Small Numbers, Great Design

Over at Sub­trac­tion, Khoi Vinh (Design Direc­tor of NYTimes.com) has a post on Great Num­bers, Not So Great Design. His basic point is that big­ger design stu­dios are not bet­ter, and that small­er stu­dios tend to be your best bet for good design. As a very small design shop here (two peo­ple!) I must of course agree. If my wife and I can’t com­mu­ni­cate and get in the flow with you, we have prob­lems larg­er than mere mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion! Here’s the leadin to Khoi’s article/rant, which I sug­gest you go read:

Let me admit a real prej­u­dice that I have, and maybe you can try to con­vince me that I’m wrong: it’s my belief that you just can’t get great design out of a design agency with a staff larg­er than a dozen or two. Design doesn’t scale well, in my opin­ion, or at least it doesn’t do so eas­i­ly.

This craft, and what­ev­er pre­ten­sions to art it can pull off, rests so much on the effi­cien­cy of trans­fer­ring ideas from the brain to the hand. This means that in its ide­al form, it works best when prac­ticed by a sin­gle per­son. The per­fect design staff is a sin­gle design­er who can con­ceive of and exe­cute an idea from start to fin­ish — a straight shot from the right brain to the wrist — main­tain­ing the same coher­ent cre­ative vision through­out.

Of course, as an eco­nom­ic mat­ter, this is imprac­ti­cal. For design to work as a busi­ness, it almost always has to scale to some degree. The small­er the scale, though, the more effi­cient the prac­tice of design; trans­mit­ting ideas among a small num­ber of peo­ple is much more effec­tive than trans­mit­ting them among a large num­ber.