Discover inspirational graphic design quotes
Great graphic design quotes serve as a source of wisdom, but also as a source of inspiration. They can lead us to view design in new ways and experiment with new design techniques.
Our list of the 50 best graphic design quotes of all time features quotes from some of the icons of the design industry. Their words provide us with an insight into what made them tick and show us their perspective on certain aspects of design.
Graphic design quotes from a variety of sources
While many of these graphic design quotes are from famous graphic designers, there are also quotes from painters, automobile designers, financiers, authors, entrepreneurs and even fictional TV characters.
The wide variety of graphic design quotes in this list shows us a range of opinions and beliefs on what is the right way to do things in the world of design. Each designer has their own methods, but if you want to create meaningful design, stick to what techniques suit you best.
1. “There are three responses to a piece of design – yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.” - Milton Glaser
The designer of the famous I ❤ NY logo, Millton Glaser is a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to graphic design. This quote highlights what every designer should aim for when working on a design – something that makes people go WOW.
Glaser believes that a simple yes is not good enough, as it doesn’t evoke the kind of emotion that great design should.
2. “It’s through mistakes that you actually can grow. You have to get bad in order to get good.” - Paula Scher
Design legend Paula Scher eases the worries of many struggling designers by admitting that mistakes can help you improve your craft. She highlights how mistakes should be used as a tool for self improvement, not self flagellation.
Coming from someone with such vast experience in design, it’s a valuable piece of advice that should be heeded. Scher started her career as a layout artist for Random House and gradually worked her way up to become the first female principal of Pentagram.
3. “No masterpiece was ever created by a lazy artist.” - Salvador Dalí
In this quote, surrealist Salvador Dalí espouses the value of hard work when it comes to design and art. According to Dalí, a lazy artist never created a masterpiece.
Dalí himself could never be accused of being a lazy artist. He pursued painting, film, sculpture and photography amongst a host of other endeavours.
4. “Good design is all about making other designers feel like idiots because that idea wasn’t theirs.” - Frank Chimero
When design is so good that other designers feel foolish for not thinking of it, you know you’re onto a winner. That’s according to New York-based graphic designer Frank Chimero, whose projects have been featured in The New York Times, Time Magazine, Slate and The New Yorker.
This quote from Chimero encourages designers to try to make others wish they had created the design you’ve made, simultaneously inspiring them to better themselves creatively.
5. “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” - Jeffrey Zeldman
One of the most referenced graphic design quotes is this gem from designer, author and entrepreneur Jeffrey Zeldman.
Zeldman states that content precedes design, and is intrinsic to its value. He says that without content, graphic design is but a shell of its potential shelf and doesn’t offer anything of substance. It might look nice, but it’s only be decoration without content.
6. “Design is thinking made visual.” - Saul Bass
Designer Saul Bass is best known for creating memorable movie posters, title sequences and logos. Some of his famous posters include designs for The Shining, Anatomy of a Murder, Vertigo and The Man with the Golden Arm.
Bass believes that design is thinking made visual. His mind was certainly something to behold and his thoughts produced stunning design.
7. “Do not seek praise, seek criticism.” - Paul Arden
The value of criticism is highlighted in this quote by the former creative director of Saatchi and Saatchi Paul Arden.
Praise is often trivial and doesn’t result in anything meaningful. Criticism on the other hand provides an opportunity to learn and grow. While sometimes criticism can be unhelpful, constructive criticism can be highly beneficial.
8. “Designers may be the true intellectuals of the future.” - Paola Antonelli
Here we see Paola Antonelli sharing her belief that designers may be the true intellectuals of the future. In a world where visual communication has become so important, there’s a chance that her words might eventually ring through.
Antonelli is a very forward thinking art curator, and has used the likes of video games and emojis in her exhibitions.
9. “Color does not add a pleasant quality to design - it reinforces it.” - Pierre Bonnard
The power of color in design cannot be understated, and Pierre Bonnard emphasises that in this quote. Bonnard was an extremely talented painter, illustrator and printmaker who backed up his claims in his work.
Color is not just there to make a design look good, but to reinforce its message. Its presence should not be regarded as an afterthought, but a fundamental element of any design.
10. “No design works unless it embodies ideas that are held common by the people for whom the object is intended.” - Adrian Forty
Professor Adrian Forty states that functional design must have an audience that is equipped to respond to it. If the people who interact with a design don’t find some sort of commonality with the piece, the design is ultimately a failure.
Forty’s area of expertise is architecture, so he’s very accustomed to designing buildings and spaces that are created for certain purposes.
11. “Design is a solution to a problem; art is a question to a problem.” - John Maeda
Possibly one of the most controversial and thought-provoking graphic design quotes on this list is from designer and technologist John Maeda.
Maeda states that while design provides solutions to problems, art only exacerbates the problem by asking more questions. While many people might agree with Maeda, there is a lot to be said for the questions art prompts us to ask about all facets of life.
Design should also not be viewed as merely a solution to a problem, but something that excites and amazes.
12. “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas, worry about the day they stop.” - Jeffrey Zeldman
Here we have another quote from Jeffrey Zeldman, this time on the subject of stealing ideas. Zeldman encourages us that we shouldn’t be worried about our ideas being stolen, but rather the fact that people may not want to steal them.
Zeldman seems to believe that the mark of a truly great piece of design is that people want to copy it and use it as their own idea.
13. “Design is the body language of your marketing. Don’t slouch.” - Mark King
The quality of design can make or break a marketing campaign. Designer and illustrator Mark King says that design is in fact the body language of marketing and that slouching will poorly reflect on your brand.
This graphic design quote encourages designers and marketers alike to put thought into their work and not to cut corners.
14. “I think designers who aren’t selfish do really awful work.” - Paul Sahre
American graphic designer Paul Sahre unreservedly shares his thoughts on designers who aren’t selfish with this withering remark.
Sahre seems to believe that designers need to have a degree of selfishness to create something of note. Without this, Sahre thinks that their work will be awful.
Sahre probably feels that some of his fellow designers are pandering to clients and that their own unique style is not being reflected in their creations.
15. “Design adds value faster than it adds costs.” - Thomas C. Gale
This famous quote from automobile designer Thomas C. Gale says that investing in design is a very worthwhile endeavour. He believes that the value of a car will only be increased by design and that it will ultimately be worth the cost.
The same applies to any project that design is a part of. Design will enhance it, adding more features and increasing its appeal.
16. “Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.” - Robert L. Peters
Design is more than how it appears, it has the potential to create culture. It influences the behaviour of people and shapes their values.
Canadian graphic designer Robert L. Peters recognises the significance of what design can do and its ability to shape the future in its own image.
17. “Design can be art. Design can be aesthetics. Design is so simple, that's why it is so complicated.” - Paul Rand
Design can be interpreted as many different things, says Paul Rand. It can be viewed as complex and artistic or as simple and functional.
The simplicity of design allows it to take on so many different forms and this versatility also allows it to be complex.
18. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
One of the most famous graphic design quotes ever uttered came from the lips of the esteemed Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
Saint-Exupéry was basically saying that perfection comes about, not from accumulating elements in your design, but rather taking them away until you have something that’s clear and concise.
A famed poet, writer and journalist, Saint-Exupéry became a laureate of many of France’s most coveted literary awards.
19. “Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.” - Joe Sparano
According to Joe Sparano; if a designer is to truly create great design, it must be a seamless and unobtrusive composition.
The design must work perfectly in tandem with the subject and not hinder its usefulness or conceal its meaning in any way.
20. “If design isn’t profitable, then it’s art.” - Henrik Fisker
Automotive designer Henrik Fisker states what he believes is the difference between design and art. Fisker makes the point that if a design does not yield a profit, then it should instead be considered art.
He seems to see art as a hobby and design as a business. Fisker’s outlook is debatable, but for him and other entrepreneurs like him, profit often comes first.
21. “Technology over technique produces emotionless design.” - Daniel Mall
Creative director Daniel Mall shows wisdom beyond his years with one of the most relevant graphic design quotes for the modern design scene.
Mall explains how favouring technology over technique will only produce design that lacks emotion and doesn’t resonate with its audience.
Impassioned and thoughtfully constructed designs will outshine mechanical, bland alternatives every day of the week.
22. “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.” - James Goldsmith
While financier and tycoon James Goldsmith may not have been referring to design when he made this famous remark, the logic behind it can be applied to any profession.
The design industry draws many freelancers who don’t always have the required skill to produce the design that a client wants. To get a well-made, professional design, you’ll have to pay for it.
23. “Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” - Pablo Picasso
As one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso knew a thing or two about using colour to convey emotions.
Picasso discusses color psychology’s role in design and how the colours you choose can impact how people view what you’ve created.
For example, red is often seen as a fiery, dangerous, passionate and energetic colour, while blue is typically viewed as calm, professional, composed and reliable.
24. “Design is as much a matter of finding problems as it is solving them.” - Bryan Lawson
As both an architect and a psychologist, Bryan Lawson is a man who understands the thought process behind design better than most.
Lawson says that design is not just about solving problems, but finding them too. Innovation must be a priority when it comes to design and Lawson knows how important it is to stay one step ahead.
25. “Bad design shouts at you. Good design is the silent seller.” - Shane Meendering
The idea that the best kind of design is the one which is least obvious is reinforced in this quote from designer Shane Meendering.
Born in 1987, Meendering has a good understanding of modern graphic design and she knows that mistakes that result in bad design will be picked up on quicker than ever before.
Design doesn’t have to be loud and decorative to be effective, but should preferably be fluid and inconspicuous.
26. “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” - Ron Swanson
Some wise words here from fictional comedy character Ron Swanson, who realises the value in giving your all to a project.
Instead of trying to complete two designs at once, designers should reserve all their time, energy and focus for one goal. Ultimately, this will lead to a more satisfactory result.
27. “Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous.” - Bill Moyers
One of the truly inspirational graphic design quotes on this list is from American journalist Bill Moyers.
Moyers’ beautifully phrased quote, “creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvelous”, highlights the importance of creative thinking in keeping life interesting and in aiding the discovery of new ways to do things.
28. “Good design begins with honesty, asks tough questions, comes from collaboration and from trusting your intuition.” - Freeman Thomas
As this list proves, automobile designers can be a great source of graphic design quotes. Freeman Thomas serves up another here by exclaiming that good design is honest and asks the tough questions.
According to Thomas, it has its roots in working together and going with your gut feeling about how to approach the design.
Thomas has years of experience working for many large automobile brands and he consistently helped to design some of the world’s most iconic cars.
29. “Talent is a pursued interest. In other words, anything you are willing to practice, you can do.” - Bob Ross
Bob Ross provides some inspirational words here for designers who may be questioning whether they have the talent to make it.
He says that talent is actually a pursued interest, and that if you practice enough, you will attain the ability to achieve your goals.
Ross was a big proponent of a do-it-yourself attitude, and he hosted a very successful instructional TV show called The Joy of Painting.
30. “Good art inspires; Good design motivates.” - Otl Aicher
There are quite a few graphic design quotes that attempt to highlight the difference between design and art. German graphic designer Otl Aicher shares a few simple, yet thought provoking, words on the subject.
Aicher contrasts the effects that art and design have on people. In his opinion, art is something that provides inspiration for further creativity, whereas design acts as a medium for motivation.
31. “When typography is on point, words become images.” - Shawn Lukas
Typography is a fundamental part of graphic design, and it’s the quality of its execution will often make or break a design.
If the typography a designer chooses doesn’t suit the rest of the composition, the overall look can be quite jarring. However, when typography works well, words become images.
The man behind the quote, Shawn Lukas, is an experience designer who works to create visually impactful and inspirational designs.
32. “People don’t use a product because of the great design; great design helps them use the product.” - Viran Anuradha Dayaratne
As Viran Anuradha Dayaratne says, design alone does not make a product, but it can ensure that a product achieves optimum functionality. A badly designed product not only looks bad, but it’s harder to use too.
Dayaratne is a UX Technical Architect by trade, so he is accustomed to making sure the user experience of a product is the best it can be.
33. “It’s art if it can’t be explained. It’s fashion if no one asks for an explanation. It’s design if it doesn’t need explanation.” - Wouter Stokkel
Wouter Stokkel cleverly explains what he believes to be the difference between art, fashion and design in one of the most frank graphic design quotes on this list.
It’s clear that design is digital consultant Stokkel’s favourite of the three, but he doesn’t openly criticise the other disciplines either. Art can’t be explained, and in fashion, no one asks for an explanation.
34. “If you find an element of your interface requires instructions, then you need to redesign it.” - Dan Rubin
Dan Rubin echoes the opinion of Stokkel here by saying how he believes that good design explains itself. If it doesn’t explain itself, then it doesn’t work.
The goal of an interface should be to make things clear for a user. If the interface itself needs instructions, then its purpose is defeated.
35. “Design is like a mom, nobody notices when she’s around, but everybody misses her when she’s not.” - Santiago Borray
As a graphic designer with 11 years experience, Santiago Borray knows what it takes to create design that works.
Here he compares design to a mother. Most of the time a mother will work away tirelessly and no one will pay any heed to her, but when she is gone, everyone will sit up and take notice.
36. “A graphic designer is a machine that turns coffee into beautiful, functional imagery.” - Lisa Manson
Brand strategist Lisa Manson references the crucial role of graphic designers in marketing products. Before graphic design comes into play, a product stands on its own merits.
However, after graphic design is used to create relevant advertising imagery and packaging for the product, a product grows beyond itself and can capture people’s imagination.
37. “Everybody’s a web designer until, you know, they actually try to do it.” - Gabe Boning
Here we see one of the graphic design quotes that talk about how difficult it actually is to create high-quality design.
Software development engineer Boning says that everyone likes to think they can do web design, but when they actually give it a shot, they realise that they might not be so good at it.
38. “Design has to work, art does not.” - Donald Judd
Minimalist Donald Judd shares his opinion that design needs to work to achieve its goals. On the other hand, Judd believes that art does not need to work.
Art is often open to interpretation, whereas design is far more clear cut. If design isn’t working, then it is a failure. Art has much more room to manoeuvre.
39. “A good designer finds an elegant way to put everything you need on a page. A great designer convinces you half that shit is unnecessary.” - Mike Monteiro
Here we see another designer sharing their belief that less is more. Too much information can harm a design and lead to a cluttered effect.
Monteiro says that what makes a designer great is the ability to convince their clients to get rid of half the things they thought they needed in a design.
40. “Standards are like sex; one mistake, and you’re stuck supporting it forever!” - Mark Pilgrim
One of the wittiest and most memorable graphic design quotes on this list comes from software developer and writer Mark Pilgrim.
While not speaking about design in particular, Pilgrim tells us that if you let your standards drop, you will have the be held accountable for it. Your reputation can easily be hindered by bad work too.
41. “A user interface is like a joke. If you have to explain it, it’s not that good.” - Martin LeBlanc
Like some of the previous graphic design quotes on this list, Martin LeBlanc’s analogy laments bad user interfaces.
He believes the goal of any user interface should be to be as seamless and intuitive as possible. Users shouldn’t need time to figure out the interface, but should be able to start right away.
42. “The alternative to good design is bad design, not no design at all.” - Douglas Martin
A world without design is a bleak place, or as Douglas Martin puts it, “The alternative to good design is bad design, not no design at all.”
Even if the design you produce isn’t the best there is, it’s better than nothing. You should never exclude design completely.
43. “Graphic design will save the world right after rock and roll does.” - David Carson
Art director rock and roll magazine Ray Gun, David Carson, talks up two of his favourite loves in this graphic design quote.
Carson knew better than most how to weave the two together and has created striking magazine covers for many years.
44. “Great ideas, like babies, are often conceived after a few glasses of wine.” - Sharon Moore
When it comes to creating, no matter what sort of creating you’re doing, it’s no harm to relax to relax and have a few glasses of wine.
As Sharon Moore insinuates, not every great idea came about by careful thought and planning, but sometimes by random chance.
45. “To create a memorable design you need to start with a thought that’s worth remembering.” - Thomas Manss
According to German graphic designer Thomas Manss, a design you create must be inspired by something that is in itself memorable, or that design will be forgotten.
The thought you use as inspiration for the design should be a thought that you feel your audience can take something away from.
46. “It’s very easy to be different, but very difficult to be better.” - Jonathan Ive
Being different used to be something that was unique, but now everyone is their own kind of different.
Acclaimed British industrial designer Jonathan Ive stresses that anyone can be different, but it’s so much harder to be better.
47. “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” - Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs need no introduction, but what people might not know him for is this quote about designing products.
Jobs talks about how people often don’t know what they want until you show it to them. It’s one of the graphic design quotes on this list that focuses on the idea that designers should create for themselves and if the design is good enough, people will like it.
48. “The details are not the details. They make the design.” - Charles Eames
While some may say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, the parts are essential to the equation.
Charles Eames says that details are not just small aspects of a larger piece, but rather the building blocks of the design you make.
49. “Just because you’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s not incredibly stupid.” - Despair Poster
The truth often hits hard. No matter what profession you’re in, hearing criticism of your work can be uncomfortable.
One of the most hard hitting graphic design quotes on the list is from despair.com, the self-proclaimed home of demotivators.
While it’s mostly a joke, there is a kernel of wisdom here too. It prompts designers to look at the methods they’ve been using and see if they need to make any changes.
50. “Using a watermark on your work is like peeing on your belongings so no one will steal them.” - Thomas Amador
Watermarks are the source of much debate. Should you risk harming the appearance of your work to ensure no one claims it as their own? Ultimately, the choice lies with the designer and depends on what they want for their design.
UX designer Thomas Amador certainly feels that watermarks are a bad idea. He goes as far as comparing it to urinating on your belongings.
Use these graphic design quotes to your advantage
Now that you’ve read through the 50 best graphic design quotes of all time, it’s time to choose your favourite quotes and take something from them. Did Dan Rubin’s quote about redesigning elements of your interface that need instructions inspire you to improve your own user interface? Or did Viran Anuradha Dayaratne’s quote on product design motivate you to make your next product that little bit better?
Let us know by tweeting using the handle @getdesignwizard. We’d love to hear which quotes inspired you the most.