We often think of newness as something that is created from nowhere–ex nihilo. When we hear about what’s the next biggest trend or product or service, we are led to believe it has to be something never thought up before and we are sadly disappointed that the newness of things is not that big of a deal. We have to understand that when thinking of new ideas, products, or services, instead of looking for differences, try looking at similarities.

Its the similarities that create the relationship that works for us as humans and consumers of new products or services. Designers use the term design semantics. An object has to say something about itself; say something about its larger context; and about the user who interacts with it.

Design semantics is communication through displays of information; graphic elements; shape and texture; and indications of internal state (e.g. battery life left, etc…). In short, a design has to convey what it does. For example, a car has to look like it functions as a car. With typography, the letters have to be readable as letters.

As designers, we have to operate under the premise that people are stupid and consider that when designing each aspect of your work. Don’t make people think too hard. If it takes more energy to interpret your design, then your user will go elsewhere.

Similarities lead to better design semantics and a better experience.


Work it Out

All too often in my observations of the working habits of design students, I see too much of a reliance on technology. They will give up because the software can’t do what they envisioned. They give up on a concept and relinquish their vision to a software algorithm. This is what makes the difference between pedestrian designers and incredible designers. Incredible designers push their own limits and knowledge with their tools. Pedestrian designers give up and let their tools dictate their design. Designers have to find their own breakthroughs—they have to work it out.

In cases like this, I often remember a quote from the great John Wooden (legendary UCLA basketball coach), “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”

By making the best of how things work out doesn’t mean you let things just happen. You must put in the work. You have to work it out. By putting in the work, you have more of a chance of creating something incredible. Draw the extra sketches. Explore more colors combos and type combos. Create more concepts. Only then will you be rewarded with incredible design solutions.

Elegant solutions only come from working out the problem.


Tension and Compression

In my day-to-day duties, I often illustrate parts of the human body for the medical device industry. Hold here, place there, tug here, press, pull, etc… An interesting observation about illustrating the human body is that the most telling information about its form is where parts stretch (tension) and where parts come together (compression).

When things are in tension, there are no extra lines to indicate more information–details aren’t conveyed and what we need to know is masked–muscles are pulled in opposite directions. This parallel with our experiences in life seem to be rather interesting. When we experience tension, there’s so much that we hide from ourselves and our loved ones. We often feel pulled in opposite directions–painful.

An interesting phenomenon happens, though. Where there is tension, there is compression (usually opposite from where tension is located). This is where the most information can be seen–muscles come together and create lines of information that indicates information about form. The same thing happens within ourselves. There is a source of compression when we experience tension that we can start to understand more about ourselves. We just have to look at the other side.

It’s only when we lead a balanced life that tension and compression don’t exist–a state of relaxation–a state peace.