Daniel Miller

Simple and Sweet

Plainness and Sweetness

It’s human nature: I over-value where I have influence. Since I am a designer, this frequently means placing too much emphasis on how things look and work rather than the direction they are pointed. But reflecting on the other side of the issue is also interesting: I find that the more input I have in the content and strategy of the project, the less burden I place on the aesthetics. Perhaps this is because I believe the aesthetic of the work should be an extention of its objectives, so if you get the strategy right, the look follows. Since I like to tackle problems sideways, I must risk being plain and rely on direct visuals to keep the work comprehensible.

I am for a design that’s like vanilla ice cream: simple and sweet, plain without being austere. It should be a base for more indulgent experiences on the occasions they are needed, like adding chocolate chips and cookie dough. Yet these special occassions are rare. A good vanilla ice cream is usually enough. I don’t wish to be dogmatic—every approach has its place, but sometimes plainness needs defending in a world starved for attention and wildly focused on individuality. Here is a reminder: the surest way forward is usually a plain approach done with close attention to detail. You can refine the normal into the sophisticated by pursuing clarity and consistency. Attentiveness turns the normal artful.

Plain design frequently uses defaults: Helvetica or Times New Roman, default link blue, A4 or letter-sized paper. These choices are loaded. Not only do they carry the original intention of the default materials, they are also saddled with the cultural meanings associated with choosing them. If a designer uses Helvetica, it suggests one of three things: they are ignorant of the cliché, choose to look past the cliché, or want to ironically play with the cliché.

The body font is the thing on this site I mess with the most. But it tends to simply alternate between Helvetica Neue and Avenir. Today I flip it back to Avenir.

I recently put “redesign site” on my Trello board, simply because I want to be seen more as a designer; and there is some content I want to put on here that doesn’t fit well into the current template, which is blog-centric; and I was inspired by the enviously well-designed Field Mag. But whenever I do start to think about how to redesign this site I return to its current iteration: simple and content-centric.

I write a lot about simplicity on this blog.

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