The Age of Miniature Design

“Basically the future of web design is gonna be on a little tiny screen.” -Google designer Ryan Germick

It’s no secret that images need to reproduce at very small sizes in order to be effective online. And when I say ‘very small,’ I mean ‘the size of a pencil eraser.’ That’s freaking small. It’s always said that logos should be scalable (i.e. they need to function at large and small sizes), but we have moved into an era where scale itself has a different calibration. Twenty years ago, the smallest canvas you’d be likely to design for was a business card. Never before have artists or designers had to consistently focus on scales so miniature. I recently designed an album cover which I frequently shrunk to iPod/iTunes sizes to check its readability and visual impact (it’s looks rad and it’s coming in mid-May).

From left to right, the favicons above belong to WordPress, Google, and this blog. You might say that favicon design – which is typically 16 pixels by 16 pixels – is an art of its own (I squished a Warhol into a favicon here. I think he’d approve and/or laugh). It has been said that designing with the favicon in mind is the contemporary equivalent to the fax: designers used to stress that a logo or brand identity had to reproduce well in a low-quality black and white reproduction.

Favicons aside, the age of miniature design appears to be around for awhile. Handheld web devices continue to be a dominant form of web browsing. Digital information is commonly consumed in condensed and aggregated forms like RSS feeds. Most brands are frequently represented by images smaller than a postage stamp: the app button on your iPhone, the icons in your Twitter feed, etc.

Owners' marks on pottery, circa sixth century BCE.

In this type of design, simplification reigns. ‘Less is more’ is truer now than ever before. In brand identity, one great place to look for inspiration are be the simple runes and symbols of early forms of writing. Great power can be derived from very simple symbols and letterforms.

It’s also important to take every opportunity to spaz out and make drawings and designs that subscribe to the ‘more is more’ philosophy. An entirely minimalist world would be a boring place. Working at both ends of the spectrum will increase your skill with both ‘less’ and ‘more.’

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