s the possibility to quickly adjust the sound volume and change channels (not a button for setting color saturation).

Designer fears simplicity. He is sure that simplicity will poorly sell. He believes that a wiggly font will lend his work an air of completeness, while a simple font will be a proof that the designer doesn’t know where to download a wiggly one. Designer thinks his work is unfinished if there’s still no image beneath the text. But if headings are wobbly and illegible, the project is gladly and readily passed over to the customer.

To my studio I recruit designers who have passed a test. The test consisting of 5–7 tasks is sent to designers who can present an acceptable portfolio. One of the tasks from the test reads as follows: “Draw a dashboard for the world’s best elevator in a 23-story building.” No further explanations or comments are offered to let them do it the way they see fit. Based on the results of the test, it’s not hard to figure out what a designer is really worth.

Below are some examples of the test submitted by wannabes (they don’t know each other):

Variants with buttons arranged in a circle:

Variants with a keyboard to type the required story:


Of the thirty designers that were sent this test, only one drew a dashboard with buttons arranged in a vertical line, which is the most simple and obvious way of doing that. As for the rest, even if they did consider this variant, they probably concluded it was not snazzy enough. Is there any other possible explanation to the variants with buttons arrayed in a semicircle? Or in a circle? Or in a spiral, for that matter?

A designer unable to find simple solutions should be kept locked away from people. Of course, minimalism is not the only possible design concept. But originality for originality’s sake is not worth a damn, because “original” design lacking any sense or meaning whatsoever will be discarded the next day after birth.

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