Clean and Modern

Published 2 Comments on Clean and Modern

Internally, I have a bullshitometer. It’s a technical device that detects bullshit. It looks like this:

My Internal Bullsitometer, highly accurate

One of the things that pushes this finely tuned device to the extreme right are when designers say the words “Clean and Modern”.

This is just a stupid Jedi mind trick.

It’s a way of a designer saying “It’s good, don’t worry about it.” Usually, the design has real problems and they want it to sound good. Here is how I interpret these words:


  1. It lacks affordances. In other words, the user would not know the functionality is there because it is too small and out of the way. The designer thinks that this is “good” because it isn’t cluttered, but in reality it is “bad” because the user can’t find the functionality.
  2. Functionality is just missing. This happens all of the time. I ask how the user does something and the answer is “It’s cleaner without it.”
  3. It is only black, white, and gray with a tiny splash of blue. It’s like designers are allergic to any colorful interfaces. Using color doesn’t make the UI look bad. It helps to differentiate parts of the system as well as indicate states.
  4. Everything is spread really far apart. This is not a good choice from a user interface perspective. You don’t want things to be cramped, but you also don’t want them to be too spaced out. Balance Daniel-San, Balance!


  1. Everything is flat. No shadows, rounded corners, gradients, or 3-dimensionality. It was popular for a few years, but it actually makes it harder to understand the information architecture when everything bleeds into everything else. Levels are very useful to show hierarchy.
  2. No icons. Icons + Words are the best way to communicate a menu option. Sometimes the icons are there, but muted and turned flat. What is wrong with 3 dimensional icons. Look at the Mac dock bar. It’s fantastically 3D and colorful. Designers need to stop getting rid of icons.
  3. Material Design. So many designers are just copying Google Material Design in their projects. It’s unoriginal and lazy. There are a million different looks to steal. Steal something interesting.

Please for the love of God, stop saying “Clean and Modern.” Be more critical of your work. Design a little better than you did yesterday. Clean should mean that you named your layers well. Modern should mean there are lots of micro-interactions that take advantage of new browsers. Don’t try to fake us out. Don’t try and fake yourself out.



  1. “Unoriginal and lazy” – this statement alone makes me want to dedicate a blog post on the subject. The presence of #clean and #modern in designer’s and stakeholder’s vocabulary is shamefully true, but your articulation of the terms are thought provoking. Reference to Mr. Miyagi is the killer 🙂

  2. “Unoriginal and lazy” – this statement alone makes me want to dedicate a blog post on the subject. The presence of #clean and #modern in designers’ and stakeholders’ vocabulary is shamefully true, but your articulation on the terms is really thought provoking. The reference to Mr. Miyagi is a killer 🙂

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