Don’t Copy, Steal
There is a common technique in fine art: painters and sculptors would take a real life model and use that as a reference to create something entirely new. While that approach is not foreign in the digital world, far too often designers would use references that have already been created and well polished. That becomes a problem when the difference between the reference and the finished product is too little, thus we get thoughtless copies.
I firmly believe that if you don’t have a solid understanding of the original reference (the one that was copied by the copier), you are bound to create an uninspired result. After all, if you copy a button from here, a header from there, how do you know that all those design elements will be cohesive? Will you be able to live up to that standard moving forward? Can you make sure that your final design won’t look like a Frankenstein of many designers put together? The only way is to stop copying and become the original designer.
Steal And Make It Better
“Good artists copy, great artists steal,” Picasso once said. He’s right. By going back to where the original idea stemmed from, you get a much better understanding of what made it work. On the design of the iPod, Apple didn’t copy the music players that were in the market, they looked at a true original for inspiration: Dieter Rams. They not only took some design cues from him, but also shared his obsession for perfection and simplicity. They embraced his 10 design principles of good design and they worked tirelessly on the details. The essence was stolen, but it was translated for the 21st century. And because Apple did such a good job at stealing, it’s hard to think of the portable music player without thinking of the iPod.
The Telephone Game
This is a game in which a player tells a message to another, which is passed through a line of people. The message that comes out at the end typically becomes erroneous. Too many designers play that game too. They copy popular designers, not knowing that that designer may have copied other designers. If you have a large line of designers copying one another, the result is mediocre at best. Do you want to be the 200th to copy a trend?
What we should do instead is to take influence from the very original designer and dig deep into his/her motivations. We should study his/her design process and apply that to ours – the attention to detail, the techniques and the tools rather than just the pixels. We should transform old ideas into new ideas and solve our very own problems. Only with that method can we completely own the idea and proudly put our name on top of it. Only with that design thinking can we consistently design successful products one after another. Only with true creativity and hard work can we put a dent in the universe.
The Dieter Rams Book
As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am currently reading his fascinating book: As Little Design As Possible. It has an inspiring story about how Jonathan Ive, as a child, was captivated by the level of detail and precision on one of Dieter Rams’s work. He then proceeded to study his work and marveled at the products he built, even 40 years after it was conceived.
Half of the book shows photos of Dieter Rams’ minimalist work. When I looked at his designs, I thought to myself, if any of those products were to be released today, they would still look beautiful and perfectly usable. That’s because simplicity transcends technology and fashion. “Good design is long lasting”, Dieter Rams said. It’s true, the best designs still stand the test of time.
The Dieter Rams UI Experiment
This is an experiment to translate Dieter Rams’s work into a digital user interface. Although I’m sure it could be just as fitting to borrow a different style, I used realism to convey the minimal colors and clear buttons. Just like how artists emulate reality, designers can imitate real shapes while keeping designs minimal. “Simplicity is not the absence of complexity. Just removing clutter would result in uncomplicated but meaningless products.”, Jonathan Ive wrote.
Making design intuitive requires that you care about the reality in which people live in. That means bringing clarity to the shapes and colors based on life experience. That’s why I chose only 2 colors (too many colors can distract), designed realistic shapes (well-proportioned buttons and layout) and created a comfortable lighting (gradients and shadows). I was hoping that nothing in this design is unnecessary.