Design wisdom from the greatest of the greats

Design wisdom from the greatest of the greats

Feb 12, 2024

I have always been curious about how some of the best designers in the world thought about design, which led them to create the things they did that so powerfully impacted and shaped the world as we know it today. Now there are a lot of books and videos and podcasts about some of the more modern creative leaders but what about those from the past who never did such interviews? At the same time, I also found myself constrained with time to go and explore the minds of all of these geniuses. That’s when I started looking into their most popular quotes and realized it gave me so much insight in so little time, to the extent that it felt like I had gotten the most powerfully inspiring masterclass in design that I have come across.

Now I keep coming back to these quotes from time to time to be inspired and to find direction in my work, especially when I am experiencing a block. For example, here’s an example of an amazing quote by the great physicist Marie Curie that always snaps me out of an unending cycle of Iterations when the perfectionist in me neverendingly keeps wanting to make his design just a little bit more perfect: ” Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.

This has helped me immensely in understanding what the DNA of great creation is, much more so than a lot of books I have read and so I felt It would be very helpful to share it with everyone. Hopefully, a few of you may find it just as or even half as useful as I have.

Also, you might wonder why I’ve put everyone from architects to innovators of new technologies in this list of designers, well Paul Rand explains it best: “Everything is design. Everything!”

I will keep adding to this list of quotes in time. If you know of some that I should add please reach out and let me know :) Do bookmark this article if you wish to keep coming back to it as I do

So here are the quotes:

1. Saul Bass

Saul Bass’s work

“Design is thinking made visual”

“I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.”


2. James Dyson

James Dyson’s work

“We’re taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven’t, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that’s very silly, unthinkable, naughty, and dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It’s exciting, actually. To me, solving problems is a bit like a drug. You’re on it, and you can’t get off.”

“We always want to create something new out of nothing, and without research, and without long hard hours of effort. But there is no such thing as a quantum leap. There is only dogged persistence — and in the end, you make it look like a quantum leap.”

“In business, you will be wrong, by and large, 50 per cent of the time. The trick is to recognise when you have gone wrong and correct the damage — not to worry, at the moment of making the decision, whether it is the right one.”

“You are just as likely to solve a problem by being unconventional and determined as by being brilliant.”


3. Marcel Breuer

Marcel Breuer’s work

“The artist works with the highest level of feeling. The technician works with the highest level of logic”


4. Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister’s work

“It is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff — as much stuff as possible — with as little fear as possible. It’s much, much better to wind up with a lot of crap having tried it than to overthink in the beginning and not do it.”


5. Massimo Vignelli

Massimo Vignelli’s work

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

“Almost all the great American graphic designers have used white space as the significant silence to better hear their message loud and clear.”


6. Kenichiro Ashida

Kenichiro Ashida’s work

“In my opinion, the ideal controller is one which the player forgets he is even holding.”


7. Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid’s work

“A brilliant design will always benefit from the input of others.”

“Architecture is really about well-being. I think that people want to feel good in a space … On the one hand, it’s about shelter, but it’s also about pleasure.”

“Indeed, our designs become more ambitious as we see the new possibilities created by the technology of other industries.”

“I really believe in the idea of the future.”


8. Paul Rand

Paul Rand’s work

“Everything is designed. Everything!”

“All art is relationships, all art. Design is relationships. Design in a relationship between form and content… Your glasses are round. Your collar is diagonal. These are relationships. Your mouth is an oval. Your nose is a triangle — this is what design is.”

“Without aesthetic, design is either the humdrum repetition of familiar cli chés or a wild scramblefor novelty. Without the aesthetic, the computer is but a mindless speed machine, producing effects without substance. Form without relevant content, or content without meaningful form.”

“Design is relationships. Design is a relationship between form and content.”

“The designer does not, as a rule, begin with some preconceived idea. Rather, the idea is (or should be) the result of careful study and observation, and the design a product of that idea.”

“Don’t try to be original, just try to be good.”

“Design is the silent ambassador of your brand.”-Paul Rand


9. Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams’s work

“Good design is innovative. Good design must be useful. Good design is aesthetic design. Good design makes a product understandable. Good design is honest. Good design is unobtrusive. Good design is long-lasting. Good design is consistent in every detail. Good design is environmentally friendly. And last but not least, good design is as little design as possible.”

“Less, but better.”

“Having small touches of color makes it more colorful than having the whole thing in color”

“Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design”

“Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”

“Good design makes a product understandable”

“One of the most significant design principles is to omit the unimportant in order to emphasize the important.”

“Things which are different in order simply to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different.”

“We designers, we don’t work in a vacuum. We need business people. We are not the fine artists we are often confused with.”


10. Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier’s work

“A hundred times have I thought New York is a catastrophe, and fifty times : It is a beautiful catastrophe”

“I prefer drawing to talking. Drawing is faster, and leaves less room for lies.”

“The house is a machine for living in.”


11. Sir Jonathan Ive

Sir Jonathan Ive’s work

“Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, that’s a consequence of simplicity. Simplicity is somehow essentially describing the purpose and place of an object and product. The absence of clutter is just a clutter-free product. That’s not simple.”

“Different and ‘new’ is relatively easy. Doing something that’s genuinely better is very hard.”

"There is beauty when something works and it works intuitively.”

“True simplicity is, well, you just keep on going and going until you get to the point where you go, ‘Yeah, well, of course.’ Where there’s no rational alternative.”

“What I love about the creative process, and this may sound naive, but it is this idea that one day there is no idea, and no solution, but the next day there is an idea. I find that incredibly exciting and conceptually actually remarkable.”

“The best ideas start as conversations.”


12. Giorgetto Giugiaro

Giorgetto Giugiaro’s work

“It is first and foremost functionality, without a doubt, that validates a project. Everything, unless strictly a work of art, has a functional value.”


13. Bjarke Ingels

Bjarke Ingels’s work

“Instead of trying to change people, we could change the world.”

“If you are not able to transmit what you’re trying to achieve to your collaborators, you will only have minions — or morons.”

“I don’t have to come up with the best idea. It is my job to make sure that it is always the best idea that wins”


14. Antoni Gaudí

Antoni Gaudí’s work

“Artists do not need monuments erected for them because their works are their monuments.”

“But man does not create… he discovers.”

“Form does not necessarily follow function.”


15. Frank Gehry

Frank Gehry’s work

“The best advice I’ve received is to be yourself. The best artists do that.”

“For me, every day is a new thing. I approach each project with a new insecurity, almost like the first project I ever did. And I get the sweats. I go in and start working, I’m not sure where I’m going. If I knew where I was going I wouldn’t do it.”


16. Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison’s work

“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t.”

“To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

“There’s a way to do it better. Find it.”

“Learn with both your head and hands.”


17. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs’s work

Creativity is just connecting things.”

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

“You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people”

“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R & D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R & D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

“Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”

“The reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is because we’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.”

“If you’re gonna make connections which are innovative… you have to not have the same bag of experiences as everyone else does.”


18. Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla’s work

“It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages around the world so simply that any individual can carry and operate his own apparatus.”

“Most persons are so absorbed in the contemplation of the outside world that they are wholly oblivious to what is passing on within themselves.”

“I do not think there is any thrill that can go through the human heart like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success . . . Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything.”


19. Bill Gates

Bill Gates’s work

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.

“Treatment without prevention is simply unsustainable.”

“Yes, stability and education are important — I’m not taking anything away from that — but innovation is the real driver of progress.”


20. Alexander Graham Bell

Alexander Graham Bell’s work

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.”

“The inventor…looks upon the world and is not contented with things as they are. He wants to improve whatever he sees, he wants to benefit the world; he is haunted by an idea.”


21. Marie Curie

Marie Curie’s work

“Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.”


22. The Wright Brothers

The Wright Brothers’s work

“If birds can glide for long periods of time, then… why can’t I?”

“Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!”

“If birds can glide for long periods of time, then… why can’t I?”


23. Galileo Galilei

Galileo Galilei’s work

“I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn’t learn something from him.”

“Measure what can be measured, and make measurable what cannot be measured.”

“In the sciences, the authority of thousands of opinions is not worth as much as one tiny spark of reason in an individual man.”


24. Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman’s work

“It doesn’t matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn’t agree with experiment, it’s wrong.”

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.”

“We are trying to prove ourselves wrong as quickly as possible, because only in that way can we find progress.”

“I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.”


25. Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci’s work

“Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”

“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

“The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”

“There are three classes of people: those who see. Those who see when they are shown. Those who do not see.”

“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses- especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

“As you cannot do what you want, Want what you can do”

“All our knowledge has its origin in our perceptions”

“He who possesses most must be most afraid of loss.”

“The worst evil which can befall the artist is that his work should appear good in his own eyes.”

“Those who, in debate, appeal to their qualifications, argue from memory, not from understanding.”

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.


26. Elon Musk

Elon Musk’s work

“Some people don’t like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.”

“Failure is an option here. If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”

“The path to the CEO’s office should not be through the CFO’s office, and it should not be through the marketing department. It needs to be through engineering and design.”

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.”

“People work better when they know what the goal is and why. It is important that people look forward to coming to work in the morning and enjoy working.”

“I do think there is a lot of potential if you have a compelling product and people are willing to pay a premium for that. I think that is what Apple has shown. You can buy a much cheaper cell phone or laptop, but Apple’s product is so much better than the alternative, and people are willing to pay that premium.”

“There are really two things that have to occur in order for a new technology to be affordable to the mass market. One is you need economies of scale. The other is you need to iterate on the design. You need to go through a few versions.”

“Really pay attention to negative feedback and solicit it, particularly from friends. … Hardly anyone does that, and it’s incredibly helpful.”

“What makes innovative thinking happen?… I think it’s really a mindset. You have to decide.”

“Being an entrepreneur is like eating glass and staring into the abyss of death.”

“When somebody has a breakthrough innovation, it is rarely one little thing. Very rarely, is it one little thing. It’s usually a whole bunch of things that collectively amount to a huge innovation.”

“You have to say, ‘Well, why did it succeed where others did not?’”

“Don’t delude yourself into thinking something’s working when it’s not, or you’re gonna get fixated on a bad solution.”


27. Michaelangelo

Michaelangelo’s work

“To know each other is the best way to understand each other. To understand each other is the only way to love each other.”

“No great work of art is ever finished.”

“Art lives on constraint and dies of freedom.”


28. Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin’s work

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

“I didn’t fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”

“Hide not your talents. They for use were made. What’s a sundial in the shade?”

“Admiration is the daughter of ignorance.”

“Observe all men, thyself most.”

“He that’s secure is not safe.”

“He that has done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”



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