The NYTimes.com designer strives for “a maximum of elegance with a minimum of ornamentation.” He also tries to think outside the grids that first made his style famous.
Question: What does your day-to-day work as a designer consist of?
Khoi Vinh: Well mostly it's about sitting in meetings. I spend a lot of time -- the way I look at my job, I spend a lot of time trying to create the conditions for good design to happen and I don't get an opportunity to do a lot of hands on work. Really, our mission in the design group is really to try and look at NYTimes.com, to look at the digital delivery of New York Times content and create a really great user experience out of it and build new features and functionalities. So, that just requires a lot of background discussions and negotiations and brainstorming and getting the right people together at the table. So, that's largely what I do is try and get all those pieces in place so the designers who work in my group can then sort of set them up for a really great user experience on the website, and on our other platforms.
Question: How would you characterize your own style as a designer?
Khoi Vinh: Well, I think that -- the way I put our sensibility at NYTimes.com group also nicely meshes with mine. I try to get a maximum of elegance with a minimum of ornamentation, so we're trying to do as much as we can with as little as we can. So that means using as many native elements of whatever medium you are working in without trying to introduce other flourishes and making the most of those to communicate elegance and ease of use and efficiency.
Question: Has there ever been a characterization of your style that you’ve hated?
Khoi Vinh: Yes, and no. I think I sort of have a love/hate relationship with a reputation I have for being the designer who works with grids. And maybe about four years ago, four or five years ago, I wrote a series of articles on my blogs, Subtraction.com, that really talked about how online designers, interaction designers can benefit from a lot of the topographic grid principles that print designers have been using for decades offline, and that was really a big boost to my career, my reputation, and I'm still quite proud of it. At the same time, I often feel like that's all people think of me for and if I want to talk about something else, then they kind of tune out. That's not always the case, that's maybe not a fair characterization, but from time to time, it happens.
Question: Is your personal workspace messy or orderly?
Khoi Vinh: I really try to keep my personal workspace as tidy as possible. I really believe there's a place for everything and everything in its place, as the cliché goes. I really try to do that insofar as I can control it. I live with a really wonderful woman and we have a baby and a dog, so at the same time, I really have to temper that desire to really control that element with the realization that life doesn't work like that. Like you have to have a balance and understand that as much as you would like to have absolute control over everything, it's just not realistic.
Recorded on March 3, 2010
Interviewed by Austin rnAllen