Over the past two decades, the design world has mushroomed out of all proportion. Through digital technology, any designer can produce something looking half decent (I say ‘produce’ rather than ‘create’), and a very high percentage of our design industry does just that: produce half decent work. It is often no more than decorative and visually seductive.
Much of what we do is about style – a set of givens to replicate the prevailing ‘look’. And the look comes from stealing from others or sampling from various design eras, remixed for the 21st century. With the help of software like Photoshop, illustrators and designers can sample textures, hues and the feel of a bygone era and blend them into their work at the click of a mouse, giving an immediate sense of history. Others doggedly embrace stripped-back modernism with its grids, typographical restrictions and space-to-image rules in order to achieve a clinical look. But somewhere in the middle of this mire of styles, techniques and quantity, something has been lost. The title of this post, “The benefits of limitation”, coined by the actor Mark Rylance (thank you Mark) in a recent Desert Island Discs, fits perfectly.
Many designers, and a number of them very notable designers at that, have cast aspersions on the notion of ‘idea’-based design. They see it as old hat and a thing of the past, like being able to draw (another of their bête noires). I have often thought it is because they are embedded in a particular style that they lack the ability to produce an ‘idea’. But, actually, when you see limitation in action, it is pure magic. Stripping everything back to a simple essence opens up the mind to wonderful possibilities.
Here are some great exponents of the art of limitation…
Designed by Pierre Mendell 1969
Designed by Saul Steinberg 1954
Designed byDavid Gentleman 1969
Illustrated by Bob Gill 1966
Designed by Arnold Schwartzman 1963
Illustrated by Peter Brookes 1970
Designed by Herb Lubalin 1966
Illustrated by R.O.Blechman 1968
Designed by Saul Bass 1959
Illustrated by Bob Gill 1962
Designed by Robert Brownjohn 1970
See what I mean? Pure thinking and simple execution equals brilliance.