Minimalist Maximalist Design and the Problem with Inclusivism by Kevin Landwehr

Some designers are calling the current state of stripped-down, reductive, copycat web design “Minimalism.”

Today’s by the numbers design reality isn’t Minimalism, not when there are hundreds of product managers, marketing teams, UXers, VPs, and even project managers getting in on the design conversation. It’s more like “Inclusivism” — and the only way to save the soup with that many chefs in the kitchen is to… water it down.


Now frustrated designers point to anything even remotely creative as examples of “Maximalism” when they are actually current and redundant trends in the also mislabeled “Minimalism”, where eSlaves are permitted to pull Brutalism trends from artsy sources. Making an excuse for these tiny shifts by mislabeling them “Maximalism” illustrates how icky those changes feel for people working inside the digital echo chamber. The condition is getting worse because Silicon Valley is where the highest paid of the designer class is instructed to use data science, not aesthetic differentiation, to activate customers. And they aren’t wrong.

Maximalism might look more like

Web Design - Maximalism - Nothing Something Creative Group.png

A designer trying to convince a leader to sell a product with that isn’t honoring the mission. It’s pretty fly though.

Somewhere in between there are electric spaces where designers who care, like you, like us, conspire with leaders who want to push boundaries and are able to design less reductively while also keeping things clear and getting clicks. It’s up to the best of us to honor those leaders, get them where they are going, and demonstrate design as a value, not a luxury or a privilege.

Here’s Your Stupid Incredible Five-Step Secret Guaranteed Recipe for Everlasting Creative Cool. Totally Works! by Kevin Landwehr

If you want a fresh message, pull creatives from beyond the echo chamber.

If you want a fresh message, pull creatives from beyond the echo chamber.

If 10,000 work hours makes an expert, how, after 30,000 hours, could anyone still care? Warning: Here comes the advice.

Constantly expand the reach of your talent.

If you’re a designer — truly — a pure designer — you should be able to confidently design anything, in any medium and on scalable platforms. If your platform is big, try going small and battling limited reach, or working pro-bono for a charity or a friend. If you primarily serve independent clients, seek out some corporate work and discover your flexible side.

Design as a cultural anthropologist.

If you’re a marketing professional, you’re empirically rigorous and theoretically sophisticated. You’re excited by changing linguistics. You’re fascinated by food culture. You follow economics, cultural analyses of value, debt, capitalism, and globalization. You’re a social animal, and you love to study folks in their natural environment. Make sure to get beyond your tribe though — can you design for moms as well as millennials?

Design as an ambassador bridging the human/digital experience.

If you’re in marketing, you’d better be keeping your client relevant. That means you’re digital first. More importantly though, it means you have to innovate. You have to take cold technology and and communicate soulful charms that warm the soul.

Design as a writer, a painter, a calligrapher, an actor, a bartender (same thing?)

You get the idea; bending your talent into adjacent or closely related derivatives feeds your talent. Beyond that, try working within the constraints of various creative fields. How would a painter design a poster? How would a bartender improve a coaster? How would a dancer have done your commercial? If you gave a writer from the 1930's a flux capacitor, how would they design a website? 

Master a complex skill that compliments your discipline.

This is where, by a power of ten, you will really sharpen up. As a creative director working in digital environs, it was an absolute revelation to take it further and design branded spaces. Observing people interacting inside my design enhanced my understanding of how we connect customers to a brand, a product, a website, SaaS and more. 

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Kevin Landwehr

Kevin Landwehr


Did you know you can create antique floors using spent coffee grinds? Or that you can dip light bulbs in rubber to create a warm yellow ember? Read about that and more in Sabrina Smelko's article, “IN SF’S RESTORED SMOKESTACK AT MAGNOLIA BREWING, A TRIP BACK IN TIME.” 

We wanted to use the space to share the larger tale of the 1930s San Francisco waterfront as it applied to food, drink and culture.
— Kevin Landwehr


The Scribe Winery & Vineyards website integrates naturalism, intersecting with the brand experience.

The Scribe Winery & Vineyards website integrates naturalism, intersecting with the brand experience.

Resin's responsive, adaptive website uses split-screen video beside vertical parallax scrolling, hiding navigation, and technically innovative animations. Still, the brand retains its dark, natural sensibility.

The Smokestack space is a century old. This special landing page utilizes a tech that was present in 1915 -- ASCII, or images composed of typewriter.

XD: A practice any good designer should innately understand; consider everything, and design based on an understanding of the ways we experience our world.

It’s a crowded moment in this world of ours, isn’t it? The artist Mos Def sums it up well in his song, Life in Marvelous Times:

“And more and more and more and more
And more of less than ever before
It’s just too much more for your mind to absorb.”

All that ‘more’ is tech-driven, of course, and thank the gods for that -- we need tech to sling Carpool Karaoke vids from our smart phones to our flatscreens.

Experience Design isn’t limited by technological experience though; it’s about ways to contribute meaning to our lives. When good ideas fail, they’re usually plagued by designers who fail to grasp XD.

Right now, design graduates are departing with their diplomas, having never grasped the advantages of Experience Design. That’s an easy one to decode; universities around the world are falling over themselves to attract students by keeping up with the speedy march of progress. Observation-based cultural studies have diminished in favor of broad marketing analytics, and kids leave unaware of what they lack, lost in metrics and lines of code, incapable of sharing with ordinary humans what makes that code so elegant.

We specialize in bridging the human/digital experience, in part through brand-integrated websites and apps. Often clients don’t have the same expectation of artistry in their digital space. Many want sparse, efficient communication and are willing to part ways with brand image in favor of brand efficiency, and showing them they can have both is rewarding.

In that spirit, the ultra-wonk tech hub of San Francisco doesn’t always put their money on Experience Design. Why? A lot of tech companies in San Francisco are looking for a tech-purebred mindset instead of a humanistic problem-solver mindset. That’s great too, if it serves the brand.

Great companies separate themselves from the pack by designing for the sake of the consumer experience. The great graphic yawns that create similarities among food-delivery apps like CaviarSprigMunchery and SpoonRocket may profit from market identity, but they’ll gain little in the form of customer connection. In the end, profitable tech experiences are those that enhance the human experience beyond A/B testing.

There’s great opportunity there, if you work to seize it.

UX/UI and opportunities far beyond web are best led by XD thought processes. Thought leadership doesn't come from identifying with technology; it’s all of the things -- behavior, stance, image, tone, approach, confidence and connectedness.

You hire a wonk, you get nerd UX. You hire someone with broad cultural knowledge, you get people UX.

Relatability & relationship building, whether driven by data, insight or hunch, is what makes it all work. Understand the feelings and desires of the customer? Sure. First though, understand yourself. That’s how we develop the emotional content customers have come to expect. 

It’s okay to sweat, it shows your human side. 

Just remember: Don’t sweat the tech -- sweat the technique.


magnolia brewing website


A huge thrill today as Nothing Something’s project Saint George Bistro has been awarded the highest & most coveted rating given by The New York Times. Additionally, the review generously mentions our interior design and graphic program for the restaurant, an unusual gift for which we are very grateful.  ‪#‎Interiordesign‬ ‪#‎branding‬ ‪#‎hospitality‬ ‪#‎best‬ ‪#‎newyork‬

“The name, which brings to mind an English boarding school or an isolated part of Canada, happens to be that of Mr. Vergaras pet rabbit. And its stenciled on the front window in antiqued gold lettering that looks as if it has been there since the Crusades. Black-and-white photos on the bistros website show dreamy damask roses in perpetual bloom and ancient stone walls hung with ivy. The triptych menu is printed in precise letterpress black and red, waiters wear old-fashioned striped aprons and the very good bread is swaddled in a cloth napkin. You can have your absinthe and drink it too.”
The New York Times | Dining Review | ★★★★ (EXCELLENT)

Smokestack Featured in “Let’s Go Out Again” by Kevin Landwehr

Thanks to Gestalten for featuring our interior design and architectural work. It's a nicely curated look at the small handful of interior designers and architects worldwide who are using new concepts to make going to a restaurant a multi-sensory experience. ‪#‎restaurant‬ ‪#‎design‬ Smokestack At Magnolia Brewing



“Not far from Napa’s manicured vineyards and wineries built to resemble French chateaux, Scribe, a winery by and for a new generation of viticulture enthusiasts, is upping the ante.” 

“This is the place to go to try California’s new wave wines. Their fans are a who’s who of the Bay Area’s best chefs: Alice Waters and Jérôme Waag of Chez Panisse, Nick Balla and Cortney Burns of Bar Tartine, Thomas McNaughton of Central Kitchen, and Sylvan Mishima Brackett of Izakaya Rintaro, to name just a few.”


The new Scribe NOUVEAU bottling is out and looking good at the A16 / Scribe Viticultural Society pick up weekend. Stunning Photography by Molly DeCoudreaux