Elements of Design

Matt Greenwood’s buttery smooth “Elements of Design” is a high-speed buffet of some key concepts behind motion graphic design. I’d love to try it as a four course meal.

Despite my head-nodding throughout the piece, I’m not sure the project’s conclusion is one I can endorse. It seems to posit two extremes: design as “science,” which in this context is meant to mean algorithmic or formulaic. (Free advice: Don’t ever tell a scientist what they do is formulaic.)

The other extreme presented is “just moving things around until it feels right.” This is the option that the project — and presumably Mr. Greenwood — feel is the right approach.

My only quibble with this notion is that it’s all wrong.

Your right is wrong

In classrooms, I’ve watched students move things around until it felt right to them. The problem is that it often felt right only to them. The rest of us were baffled by their decisions, wondering what in the hell they were thinking and wishing they would just scrap the whole mess and start over.

Unlike art, design’s chief concern is to communicate ideas. If your creative decisions keep an idea from being expressed clearly, then they are, to put it bluntly, bad ideas.

While you’re making design decisions, intuition can be an excellent guiding force, but only if you’ve already internalized what constitutes successful design.

Baby, meet bathwater?

Mr. Greenwood has a good intuitive feel for design because he — either through trial and error or through old-fashioned book learnin’ — has a solid grasp of the foundational elements of design, most of which he covers in his film.

That he ends on an idea that seems to toss all the rules out the window — rules he effectively employed (possibly subconsciously) throughout his film — is… baffling and a little troubling.


The morning after posting this, I saw this tweet from a friend:

And here’s the video of Glaser in question:

That video only makes my case further. As Mr. Glaser says in the video, he’s been practicing graphic design since the 1940s. Those intervening decades of practice have finely tuned his intuition, making it much more reliable than it would have been at the beginning of his career.


Animation & Design – Matt Greenwood
Music by Proem

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About the author

Justin Cone

/ justincone.com
Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.


Rohit Iyer

Agreed. That last bit of copy seems a bit incongruous with the whole piece – almost like it was added just to give it some sort of conclusion.


Well put Justin. I’ve been ruminating over that last line for a couple days now so i’m glad someone addressed it so well.

Also here’s an interview with the animator http://www.stashmedia.tv/?p=21547


^^That interview does help a lot in this case.

There is no choice in that the rules are there whether you know about them or not – but through knowledge you have the choice to apply or break these rules.

Either approach could be an advantage, it depends on the situation!


I couldn’t agree more with him, after 18 years in the industry it’s nice to see someone say it. I’ll agree that it’s likely to be intuitive to Matt, but then is the ‘eye’ for it a natural or learned thing? The amount of designers I know have made up an explanation for work to make the client buy into it and all they did was make something they thought looked good. Yes you can teach the principles of composition…but really it is just moving things around till they look good, and the best animators do that entirely intuitively.

Manteca de Chancho

If design was just about moving things around everybody could be a designer and all the arts and design schools will have to despair. Thanks to God, design is more than that, so we, the designers can work and feed our families doing what other people can’t do “move things around…”


The quote from Glaser is not to explain the intrinsic essence of design but simply how Mr. Glaser communicates his line of work to a layman.

Unfortunately Mr. Greenwood have clearly misunderstood this.

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