Visual Literacy Part 3: Space in Design

Space is the first and most important element of design language. Space in design is more important than any objects flying in it. It’s an endless abyss encompassing all design elements and existing before object/subject separation.

In traditional visual art, the most important element is the main object depicted, while the less important is the background. In industrial art, the object has no importance as such — it’s abstract. There is no top and bottom, left and right in this space, only in and out. And this space does not equal a background.

This concept of space in visual arts was first introduced by the suprematist movement — instead of being positioned relatively to the ground, objects are floating in the air. The position of an object relatively to other objects, as well as its other parameters like form, size, or color, is defined exclusively by its role and meaning.,_1916).jpg

Space is not empty, it’s charged with energy. Every object placed into this space activates this energy and creates force vectors by interacting with the frame and other objects.


We can say that the use of this kind of space is an important characteristic of good design.

Our perception needs free space to balance the information overload we meet — that’s why they say «Less is more» in good design: less content with more space and stronger visual emphasis works better than the other way round.

That’s why a good book layout uses space generously for margins and line spacing.

That’s why a good website layout uses space generously for sections, columns, buttons, distances between elements., 2013

It should be noted that design elements can be organised in space differently depending on whether a designer uses a constructivist or an expressionist approach, but the role of space is equally important in both cases. We will talk about this in more detail in one of my next posts.


Visual Literacy Part 2: How Graphic Design Has Been Born

Graphic design in its modern version is a phenomenon not known until 20th century. By this time all the elements of graphic design language have matured. Beautiful book layouts which existed since time immemorial are good examples of book layout, but not of graphic design. They appeal to the perception of a pre-industrial man (who is still certainly alive in all of us, that’s why we’re still capable of enjoying classic art). On the other hand, graphic design isn’t an art in a classic sense, or let’s say it’s an art by engineers, for users.

The birth of graphic design has been very rapid in terms of historic time. The whole transition started with the impressionist movement in the second half of 19th century and ended with the Black Square by Kazimir Malevich and abstract compositions of Piet Mondrian in early 20th century.

The language of graphic design has evolved in four stages departing from objective art which reflected the outside world to subjective art reflecting our inner world.

1. Color

Before the Impressionists, the art was closely tied to observed reality (while never identical with it of course). On the other hand, graphic design is abstract in its nature.

The emancipation of art which led to the birth of graphic design started with color:,_Sunset.jpg

Color freed from the need to correspond to an object became pure emotion and established itself as one of the primary elements of graphic design.

Here’s an example of poster design using color (and form):

2. Space

The next step was space emancipation. Moving away from the laws of perspective and distance, space turned out to be an encompassing abyss, sky, cosmos, the basis of the new expressive language.,1923-_Composition_8,_huile_sur_toile,_140_cm_x_201_cm,_Mus%C3%A9e_Guggenheim,_New_York.jpg

3. Form

The departure of form from object became the next step of evolution leading to modern graphic design.

4. Object

At the fourth and final step, object has disappeared altogether, ceasing to be the focus of artist’s attention and giving space to a free expression of ideas, thoughts, messages. Graphic design has been born.,_1915,_Black_Suprematic_Square,_oil_on_linen_canvas,_79.5_x_79.5_cm,_Tretyakov_Gallery,_Moscow.jpg, 2013


The four key stages of development of the graphic design language radically transformed the most important of its basic elements, namely color, space, and form, and laid out the foundations of modern visual design.


Visual Literacy Part 1: The Language of Visual Design

With this post I begin a series of posts dedicated to the language of visual design. I believe it could prove helpful to visual designers of all kinds.

The series will combine my 20+ years experience as a graphic designer, later web designer and now frontend developer, my design school studies, my own learning and my experience as a teacher of Design Director online course.

In this first post, we will start our design journey by talking about what design is not. My point here is that good visual design couldn’t be reduced to any single aspect of it, be it illustrative art, decoration, composition, or anything else.

Design ≠ Layout

A mere organisation of information isn’t yet visual design in a modern sense as it lacks emotional impact. Nevertheless, the art of giving the information a correct structure is the basis of good design (while not the substitute of it). The information structured correctly and using other elements of the language of visual design, like space and typography, becomes a masterpiece even without using imagery. Klassegrafik website is a brilliant example of it:

Design ≠ Illustration

This one is harder to accept but still easy enough. A quality illustration adds a lot to a good design but again isn’t the substitute of it… Even if it’s a pretty girl 🙂

Design ≠ Decoration

This is the trap many unexperienced designers fall victim of most often. Randomly adding decorative elements to a design doesn’t make it any better, quite the contrary.


Quality visual design in modern sense of the word is a play of many single design elements. I selected seven elements of the language of visual design for this post series: space, form, color, type, imagery, composition, and logic.

In the next post you will learn about how they were introduced to the graphic design scene and what impact they have on a good design. Stay tuned!


Visual Design: 10 Inspirational ICO Websites

ICO is one of the hottest trends in IT world now, so I as a UX designer have started my own collection of hottest ICO website designs. Today I’m sharing with you 10 inspiring ICO websites I’ve manually selected from over 100 upcoming or currently active ICOs.

Fashion is changing fast — in ten years we will smile looking at it the same way as now I’m smiling looking at my ten-years-old collection of dot-com era websites. But for now it’s definitely worth our attention as it personifies the zeitgeist and shows some evident trends a smart designer can use… or avoid 🙂

To make things more stimulating for crypto investors, I’ve took all the websites from active or upcoming ICOs. I’ve also added short ICO descriptions from in case you wonder what a particular ICO is about.

So, let’s have a look at these websites:

1. Envion

Highly profitable, global crypto-mining-infrastructure — Hosted in mobile, modular CSC containers — Decentralized placement directly at energy source.

Visit this site, it’s nicely animated. Made with a great taste and attention to details. The team is Swiss, and Swiss people is known for their love to good design.

2. Bounty0x

A decentralized bounty hunting platform enabling anyone to manage bounty programs, and bounty hunters to receive payment for completing bounty tasks.

Made with humour and skill.

3. Bloom

Bloom is an end-to-end protocol for identity attestation, risk assessment and credit scoring, entirely on the blockchain. Bloom allows both traditional and digital currency lenders to serve billions of people who currently cannot obtain a bank account or credit score.

A very delicate, neat, decent design.

4. The Bee Token

Decentralizing Short-Term Housing Rentals. Blockchain Powered Platform With 0% Commissions, Network Effects, Bank-Level Security, and Immutable Reviews.

A conceptual design, the first two screens are especially nice. I less like the typographics and the bottom half in general.

5. EOS

The Most Powerful Infrastructure for Decentralized Applications.

«And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it». The only thing I don’t like here is the grey shadow under the logo.

6. Universa

Universa is a blockchain protocol with high speed and low cost of procession operations.

A very clear, systematic, well-thought design with a typographic accent.

7. Sirin Labs

SIRIN LABS — the developer of SOLARIN, an ultra-secure mobile phone — is holding a crowdsale event. Funds raised will support the development of FINNEY™, the first open source blockchain smartphone and all-in-one PC.

A cool first screen animation, the rest of the website is rather quiet.


HOQU is the first decentralized marketing platform that allows merchants and affiliates to interact directly without brokers and ensures fair cost per actions deals based on a smart contracts.

Dynamic design, nice first screen. Way too much animation.

9. STK Token

STACK is a new personal finance platform, built on the idea that using your money should be free.

An animated front page, the rest is just decent.

10. Winding Tree

Winding Tree is a blockchain-based distribution platform for the travel industry.

A neat and clean design with nice illustration.

And now a small gift for you the attentive ones who are still with me:

The three don’t dos of ICO website design

  • Rotating dot constellations and wandering dots. Too much of them recently.
  • Consultant chat alarm sound on site load. Too annoying.
  • Too much parallax and animation in non-essential areas.

Feel free to share more inspirational crypto related website designs in comments!

Useful links


Inside Designer’s Studio: Logo Design Unveiled

In this post I’ll show you how things work in logo design taking my two recent logos as examples.

About the logos

Both logos were made for Telegram channels. Most of the time people use Telegram’s mobile app, so a channel logo should look fine as a small icon. That’s why I’ve chosen typographic concepts with as less details as possible.

I’ve designed this logo for PyDjango Telegram channel. This channel is about using Django template system with Python. Here I am demonstrating how Python and Django are perfectly fitting together.

This one is for the CryptoSchool channel.

The Key to Good Logo Design

I studied logo design in a design school and on my own for many years and while there’s a lot to say about it, the most important single logo design aspect is this:

Create as many concept variations as possible before going any further.

Our brains are lazy. After getting a few first ideas we stop and move on to their development. It’s a mistake. We need a bunch of raw material if we want to create something out of nothing, as is the case with a logo for a new brand or project.

The closest example is the photographer’s work. We admire a brilliant photo without even thinking about how much shots were actually done to choose the best one from. This is how both nature and human creativity work: a lot of small steps in many directions and then a big leap forward.

How it was done

And here’s how I was working on those concepts.

First I’ve done a lot of sketching to find different concepts and variations.

Then I’ve moved to my Mac and did the actual work in Adobe Illustrator.

I usually make a few final versions to choose from:

Often it happens to me that the final result is different from the sketches, as is the case with the second logo.

For more complex work I make even more sketches. I vary the tools (pencil, felt-tip pen, ink pen, brush…), the forms (round, rectangular, sharp, soft..), composition of the parts, abstraction level, graphic style, point of view… the more the better.

When a logo has a textual part, I do the same kind of work with the type, first sketching as much type forms as possible and then choosing a typeface or manually drawing the final letters.

Hope this short overview could help those of you who’d like to design a logo for your website or project. I am also available to make one for you, foe the details check out my steemgigs post here.

You’re welcome to ask questions or share your experience about the topic in the comment section!


10 Website Designs from Early 2000s, Still Inspiring

Most website designs look badly outdated in three years, but these ones look still inspiring and fresh, and it confirms that web design at its best is a true art.

I created my first commercial website back in 2000. Very soon I started paying attention to the most striking, unusual or just beautiful work of other designers. Today I am sharing with you the beginnings of this itinerary.

Those were times with no fixed rules — everything was possible. Then the era of web standards came and it was a good thing of course. But as a result, maybe we became too rigid and it’s a good moment to redefine the rules?

1. (2001)

2. (2001)

3. (2001)

4. (2002)

5. (2002)

6. (2002)

7. (2002)

8. (2002)

9. (2004)



Permaculture Vienna

Just visited a meetup on permaculture in Vienna. I was interested in permaculture since 2009 when I first saw Rob Hopkins’ TED presentation on resilience and discovered the idea of permaculture via his website, Transition Culture. So I seized the chance and went to Weltcafe, a place known for its organic food, to meet permaculture designers Fraser Bliss and Victoria Plank. Fraser and Victoria learned from Bill Mollison and David Holmgren, the legendary fathers of permaculture.

Permaculture is an art of building sustainable human settlements making whole with the nature. The main idea of permaculture, as far as I get it, is that the whole is always balanced — nature can produce everything it needs to support itself. Many of the needs of a natural system could be met from inside that system. A designer’s goal is to align oneself with the power of nature instead of fighting it. As the elements of a natural system can feed each other, we don’t need to produce some big input (time, money, resources…) to have a sustainable system — instead, we need to connect the loose ends.

Why permaculture is important?

  • It’s about health — we can grow organic food.
  • It’s about our environment — we can live without destruction and waste.
  • It’s about community — permaculture encourages sharing and helping each other.

If you are interested in permaculture and are around Vienna, join our group and keep updated!


Design that lasts

We usually believe «good design» to be the single peak, the only positive pole as opposed to «bad design». But what if there are several different poles of good design?

In fact, the meaning behind the expression «good design» is really ambiguous, even if we leave aside the question of design definitions. Is good design akin to good cleaning? I mean, is it something about just putting things to their proper places and getting rid of noise? Or maybe it means being an artist, not a mere technician? Doesn’t good design also mean creating something that lasts, something people will talk about?

Let’s compare a propaganda poster and a railroad ticket. The goal of the poster is to persuade by conveying a clearly defined meaning. The goal of the ticket is simply to document. While the poster asks for emotional involvement and response, the ticket doesn’t ask for anything. As emotions rule our decisions, emotional experience is crucial for persuasive design. As emotions distract when the decision is already made or simply is not needed, usability becomes more important for other kinds of design.

My point is that on one pole, like with the poster, the form becomes the content and the emotional experience matters the most, while on another pole, like with the ticket, the content becomes the form and what really matters is pure usability. Both poles still can be called good design. But the one where meaning matters can also be good in another sense, as something people will talk about — as a social object, if we borrow the term from Hugh McLeod.

If we now compare our propaganda poster with a dictionary instead of a railroad ticket, we see one more difference —obviously, it is the level of informational complexity. The more complex and structured the information, the less chances are left for emotional experience and the more is the need for usability. The design of complex information systems is rather engineering, and this is yet another pole of good design.

And finally, if we replace the dictionary with a novel full of complex ideas, we see one more dimension of good design: do not distract attention from the higher levels of perception and thinking. That’s why the design of a such a books is usually much drier than, say, the design of an annual report full of dry facts. And paradoxically, the design of an annual report has more chances of becoming a social object.

So, the four poles of good design are:

  • Social objects (persuasive with simple meaning, intense but simple emotions, minimum of information)
  • Usable objects (no need for persuasion, simple meaning, low emotions, low information)
  • Complex information systems (simple meaning, low emotions, high volumes of information)
  • Complex semantic systems (higher-level thinking, complex emotions and meaning)

Of course we can think of further combinations of parameters referring to yet another kinds of design. But the only one of them, namely social objects, can pretend to be a sort of art, a special kind of design that lasts. Its distinctive features can also be used as the criteria for making design more viral:

  1. Easy emotional involvement.
  2. Simple and unambiguous meaning.
  3. The lowest possible volume and the best possible organisation of information.

I am sure that those criteria may be helpful even in the cases when they can’t be fully met, i.e. with railroad tickets and dictionaries. By reducing complexity and adding emotional touch we still can get the results far above the ordinary. But don’t waste time creating ticket design that lasts, dictionary design that lasts, website design that lasts and so on. It won’t work anyway.


27 design definitions

Once upon a time I’ve found on the web a Word document where an unknown person compiled a brilliant selection of design definitions. I think it’s a good piece to keep, especially because the original file doesn’t anymore exist. So, here it is — enjoy.

  1. Design is a manifestation of the capacity of the human spirit to transcend its limitations. (George Nelson)
  2. Designers who design like machines will be replaced by machines. It is not the digital but the intuitive, not the measurable but the poetic, not the mechanical but the sensual, which humanize design. (Katherine McCoy)
  3. Design plays a central, not merely ornamental, part in the creation of meaning. (Derick de Kerchhore)
  4. Design describes the processes of selecting shapes, sizes, materials and colours to establish the form of something that is to be made. The object can be a city or town, a building, a vehicle, a tool or any other object, a book, an advertisement or a stage set. Design is the activity which forms a major part of reality as we experience it. (Johnatan Pile)
  5. Design is not an art or a science, a socio-cultural phenomenon or a business tool. It is an innovative process which uses information and expertise from all these sectors. It uses creativity first to analyse and synthesise the interactions between them and, secondly to offer appropriate and innovative responses (forms) which, in application, should go beyond the sum of each sector’s vision and capacity and yet remain recognisable and pertinent to them all. (A.M. Boutin — Liz Davis)
  6. Design is the cardinal means by which human beings have long tried to modify their natural environment. Design, the act of putting constructs in an order, seems to be human destiny. (Richard Neutra)
  7. In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness. (Antoine De Saint Exupery)
  8. Design is a process of turning people’s ideas into forms. Transforming the invisible into the visible, design is also the operation of turning mental, social and spiritual entities into physical ones. Design is the process of the human creation of new realities. However, this assumes a thorough knowledge of the qualities and effects of the material world. Good design is the result of an excellent idea going into a good form, an excellent immaterial entity going into a good material one. Creating reality is always a synthetic activity, and the result must be beautiful. (Kenji Ekuan)
  9. Design is everybody’s business: we live in it, we eat in it, we pray and play in it. When I say that design is everybody’s business, I don’t mean that design is a do-it-yourself job. I mean that it affects everybody, at all times, in our lives. Unless we gain a better understanding of design, we shall witness our environment getting steadily worse, in spite of the constant improvement of our machines and tools. (P.J.Grillo)
  10. Good design keeps the user happy, the manufacturer in the black and the aesthete unoffended. (Raymond Loewy)
  11. The word ‘design’ can mean either a weightless, metaphysical conception or a physical pattern. The opposite of design is chaos. (Buckminster Fuller)
  12. The word design signifies so many different things: a process, a means of promoting sales, and a stage on the road to production. It enhances products, and sells them; it solves problems and conveys ideas; it is artistic and commercial, intellectual and physical. This many-sidedness &endash; or ambiguity and endash; is something we have to learn to live with, as a historically incontrovertible fact. (Frederique Huygen)
  13. Design requires a constant remodelling of our ideas as it must adapt its language to new possibilities offered by new structural materials. (P.J.Grillo)
  14. Industrial Design is a creative activity whose aim is to determine the formal qualities of objects produced by Industry. These formal qualities include the external features, but are principally those structural and functional relationships which convert a system to a coherent unity, both from the point of view of the producer and the user. Industrial Design extends to embrace all aspects of human environment which are conditioned by industrial production. (Thomas Maldonado)
  15. Design, in its broader sense, is creation of systems for living. (Yoshida Mitsukuni)
  16. Simplicity — a virtue so rare and essential in design, does not mean want or poverty. It does not mean the absence of any decor, or absolute nudity. It only means that the decor should belong intimately to the design proper, and that anything foreign to it should be taken away. Decor must be consistent and totally integrated with the whole design story. (P.J.Grillo)
  17. Design must be meaningful. And «meaningful» replaces the semantically loaded noise of such expressions as «beautiful», «ugly», «cool», «cute», «disgusting», «realistic», «obscure», «abstract», and «nice», labels convenient to a bankrupt mind when confronted by Picasso’s Guernica, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Beethoven’s Eroica, Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. In all of these we respond to that which has meaning. (Victor Papanek)
  18. The design philosophy informing the concept of «The Humane Village» recognizes what individuals want in their daily lives; what they want to see and feel in their neighbourhoods, their homes and their workplaces; a sense of calm, permanence and timeless beauty, served but not dominated by the marvels of technology. Returning life to the pleasures of privacy and friendship in settings made to human scale. Building with foresight and restoring with care. Looking first to the needs and wishes of people. (Ben Park)
  19. Design is the process, that turns ideas into products that deligts their users. (Andrew Summers)
  20. Design is what you do, not what you’ve done. (Alan Fletcher)
  21. Design is giving shape to man’s dream. (Kenji Ekvan)
  22. Good design is the solution best adapted to necessity, but very superior to it. (André Breton)
  23. Most think of design in terms of putting lipstick on a gorilla. (Dieter Rams)
  24. A designer is an emerging synthesis of artist, inventor, mechanic, objective economist and evolutionary strategist . (Buckminster Fuller)
  25. Design is the anti-thesis of accident. (Vernon Barber)
  26. Good design is intelligence made visible. (Le Corbusier)

27th one is Webster’s. Just notice this line:

archaic : to indicate with a distinctive mark, sign, or name.

Arhaic? Or maybe futuristic? At least, this is in what direction I’d like to move.

P.S. Another great resource on design definitions is Quotes on Design by Chris Coyier.