Defaults in Design

Starting the series back up on the subject of defaults, I spent some time thinking about how the limits imposed on the work we do ultimately influence our work’s form.


Though we’re the designers, and we make the stuff look the way it does, a flip-through sampling of the pages of any advertising or design annual from the last fifty years will reveal its decade of origin—not by looking at the cover, or even the content, but just by examining the processes used. I say limits meaning both those we prescribe and the external constraints imposed by the job or environment. Sibylle Hagmann gave a great talk at TYPO San Francisco on advertising design in the GDR (Germany behind the Iron Curtain) where she pointed out that it was the great shortage of material related to typesetting and design production that led to the development of manual processes and a diversity of interesting and highly refined illustration and lettering styles.

IMG_7027-530x353Sibylle Hagmann speaking on Typography and Culture; Photo by Amber Gregory


Seeing how an entire subgenre of design grew out of a set of constraints further opened my eyes to the idea that the look and function of our work is largely a matter of the defaults we accept. And that learning to recognize the previously unconscious decisions we make both frees us and constrains us to use and invent new processes and to be aware of the effects of our choosing.

To introduce a more practical side to this discussion, I thought it would be interesting to look specifically at the defaults I accept, so, over the course of the next few weeks I’ll walk through some InDesign, Illustrator, and HTML/CSS defaults I find handy, as well as touch on some manual processes I go through when designing for screen and print.

That’s all. Thanks to Kent Lew’s Whitman Display for setting the title. Catch the first iteration on defaults here next Thursday. This is Using Type.

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