89 Essential Quotes About Design

Posted inPrint Design Articles
Thumbnail for 89 Essential Quotes About Design

Though quotes may often be contradictory, presented out of context and preserved over the years like a bad game of telephone, I’ve long been obsessed with collecting them. A good quote is the equivalent of a poem, or maybe the occasional bottle of high-end bourbon—a poultice for the creative soul.

From the curmudgeonly to the inspiring, here’s a set of 89 quotes about design, advertising, creativity, and all ground in between.


“It took me a few seconds to draw it, but it took me 34 years to learn how to draw it in a few seconds.”—Paula Scher

“Genius is only a greater aptitude for patience.”—Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon

“Imitation can be commercial suicide.”—Bill Bernbach

“I want everything we do to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that that’s worth anything, or that the client thinks it’s worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”—Saul Bass

“Don’t bunt. Aim out of the ballpark. Aim for the company of immortals.”

—David Ogilvy

“The last person I ever want working for me is someone who says ‘that’s not in my job description.’”—Neil deGrasse Tyson

“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.”—Andre Dubus III

“Style is to forget all styles.”—Jules Renard

“If you have no intuitive sense of design, then call yourself an ‘information architect’ and only use Helvetica.”—David Carson

“Recognizing the need is the primary condition for design.”—Charles Eames

“A camel is a horse designed by a committee.”—Alec Issigonis

“Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.”—Joe Sparano

“There are three responses to a piece of design—‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘Wow.’ ‘Wow’ is the one to aim for.”—Milton Glaser

“Practice safe design. Use a concept.”—Petrula Vrontikis

“Design is the search for a magical balance between business and art; art and craft; intuition and reason; concept and detail; playfulness and formality; client and designer; designer and printer; and printer and public.”—Valerie Pettis

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.”—Philip Roth

“As the saying goes, type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters.”—Matthew Carter

“Typography is to literature as musical performance is to composition: an essential act of interpretation, full of endless opportunities for insight or obtuseness.”—Robert Bringhurst

“Readers usually ignore the typographic interface, gliding comfortably along literacy’s habitual groove. Sometimes, however, the interface should be allowed to fail. By making itself evident, typography can illuminate the construction and identity of a page, screen, place or product.”—Ellen Lupton

“What I feel fortunate about is that I’m still astonished, that things still amaze me. And I think that that’s the great benefit of being in the arts, where the possibility for learning never disappears, where you basically have to admit you never learn it.”—Milton Glaser

“Our job is to bring the dead facts to life.”—Bill Bernbach

“Design is more than just a few tricks to the eye. It’s a few tricks to the brain.”—Neville Brody

“A thimbleful of red is redder than a bucketful.”—Henri Matisse

“A bad website is like a grumpy salesperson.”—Jakob Neilsen

“Graphic design will save the world right after rock and roll does.”—David Carson

“I don’t know the rules of grammar. If you’re trying to persuade people to do something, or buy something, it seems to me you should use their language.”—David Ogilvy

“The truth is, it’s not the idea, it’s never the idea, it’s always what you do with it.”—Neil Gaiman

“Art is sort of an experimental station in which one tries out living.”—John Cage

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”—Doris Lessing

“Much of the messy advertising you see on television today is the product of committees. Committees can criticize advertisements, but they should never be allowed to create them.”—David Ogilvy

“In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Design is so simple. That’s why it is so complicated.”—Paul Rand

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”—Scott Adams

“To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”—Allen Ginsberg

“In a badly designed book, the letters mill and stand like starving horses in a field. In a book designed by rote, they sit like stale bread and mutton on the page. In a well-made book, where designer, compositor and printer have all done their jobs, no matter how many thousands of lines and pages, the letters are alive. They dance in their seats. Sometimes they rise and dance in the margins and aisles.”—Robert Bringhurst

“A typeface is an alphabet in a straightjacket.”—Alan Fletcher

“Certainty is a closing of the mind. To create something new you must have doubt.”—Milton Glaser

“There is no such thing as a good or bad ad in isolation. What is good at one moment is bad at another. Research can trap you into the past.”—Bill Bernbach

“The work needs to get out of your head and on to the table, and it needs to be done from the heart.”—Paula Scher

“Having a favorite color is like having a favorite lung.” —Sara Genn

“The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new becomes threatening, the old reassuring.”—Paul Rand

“Design is where science and art break even.”—Robin Mathew

“I don’t need an alarm clock. My ideas wake me.”—Ray Bradbury

“Typography at its best is a visual form of language linking timelessness and time.”—Robert Bringhurst

“Times New Roman is not a font choice so much as the absence of a font choice, like the blackness of deep space is not a color.”—Matthew Butterick

“Everyone interested in licensing our field might note that the reason licensing has been invented is to protect the public, not designers or clients. ‘Do no harm’ is an admonition to doctors concerning their relationship to their patients, not to their fellow practitioners or the drug companies. If we were licensed, telling the truth might become more central
to what we do.”—Milton Glaser

“Rules are what the artist breaks; the memorable never emerged from a formula.”—Bill Bernbach

“An idea can turn to dust or magic depending on the talent that rubs against it.”—Bill Bernbach

“There’s never been such a premium on creativity. It must be used to cut through the clutter.”—Keith Weed

“Any fool can make soap. It takes a clever man to sell it.”—Thomas J. Barratt

“I try to make something each year that I can be proud of. If you can do that, year after year, suddenly you’ve got a career.”—Jon Wyville

“Art is solving problems that cannot be formulated before they have been solved. The shaping of the question is part of the answer.”—Piet Hein

“The more I deal with the work as something that is my own, as something that is personal, the more successful it is.”—Marian Bantjes

“Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.”—Robert L. Peters

“Bad design is smoke, while good design is a mirror.”—Juancarlos Fernandez

“Think of and look at your work as though it were done by your enemy. If you look at it to admire it, you are lost.”—Samuel Butler

“Design is everything. Everything!”—Paul Rand

“Cheat your landlord if you can and must, but do not try to shortchange the Muse. It cannot be done. You can’t fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”—William S. Burroughs

“Genius gives birth, talent delivers. What Rembrandt or Van Gogh saw in the night can never be seen again.”—Jack Kerouac

“Wouldn’t it be interesting if there were only one typeface in the world? Designers would really have to think about the idea behind their designs instead of covering it up with fancy typefaces. One universal typeface would really strip away all the flashy emptiness in design. And, of course, that one typeface would have to be Helvetica.”—Erik Kessels

“Interesting things happen when the creative impulse is cultivated with curiosity, freedom and intensity.”—Saul Bass

“Typography needs to be audible. Typography needs to be felt. Typography needs to be experienced.”—Helmut Schmid

“The idea of trying able to explain why you do what you do is absurd.”—Milton Glaser

“A great ad campaign will make a bad product fail faster. It will get more people to know it’s bad.”—Bill Bernbach

“Where people aren’t having any fun, they seldom produce good work.”—David Ogilvy

“Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Nothing is more important than an unread library.”—Austin Kleon

“That’s the great secret of creativity. You treat ideas like cats: You make them follow you.”—Ray Bradbury

“Good design is all about making other designers feel like idiots because that idea wasn’t theirs.”—Frank Chimero

“Designers are meant to be loved, not to be understood.”—Margaret Oscar

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”—Howard H. Aiken

“If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.”—Peter Handke

“It’s not about knowing all the gimmicks and photo tricks. If you haven’t got the eye, no program will give it to you.”—David Carson

“The real giants have always been poets, men who jumped from facts into the realm of imagination and ideas.”—Bill Bernbach

“The practice of art isn’t to make a living. It’s to make your soul grow.”—Kurt Vonnegut

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen.”—John Steinbeck

“Be willing to get fired for a good idea.”—Spike Jonze

“The heart knows today what the mind will learn tomorrow.”—Tham Khai Meng

“The life of a designer is a life of fight: fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is to cure it somehow, with design.”—Massimo Vignelli

“Something I say to people who ask about how I view art and design as different is this: art is like masturbation. It’s selfish and introverted and done for you and you alone. Design is like sex, in that there is someone else involved, their needs are just as important as your own, and if everything goes right, both parties are happy in the end.”—Colin Wright

“Art is long, and time is fleeting.”—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately, and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.”—Robert Bringhurst

“The next time you see a 16-color, blind-embossed, gold-stamped, die-cut, elaborately folded and bound job, printed on handmade paper, see if it isn’t a mediocre idea trying to pass for something else.”—Milton Glaser

“On the average, five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. When you have written your headline, you have spent eighty cents out of your dollar.”—David Ogilvy

“Walk on air against your better judgment.”—Seamus Heaney

“Procrastination is like a credit card—it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”—Christopher Parker

“Creativity is essentially a lonely art. An even lonelier struggle. To some a blessing; to others a curse. It is in reality the ability to reach inside yourself and drag forth from your very soul an idea.”—Lou Dorfsman

“Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors.”—Hunter S. Thompson

“Beware of advice—even this.”—Carl Sandburg

Zachary Petit is the senior managing editor of Print.