21 design quotes that you can drop, to sound like you know what you’re doing

One of my favourite things to do is reading autobiographies and biographies of interesting people that I admire. And sometimes I’ll just browse random articles and go down the rabbit hole that is the Internet. And along the way I pick up on nuggets of wisdom that these wise individuals leave behind. I’m not a particularly smart person, but when I do drop these quotes with my colleagues, friends, family or clients in meetings people just assume I’m as intelligent as the people who spoke these wise words! And now you can too! Lol this is in part satire, but in all seriousness these quotes do have a profound effect on the way I approach my work and and how I look at things.

Sometimes as a designer you lay awake at night and random shit comes to mind. We’ve all been there. It’s 2am you know you should be going to sleep but you watch a video instead which leads you to an article and then another article and then you look back at the time and shit it’s 4am!  So I thought about the concept of the magic eight ball how you shake it and it will give you some answers to your questions. Or a fortune cookie where you are delivered little nuggets of wisdom. So I whipped up a little product idea just for fun as I was writing this article. Yes we can do that, were fucking designers we’re allowed to just create! When you shake the phone, it'll refresh and drop you some nuggets of design wisdom. When in times of need you can bust this out and pretend you are smart. 

Anyway here are some of my favourite design quotes that have really stuck with me and have served me well over the years. 


1. “Imagination and energy may be innate traits, but precision and craftsmanship are skills that can only be mastered through hard practice.”

Michael Beirut, Designer, Partner Pentagram NY


Use case: When I talk about typography and layouts I tend to bring this up. There is no shortcuts, its just dedication and repetition that allows you to fine tune the details.  


2. “If you know the way broadly you will see it in all things.”

Miyamoto Musashi, Undefeated Samurai

Ok this dude was a fucking samurai who was undefeated, if that isn’t bad ass enough I don’t know what is. 


3. “If you can design one thing you can design everything.”

Massimo Vignelli, Designer

It’s Vignelli so you’ll always look impressive referencing him. 


Use case: If I see someone who is super talented at 1 thing, I know how much hard work and how much attention they have applied to that one skill. It is with that dedication and obsessiveness that will allow them to achieve great things no matter what they do. Because they will see the way, and know what it takes to get good at something and apply it to that very new skill. 


4. “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

Pablo Picasso,  Artist


5. “It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” 

Jean-Luc Godard, Franco-Swiss filmaker


Use case: We are the product of our influences. Imitation is easy but taking a core idea and taking it a step further is how you can create great work. When the bar is already set so high if you can surpass it that’s when you're really on to something. 


6.“When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it was wrong.” 

Buckminster Fuller, American architect, author and designer


Use case: Start off by thinking of the objectives. Once you do that reverse engineer the whole process. Form, function and objectives all need to work together. If you’ve done it right, it should be beautiful. 


7.“This is the real secret of life — to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

Alan W. Watts, Philosopher and just general badass


Use case: Life’s short so have some fun while you are here. It’s all just a journey so make the most of it. Pretend you are the hero in your own movie. What do you want to do with it?


8. “Good design is little design as possible.” 

Dieter Rams, Designer


9. “Less is more.”

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Architect Designer. 


Use case: Over time my work has turned more to reduction. You really don’t need to do too much, and at the same time that’s the most difficult part, learning restraint and keeping it simple. 


10. “[Does it better] will always beat [did it first].” 

Aaron Levie, CEO of box


Use case: People are always concerned that people are going to find out about their big idea but never do anything about it and take action. Or that they are shattered that their idea already exists. None of that matters, the difference is the execution and perseverance. Nearly EVERY idea has been done already, but there is nothing stopping you from doing it better.


11. “If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 100 meetings.” 

Tom & David Kelley, IDEO


Use case: I love prototypes and putting the work at the centre of all discussions with my clients is a god send. I hate time wasting and pointless meetings that lead no where. Sure understand the core requirements but once we get that less talking about doing things, and instead just doing them. 


12. “I think the most productive thing to do during times of change is to be your best self, not the best version of someone else.”

Seth Godin, Marketer


Use case: Trends come and go. Fucking long shadows, flat, shadows, no shadows, skeumorphism blah blah blah. Be aware of what is happening around you but focus on what you do, it'll make you stand out. But more importantly just stay focused on the problem and how best to solve it. That will be the best investment. 


13. “It’s my failure to sound like my heroes that’s allowed me to sound like myself.”

John mayer, Musician


Use case: We always feel like we are in adequate when we compare ourselves to our heroes. But at the same time it's because we can't reach their heights that we find our own identity and apply our own experiences and methodologies into our designs. 


14. “It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Steve Jobs , Apple CEO


Use case: Think about the overall structure, the experiences of the user and the dev legends who will be implementing your work. Your photoshop and sketch files don't mean squat, the end product does. 


15. “Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.” 

Dieter Rams, Designer


Use case: Once you have the foundation and things are working as they should you have a solid product. But moving beyond that is to delight your users and exceed their expectations. Because only then can you truly connect with your users and build people who really care about your brand. 


16. “If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘Faster Horses’.”

Henry Ford


Use case: Conventions and design patterns are of course super important, as is usability testing. But sometimes people will not know what they want. You are making assumptions based only on the past and not the potential of the future. Innovation when done right can change the world. 


17.“I never read reviews. I'm not interested. But I value a lot the reactions of the spectators.”

Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli


Use case: There will be always critics and haters. Instead of focusing on them, focus on the people who do matter and those you can help and make a difference to. 


18. “You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret to success and is the key to being regarded honourably.”

Jiro Ono, Sushi Master 3 michelin stars


Use case: Focus and dedication, spending a lifetime to fine tune a skill is the key towards becoming a master. It is not a sprint but more a marathon. This is the true testament to passion and craft. 


19. “Don’t make me think”

Steve Krug, Author


Use case: Just fucking make it obvious! Innovation for the sake of innovation is a trap.


20. “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Walt Disney, Founder of Disney


Use case: Less talking and more doing. Everyone's got ideas, ideas are cheap it's the realising of ideas that’s the hard part. Just make that first step and ride the momentum. 


21. “In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food.  The quality of ingredients is important, but one must develop a palate capable of discerning good and bad.  Without good taste, you can’t make good food.  If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers how will you impress them?”

Jiro Ono, Sushi Master 3 michelin stars


Use case: Have good taste. The best designers I've met throughout my career have all had tremendous taste. And because of that their benchmark and bar across various creative disciplines was super high. And you could clearly see it reflected in their work. 


Alright hope you enjoyed that.