Nothing Matters

Mies van der Rohe's statement, less is more, is a basic tenet of modernism. It was a rejection of the decadent 19th-century eclectic Victorian excess. After the terrors of World War I, designers rejected the decorated and regional aesthetic adopted by the upper classes. To avoid another war, they sought to find a universal form of design. It would be based on pure geometry and mathematics. These had no political associations. When all people adopted these simple and pure forms, peace would flourish. 

But people are people. We like things. Nobody wants to live in a cold concrete cell with a mattress and steel chair. But, after the roller coaster of last week's election, I'm up for the simpler approach. 

Restraint is the hardest skill to master as a designer. To stop feels lazy, or unfinished. But the results of saying, "I'm done." can lead to simple and clear harmony. To continue can slowly move a solution from sublime minimalism to ordinary. With the right words, one black and white line of text on a page has power. Add an image, second color, and border, and it's nice. Only nice.

Just say no. Stop, and let something be what it is and no more. Do nothing.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.


This morning during an interview, I was asked, “Where do you find inspiration?” This is a common question, and I understand the curiosity, but it’s complicated. Like every other creative person, I’m inspired by a million tiny details every day. I know the correct answer is, “Well, I just can’t get enough of Alvin Lustig.” That doesn’t work for me. Not that I don’t love Lustig, but there are too many other influences daily.

My mind works much like the dog in Up. I’ll be choosing blue Pantone colors and then, “Squirrel,” I’m doing something else. Today while looking at blue PMS chips, I thought, “Blue Note,” and found myself reading the Blue Note Album Cover Art book. I’d forgotten how truly incredible every cover is. Reid Miles was the in-house designer at Blue Note and designed most of the covers. From 1955 to 1967, he combined minimal abstract forms with an intense color sensibility. While Miles is often associated with Bauhaus rigor, his covers are more closely related to Color Field and Minimalist artists such as Ellsworth Kelly. I often tell people that “cool” is a terrible trap leading to desperate work and endless suffering. I admit, however, that Miles’ covers are cool—the good kind of cool.