Quote by Ralph Caplan on The Conquering Zero

Thursday Thoughts: Ralph Caplan

We’re back with another edition of Thursday Thoughts, this time with a quote from Ralph Caplan.

“[Designers’] primary competence lies not in the technicalities of a craft but in the mastery of a process.”

Ralph Caplan is a design veteran, former editor of Industrial Design magazine, and author of the design books By Design: Why There Are No Locks on the Bathroom Doors in the Hotel Louis XIV and Other Object Lessons, The Design of Herman Miller, and Cracking the Whip. He also won the 2012 AIGA medal. You can read more about his life and work here.

I’ve only been in design school for a year, but these words by Ralph Caplan ring true to me already. I remember our whole class being appalled at the beginning of first year when we had to do forty thumbnails for a project, and horrified when our teacher rejected those thumbnails as not good enough and made us hand in–get this–twenty more. Unthinkable. For many of us, this was our first time being introduced to the process of design. We wanted to know the how, but first we had to understand the why.

At risk of sounding like a design know-it-all, it seems to me that this idea of process is the difference between a designer and someone who can draw a few shapes with the pen tool. It’s what I love (and sometimes hate) about learning the graphic design trade–every visual choice you make should be informed by research, because every choice you make has real-life implications. Following the protocol of the process may seem like a drag, but it’s the only way to ensure that your design is useful.

What is your favourite or least favourite part of the design process? Let me know in the comments!

Till next time,



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