♪ Yeah, you don’t know my mind
You don’t know my kind
Dark ambiguities are part of my design
Tell the world that I’m falling from the sky
Dark ambiguities are part of my design ♪

Red Hot Melody Peppers

It’s Design Week Ds106! I can’t help but feel like this is my week because I’m a designer (albeit a web designer with emphasis on web, but I have a foundation in print design). All of the things I learned at GMU are more or less summed up in this weeks readings, The Vignelli Canon and A Kid’s Guide to Graphic Design by Iconic Designer Chip Kidd, so for me it was more of a refresher than reading brand new concepts.

What makes design, design?

In The Vignelli Canon, Massimo Vignelli’s first three major concepts are Semantics, Syntactics, and Pragmatics. This basically says that design has to have meaning and it has to convey that meaning via the appropriate tools and methods, i.e. grid, type, color, etc. Chip Kidd’s article summed up design in an even more succinct way:

Content + Form + Type = Graphic Design. Kidd’s summation does skip over the implied ‘Pragmatics’ notion though, and I think it’s important enough to add it to the equation:
Content + Form + Type + Function = Graphic Design.
The function part is important in all design, but it is absolutely *essential* in web design. A website can be the prettiest website ever made, but if the user cannot intuitively navigate the site, or navigate it with very little instruction, then the design failed. And whether you are designing a poster, a magazine spread, a website, or a super functional thing like a chair, it has to have a certain level of functionality, usability, and enjoyment for a person to use it. For 2D works such as a flyer or sign, that might mean simply understanding the information that the sign conveys. For example, we have this flyer for an event called, ‘Posh N’ Sip’:


The flyer is visually eye-catching. A large image of brightly colored clothes draws me in and lets me know that this even is going to involve clothes somehow. Then we have type, color, and shape elements that are also visually appealing, and more importantly, functional. I know what this event is about, I know where it is, I know when it is, I know generally what to expect (There’s a raffle and pro tips! Tubular)! This is a flyer that has thoughtful design.


My only minor con is that if I want to know more, I can’t go to a website to figure out what it means to ‘flip fashion,’ or what taking covershots has to do with flipping fashion. I’m also confused about the title. Does ‘Posh N’ Sip’ imply that we get to drink while we talk fashion? Who knows. The flyer has some ambiguity, but it conveys most of the info that an event goer would need. If I were in to fashion, this flyer would at least get me in the door to see what it’s all about.

To contrast, we have this sign for an event called ‘Maraca Workshop’:


OK, so this is a recent sign that I came across for a ‘Maraca Workshop’ at UMW, and the design drew me in. The bold colors and the maraca-playing dude on the sign gives it a warm and inviting feel. The when and where information is clearly visible. At first glance, this sign seems to convey all of the necessary information for those who want to learn how to play this whimsical instrument. Needless to say, my curiosity was peaked and it got me in the door.


As I entered the Digital Auditorium, I slowly started to realize that this event was not for playing maracas, but for painting maracas! While painting is fun, it’s certainly not the event that I had intended to attend. Here, the ambiguity in the design conveyed the wrong information. Perhaps a better design would have been a dude painting maracas rather shaking maracas. Now, this sign does have a website listed for more information, but I did not visit said website because I didn’t see it on the sign until just now. It’s in tiny lettering at the bottom of the sign, and it’s black on orange, which makes it hard to see.

Please heed my example if you are ever in charge of designing a flyer. Ambiguity should always peak curiosity. It should never muddle meaning. To quote a designer:

The function of design is letting design function.

Micha Commeren

Where Massimo Vignelli outlined the necessities of design, Chip Kidd woke us up to the ‘everywhere-ness’ of design, as illustrated by the quote:

Everything that is not made by nature is designed by someone.

Chip Kidd

I am already ‘woke’ Chip Kidd! I frequently take pictures of design. I even take pictures of things that people wouldn’t even think about as being design. Take for example the commonplace milk- erm, juice container:

I noticed immediately that something was up about it. The design of the label changed! (and for the better, which isn’t always the case). On the right we have the old design. The cluster of type, imagery, color gradients, and weird oval shapes is not conveying information in a thoughtful way. Everything is jumbled and flat, and the design is Simply not working. In contrast, the container on the left has a much cleaner design. The image is front and center, the type lives in it’s own white space, and the purple has been reduced to the top portion of the label sans ugly gradient. Now that’s a design that’s freshly squeezed!

Design is everywhere, and it just goes to show that it serves to be functional. Design solves problems (and does so with elegance). The ugly O.J. label that was hard to read was a problem until a new designer came in and re-imagined it. And that’s really the essence of design- making a cool thing with purpose.

I leave you here with this beautifully designed and thoughtfully laid out page from ‘Make Good Art’:

Just look at that type! It sings.

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