One Design for Everyone, Forever

All references of race, worldviews, languages, bodies, minds, emotions, animals, and aliens are intended as satire. I personally hold no prejudice toward anyone.

When I took out my sketchbook purchased at a big box store that’s 8 1/2 x 11", I did so because it’s the only size everyone uses. I used a Bic pen because it’s universal. It fits perfectly into all of our four-fingered; one-thumbed hands and contrasts so against our light skin so we can see it better. We read the English branding on the pen just like everyone else in the world. When I click it against the wedding ring on my ring finger — sized for everyone—I feel a sense of relief, evaporated from all anxieties of discomfort.

Then, I began to design. I looked through my unisex glasses designed for everyone to see better with and when I wrote, my handwriting was legible for everyone, including those who read and write in Arabic, Mandarin, and Braille. The ink was chosen so even my colorblind dog can read it. I’m so happy in my stretchy t-shirt fitted for every child, woman, and man paired with a matching baseball cap with a plastic fitting mechanism on the back so it fits babies and those with pituitary adenoma. My design is liked by everyone in the world, including the blind, illiterate, and dyslexic. It was inspired by our environment. I live in Chicago, a city of glass, steel, and concrete—rich variations of gray… so, when I think of friends in rural Oregon, who have some of the greenest nature in the United States, I know they feel the design could’ve been created by someone who understands their aesthetic sensibilities most.

When I think of my clients, they’re all the same. Just a pocket of money asking me for the same design I sell to everyone. I don’t see a reason to revise it because it’s worked for 25 years now. 25 years is all it takes to know. I don’t use computers because tangible designs last longer than digital designs. If you want to use it, you’ll have to buy it from me in person. No shipping. It’s been presented on billboards, in virtual reality worlds, and used to represent every product and service ever offered, revealing the inside joke of vector graphics. Every artificial intelligence that’s tried to recreate it just jammed up.

I’m a purist, so the design will last forever. It is and will always be better and more relevant than everything else ever designed. It’s divine. All perfect things are divine. If your worldview doesn’t align with divinity or perfection, it’s okay because it’s still designed for you. It’s simultaneously designed for every individual and organization. It’s designed for every extraterrestrial being, including those in parallel universes. Time-travelers agree — it’s the best there is, ever was, and ever will be.

So, we’ve decided to close down the field of Graphic Design because everyone in the field has either become depressed or changed professions. Fortunately, my design is bringing people out of depression because it stimulates every feeling, dwarfing depression to a cakewalk.

One design for everyone, forever.

Purity of work

"When I first started working, I had this kind of vision that around the world there was this kind of thin filament and around that world, there were particles in that filament, very widely dispersed... and those particles were people who were looking for me.  You know, they didn't realize it, but they needed me and I was certainly looking for them.  And, I realized there were people out there who saw the world the way that I did and I had to somehow get in touch with them — to find them.  In order to do that, I had to work that was very pure so that I could put out a pure signal so that eventually that signal would pass through that thin filament and that one person in Rotterdam would see it, hear it, and find me.  And, in order to do that you have to live very modestly.  If you want to do the work that is really your work so that you have the freedom to do the right thing."

Bruce Mau said this in an interview with Michael Renaud for a talk I attended in 2014 during the 25th anniversary of the Chicago Humanities Festival.  At the time, I wasn't consciously engaged with the field of design like Mau, but I experienced his Massive Change exhibit in 2006 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, so I was thrilled to be in the audience.

Mau's way of working purely connected with the ethos I've had throughout my career.  When we work, having a client, user, viewer, or audience provides empathy throughout the creative process.  Beyond and more broadly, the way we work is an infinite game, one where ethics and purpose drive us to do work that matters; work that helps us contribute to making our world a better place.

How do we keep this infinite game in perspective on a daily basis? 

Stay modest, seek high-quality learning experiences, don't chase short and fast rewards, and according to Bruce Mau, stay pure to maintain your freedom.

The most intimate object

A cup is the most intimate object.  Embracing it with our hands, we raise it to our face to consume its contents with the senses of smell, taste, and touch.

Imagine two cups:  one is a mass-produced machine-made diner mug — one we've all seen or used countless times.  Its handle is large enough for one, two, and sometimes three fingers, aware of multiple preferences.  The white, neutral glaze is consistent and helps us see the contents easily, which seem more important than the mug itself.  Its white surface needs to be maintained for cleanliness, for the future.

via Amazon

via Amazon

via Charlie Cummings Gallery

via Charlie Cummings Gallery

The other is a one-of-a-kind mug made by ceramicist, Matthew Schiemann.  Its handle is only large enough for one finger, curving toward the shoulder of the mug, a curve that echoes at the bottom side of the body where the opposite hand, when cupped, fits in its embrace.  A modest foot reminds us it also belongs on the tabletop.  The dark glaze on the inside contrasts with the speckled green and brown gloss on the outside that appears spontaneously uncontrolled, yet consistently covers the surface of the stoneware clay.  This mug is made for the present moment, for the observant individual.

Modern design emphasizes systems, geometry, and grid structures that control a future-oriented approach.  Its precision, autonomy, and openness consider its audience broadly and economically.

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese term, opposite of modernism.  It emphasizes imperfection, natural materials, one-of-a-kindness, and personal experiences.

In the modern to wabi-sabi spectrum, where do you drink from?

First impressions last

After finishing breakfast this morning, I picked up my keys, opened and closed the front door behind me, opened up the car door, sat down, closed the door, and realized I left my lunch on the kitchen counter.  It was so easy to walk through those doors because the designs of these doors and complex locks are so elegant and reliable, I was able to thoughtlessly change my environment.  This is good design.

When Elon Musk invented and patented Tesla’s sleek, automatic door handles, he encouraged a more elegant and joyful relationship between a person and a car.

When we think about relationships, we often think about the spaces between people, environments, products, and interfaces.  How can we connect people more elegantly, seamlessly, and joyfully to what we make?

Simplicity = Reliability

Humans are endlessly complicated, as studied through psychology, sociology, anthropology, and medicine.  Within and around such complexity, we design systems and products to manage and serve our needs.

Raymond Loewy, who helped establish industrial design as a profession made the drawings below in 1933, which communicate how simplification happens over time:

With such radical complexity in our lives, a simple design that addresses direct needs is better than a complex design that tries to do too much.  When something is reliable, it appears elegant and unstoppable.  So, when a design is complex, refine towards simplicity to test reliability.

Where ideas sing
Hoffman, Matthew. "where ideas sing". 2018. Apple Michigan Avenue. Via Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts.

Hoffman, Matthew. "where ideas sing". 2018. Apple Michigan Avenue. Via Apple retail chief Angela Ahrendts.

The origins of the phrase "Where Ideas Sing" comes from a song of the same name written by Saba, a hip-hop artist who was born and raised in Chicago.  Among the signs, logos, and advertisements on Michigan Avenue (known as the Magnificent Mile), this design is painted on the south wall of the new Apple store that faces the Chicago River.  The new phrase celebrates Apple's brand, which has long celebrated creativity, innovation, and those of us who "think different".  The large letters are centered, handwritten, and cursive without capitalization, punctuation, or any typographical emphasis other than how it contrasts against the white wall and the flashy "Chicago Tribune" and "Trump" logos surrounding the store, marking a new age of branding.

Matthew Hoffman, who designed the display is most known in Chicago for his "You Are Beautiful" campaign, built on the premise of delivering an uplifting message directed toward the individual in public spaces.  This design on Apple's new flagship store identifies a place where the individual can celebrate and bring their ideas to life using the technology Apple sells.

The premise Apple is marketing here is technology should no longer be thought of as a tool to help our brains think differently — it's an extension of the body to express ourselves, providing an amplifier for our voice.

We the people
Fairey, Shepard. "We the People". 2017.

Fairey, Shepard. "We the People". 2017.

Politics aside, these prints present three women of different ethnicities with four symbols appropriated within.  The first is the usage of red, white, and blue, colors: red symbolizing valor and bravery, white symbolizing purity and innocence, and blue symbolizing vigilance, perseverance, and justice.  The second appropriation is the American flag on the center (and most well known) poster, a fabric flag wrapped around the face of a middle-eastern woman.  The third being the Bald Eagle eating a serpent on the woman on the right's t-shirt, the symbol representing the battle of the present and the past.  Finally, the fourth appropriation being the words "We the People", the first three words of the Constitution of the United States. 

As designed objects, these were utilized during protests in January of 2017.  The digital files were published for free downloading with prints being given to those who donated to the Amplifier Foundation.  This meant the posters quickly became icons for the nationwide Woman's March on January 21st, 2017.  Socially, these designs became symbols for ideas about feminism, diversity, and patriotism for individuals and groups across the United States.

Joshua Hoering
Design for Feeling

Good design requires an experience that makes us feel good.

But, who markets the design, who will educate users on how to utilize the design, who will fix the design, and how will the design be retired after its lifetime has ended?  Every design has a life and users experience each phase of that life, so considering the entire ecosystem surrounding a design is paramount to how it makes them feel.

Furthermore, how will the design be experienced over time?  Learning how to use the design, mastering the use of the design, enjoying the design, and sharing the design with communities contributes to how we feel independently and in our at work, home, and learning environments.

Designed experiences can be readily found in some of our culture's most successful businesses:

  • Amazon

  • Apple

  • Disney

  • Google

  • Nordstrom

  • REI

Each of these companies offer an experience that makes us feel good time after time, building our trust, confidence, and mastery with using their designs.