The Best Design Is Invisible

Former colleague August de los Reyes pointed me to a 1932 typography article by Beatrice Warde posted on Design History:

Imagine that you have before you a flagon of wine. You may choose your own favorite vintage for this imaginary demonstration, so that it be a deep shimmering crimson in color. You have two goblets before you. One is of solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns. The other is of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent. Pour and drink; and according to your choice of goblet, I shall know whether or not you are a connoisseur of wine. For if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds; but if you are a member of that vanishing tribe, the amateurs of fine vintages, you will choose the crystal, because everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain.

Even a tee-totaling Mormon like myself can appreciate the point: the best design is invisible. Warde applied it to typography specifically, but the same applies to design in general. Often, our goal in design should be to get out of the way, so that people can consume the content or perform the task that they came for. I think too often we get caught up up in the decoration and adornment of our own particular golden goblets, and don’t pay enough attention to the content and tasks that are so central to the experience.

posted by Ted Boren on Friday, Jun 17, 2011
tagged with design, typography