A View from John Maeda

Content, Context, Contrast

Recently, I had an experience in New York City that reminded me of the three C’s of design.

  • November 17, 2007

I gave a talk at Parsons School for Design in New York City last week, and the school kindly put me up in an old hotel in Washington Square. After I got off the elevator, I was immediately confronted with the skinniest hallway I had ever seen. Entering my actual room, I was surprised at how spacious it was because the ultraslim hallway had signaled to me that I might need to be prepared to assume the Munchkin position in my room.

This experience reminded me of the three C’s I try to teach my students as the three core principles of design:

  • Content: There needs to be a message or meaning. Everything needs a reason to exist, otherwise it shouldn’t.

  • Context: Content doesn’t live in a vacuum. A Chanel bag sitting on a shelf at Wal-Mart will only confuse.

  • Contrast: An element is made stronger when a counterelement is offered. Salt tastes saltier after one has had some sugar.

In this case, the contrast between the hallway and my room gave me the benefit of feeling that the room was larger. Within the context of giving a lecture and staying the night in New York, the room was nothing spectacular but certainly sufficient. Finally, the question of whether or not this post has content is really up to you. Have a great rest of your day.

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