Archive for October 8th, 2010

I used the term Less-Is-More to describe the design of Laura Gordon’s scrumptious new letterpress business cards. By that reference, of course, I mean they are impactfully minimalist, pared down to the essentials, yet packing so much substance onto a two-and-a-half-inch surface that it just bowls you over. Less is more, indeed. Then, I thought it would be interesting to track down the etymology of that phrase and came to this:


The notion that simplicity and clarity lead to good design.


This is a 19th century proverbial phrase. It is first found in print in Andrea del Sarto, 1855, a poem by Robert Browning:

Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.

The phrase is often associated with the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969), one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style.

When applied to letterpress, the mandate of “simplicity and clarity” goes without saying. The letterpress aesthetic expresses this as a matter of course; the technique itself demands it. Sometimes, though, I am so thoroughly struck that it shakes me up, as in the case of Laura’s amazing letterpress business cards.

Nothing could be simpler than a name foiled onto a square, thick surface in gold metallic: To the point, no?

The contact information beautifully typeset on the back: Clarity. Simplicity. Beauty, too.

But it is more than that. It is the totality of the form of it, the luxurious feel of the super-thick 600 gsm Cranes Lettra paper (environmentally friendly 100% rag paper made from recycled scraps from clothing manufacturers), the way the gold foil and black ink interplay on the page, the typography and the type form itself, impressed into the sheet in moderation, not smashed in with all the might of the Heidelberg press that did it. Nothing overdone, nothing excessive. Yet everything is in proportion, everything tells more than the sum of parts. Even with the distinguished, conservative design, there is this little edginess implied that also reflects Laura’s work, some of which you can see in these gorgeously shot photos, and more of which you can see on her Facebook page. Go see!!

What i am trying to say is that THIS is the essence of what you want in a business card. It says more than it says. It means more than it means. It looks like the simplest thing in the world, and then you realize that it makes you FEEL something. There is something thrilling about it, strong. It’s white space. It’s the Golden Mean. It’s timeless fashion, not fickle trend; eternal proportion, not fad; edginess that comes across classy rather than trying-too-hard. Air is where the soul lives, in jazz and blues and all music, and in graphic design as well. All that white space is the air and these are soulful, simply.

Edginess (pun intended).

Here are architect Dieter Rams’ ten principles to “good design”

Good design is innovative
Good design makes a product useful
Good design is aesthetic
Good design helps us to understand a product
Good design is unobtrusive
Good design is honest
Good design is long-lasting
Good design is consequent to the last detail
Good design is concerned with the environment
Good design is as little design as possible

At Studio Z Mendocino, when we do business cards or invitations or web sites or stationery for a client, I think of the process as a conversation. It is a back and forth that determines how things will turn out and it is a big relationship that develops as we go along. Thank you, Laura, for having this beautiful conversation with me that led to such a stunning result. I love your work and I loved working with you. Next up: Laura’s thank you notes!

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