Linked: The Rationality Paradox

I’m a big fan of Seth Godin and I feel like most of his posts speak to me as a designer and creative professional. And one of his most recent posts — The Rationality Paradox — reflected something I’ve seen along my entire career.

Every time you assume that others will be swayed by your logical argument, you’ve most likely made a significant, irrational mistake.
— Seth Godin

I’ve seen designers try to present a logical argument why a design looks a certain way… Explaining white space, color palette, type selection. But clients aren’t often swayed by those arguments. They’ve got their own influences. They’re looking at their competitors, materials that have worked for them in the past. And they don’t understand why you as the designer can’t translate that. This communication struggle is one of the things that is most challenging about our profession. And now, thanks to Seth Godin, I know what to call it...


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.

02/52: America the Minimal

A simple twist on the stars and stripes

Each week for a year, I’m going to be designing a shirt and releasing it on my Threadless store. This is the second design of fifty-two.

 

In honor of the Fourth of July, I wanted to design a shirt that’s a little patriotic… with a twist. I wondered what the stars and stripes would look like if it had designed with modern design sensibilities and restrictions. Is it refined and simple? Can it be easily reproduced in small sizes? Will it work as a social media icon?

How minimalist can you make the American flag and still evoke the feeling of the stars and stripes?

And so my second design is America the Minimal, a simple take on the stars and stripes. But what started as a funny little speculative redesign triggered some thoughts about redesigns, minimalism and more.

First some history about the American flag. I knew that the Betsy Ross origin story was widely considered a myth, but I didn’t know much about who was credited with designing the original U.S. flag. Turns out a guy named Francis Hopkinson is credited with the design of the flag and many other American symbols. He actually requested payment from the Congress in the form of a “quarter cask of wine” in exchange for designing the American flag, the Great Seal of the United States and other symbols. Long story short, he never got paid.*

The current flag has been in use since 1960 and is actually the 27th version. The number of stars have changed as states have been added. In early years, there was no prescribed structure for the stars so it varied based on who was sewing the flag. Only the number of stars was mandated. (The original stars had six points, but it turns out five-pointed stars are easier to produce.)

As I sought to create a minimalist version of the U.S. Flag, I started with the stripes. My first drafts had four stripes, but that didn’t look quite right. The regular American flag has an odd number of stripes and the top and bottom stripes are both red. Three stripes were too few. And while both five and seven stripes worked nicely, I eventually settled on five stripes for my design.

The stars were a challenge because they don’t work well at small sizes. My first thought was to use one big star in the blue field, but a single star was too prominent. (Plus, it looks like the Liberian flag.) As I was driving home one afternoon, I noticed that when you look at a flag flying at a distance, the stars almost disappear into the blue field. And after experimenting for a little bit, I came to the conclusion that maybe the best solution to keep things minimal was to eliminate the stars and go with a plain blue field.

And what I ended up with is a minimalist version of the American flag with five stripes and a plain blue field. I think it successfully feels like a more simple version of the American flag and not the flag for another country.


As I wrapped up the shirt design, a couple of lessons resonated with me.

First, it would be impossible to redesign the American flag in today’s environment. As I focused on designing a “new” flag, it occurred to me how frustrating this process would be. Every single item I removed or changed had meaning. And as I changed those things, every alternation would be scrutinized. I can hear the comments now…

Why aren’t there 13 stripes? You know, the ones that stood for the 13 original colonies. Do you no longer care about history? And where are the stars? Removing the stars is a sign that you care more about the federal government than the states. This is clearly the work of socialism! This is clearly the work of facism!

No one would be happy. And as I thought about it, redesigning the American flag, or any U.S. political symbol, has to rank as one of the worst, most impossible jobs in the design world. Which is why the flag won’t ever change. (I might argue that one reason Puerto Rico won’t become a state is that there are people who would be uncomfortable adding a 51st star.)

But here’s the bigger takeaway for me… Sometimes, minimalist solutions are unnecessarily limiting. In this case, it was a fun exercise, but every revision took away meaning. The 13 stripes do stand for the 13 original colonies. The 50 stars stand for each of the states in the union. Slavishly removing those things in an effort to make it more simple destroys the meaning of the symbol. And the quest to be minimal adds an additional challenge: with every detail you remove, the design becomes less unique. The “new” flag looks more like other country and state flags. One benefit of more complex designs is that they often seem more original than simpler ones.

Get your America the Minimal shirt over at my Threadless store. I’ve included kids shirts for this week and a long sleeve “baseball” tee. Remember that for the first week a new design is on sale, the price is discounted, so get your shirt this week and save some money.

One additional note. I realize that it’s too late to order shirts for the 4th of July this year. For future seasonal shirts, I’ll release them earlier so you’ll be able to get them in time.


* That's what you get for doing spec work, I guess... even in the 1790s.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.

01/52: Designasaur

A new side project to postpone creative extinction.

01/52: Designasaur

01/52: Designasaur

Each week for a year, I’m going to be designing a shirt and releasing it on my Threadless store. This is the first design of fifty-two.

 

Almost 20 years ago, I attended a lecture at the University of South Carolina School of Art hosted by the Columbia Communicating Arts Society. I was a young designer and trying hard to network with other designers and CCAS was the hub of the Columbia creative community at the time. The speaker was a designer from Atlanta, Bob Wages from Wages Design. Like most designers who came to speak at events like this, Bob showed his work and talked about his creative process. I distinctly remember him mixing in a fair amount of career and business advice, giving tips about how small the design world was and how important it was to be fair to everyone you worked with. But one offhand comment has stuck with me since that lecture...

Bob Wages introduced me to the concept of the “designasaur.”

A designasaur is a designer that never evolved. Someone who wouldn’t or couldn’t adopt new technologies or new styles. A creative who hasn’t embraced the changing world and risks “extinction.”

Since the advent of desktop publishing and the creation of the internet, the design industry has grown and changed in amazing and unbelievable ways. Technology continues to evolve at an absurdly rapid pace. It’s hard — maybe impossible — to keep up with it all. The struggle to figure out and incorporate new tools and trends is constant. And it feels sometimes like extinction is just around the corner.

Almost two decades later, I realize that all my side projects have been about continuing to grow as a designer and to avoid becoming a designasaur. Trying out new challenges and delaying creative extinction as long as I can. I figured the perfect shirt to kick off my new project was a designasaur shirt.

I sketched out my designsaur* over the course of a couple of days in pencil. Once I’d refined the sketch, I took a photograph of it with my iPhone and then reconstructed it in Illustrator on my Mac. This is a pretty normal workflow for me and that familiarity actually bothered me a little. For this new side project, should I put more restrictions on the production process? Should I only use non-Adobe apps like Affinity Designer? Should I actually use the sketch instead of rebuilding it in a vector format? In the end, I decided that the challenges of production mattered less to me than the process of creation. I’m okay relying on more comfortable production processes, especially at the beginning of this project. I hope to extend a little more out of my comfort level on the production process as the project continues.

If you want a Designasaur t-shirt of your own, head over to my Threadless store and order one. It’s available in a bunch of colors and in three different styles: a unisex classic t-shirt, a men’s tri-blend shirt and a women’s tri-blend shirt**. (And as a bonus, for the first week a new shirt design is available, the price will be discounted.)

If you are interested in the project and like the shirts, please follow along and share on social media. Let me know what you think. You can reach out on Twitter and Micro.Blog.


* My 9-year-old says I should name him Bob. Or Inky.
** It’s my wife’s favorite kind of t-shirt.


Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, creative director, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. He's currently in the middle of a project to design a new shirt a week for an entire year. Follow Bob on TwitterInstagram and Micro.Blog.


Fifty Two Shirts

Every week for the next year, I'm going to release a new shirt design. You can purchase the shirts from my Threadless store.