Good design lies in the foundation

Almost everything I've learned and love about design stems from my background in drawing comics and cartoons. Trying to establish character, mood, and still convey my message all within the limited space of a comic panel (and with a split second of a reader's attention span to do so) is a daunting challenge.

So as a cartoonist, you tend to find yourself resorting to thinking in basic shapes a lot. I know that if I design a character that's instantly recognizable as a silhouette, that character will work once we go in and add the facial features, attire, etc... Everything within this basic skeleton are accessories, but the base is paramount.

For example, I don't need to tell you who any these characters are for you to recognize them.

Our eyes strip down everything we see into its most basic elements on a daily basis without even thinking about it. Mickey Mouse isn't a mouse who wears red shorts. Our mind remembers him as a circle with two smaller circles on top. Just to visualize, we can dress him up in any colors or attire we desire and nobody would ever mistake him for anyone else.

But if we were to alter the base of his foundation even slightly...

Like magic, he is no longer Mickey Mouse.

Human beings are extremely lazy creatures when it comes to visual association. We have difficulty consciously remembering details and ultimately recollect most of our visuals through basic shapes.

To put this theory to the test, look at the following images and ask yourself a couple questions:

a) What's wrong with Yosemite Sam?

b) To which popular cartoon character does this eye belong to?


a) I've changed the color of Sam's handkerchief from the usual yellow to green.

b) Woody Woodpecker.

Okay, some of you may have gotten the first one and a few may have even gotten both. But out of context and had I not asked, you probably wouldn't have given either images a passing glance even if we've all seen these characters a million times before.

So, what has all this got to do with anything?

Well, the very same principles in cartoons relates directly to the world of design. Any good design, like cartoons, reduced to its most basic framework will remain a good design. A prospective customer is fickle. They are not going to stick around to look at the great little flower incorporated into the background of an advertisement if they're not immediately hooked. And even if they do, chances are they may not remember it tomorrow. They care as much about minute details labored over in a design as you care about the color of Yosemite Sam's handkerchief.

Although a solid foundation can be enhanced with flashy details, flashy details cannot save a poorly designed foundation. Spending that extra time in the initial compositional stages of a design is of utmost importance. It's the "Mickey Mouse ears" from which all other elements of a design will work off of.

So a lot of those very same principles mentioned above, we tried incorporating into the Aviary branding and design.

We know that if our fine feathered friends you see here work in their most basic form, they'll still read once we add the details:

As a comparison, would the toucan have worked had he looked like this?

Why not? We used the exact same colors and general idea of the other toucan. But one look at his silhouette gives us the answer. It just does not read.

So, the next time you come across a great logo or a beautiful design, ask yourself what made that design appealing to you. Chances are it's not the beautiful flower in the background or your love of a particular color they used. Ask yourself how the design read compositionally. You just might find your answer there.

Now, I'm sure there are plenty of designs and logos out there that break this general "rule." Funny enough, I just can't recall any of them off the top of my head.

Well, that's my belief anyways. Or maybe I just wanted to draw Mickey Mouse today.]]