Morgan Knutson


Read this first

It’s a matter of taste

This is a quick note on the flat v. depth debate and I can already hear you thinking, “Whatever, brah.” I’ll be quick as I’m not trying grind this horse into a fine paste let alone kick it another time.


I don’t believe that either “style” or “philosophical stance” is more correct or better than the other. I often believe that the answer is somewhere in between, and always believe that the right tool should be used for the right job. Sometimes UI calls for flat elements and sometimes it calls for dimensional ones.

As for how, and the degree to which, the effects are actually applied simply comes down to taste. Take two visual design decisions that have gone into Dropbox for iOS.

First, the headers feature subtle gradients that are not quite flat and far from the bubbly nature of stock iOS headers. If we followed suit and used the more stark contrast of iOS’s gradients we’d end up...

Continue reading →

Thoughts on dual monitors

I’ve been playing with my monitor setup lately. Here’s what I’ve learned.

This sucks. It’s most comfortable to look straight ahead rather than having your head cocked to one side.


Same issue here, though this big square would be great if the monitors were bezeless.

This is just ridiculous. Way too tall and goofy.

This solves the problem with having a bezel in the middle, but it still isn’t too hot. Way too much effort to see the edge of the right-most screen.

I’ve landed here. My attention is mostly focused on my center monitor. Having the second monitor on the right in the vertical position keeps me from having to crane my neck. The vertical real estate is awesome for full web page previews. I’ve been keeping all of my communication tools on this side.

We’ll see how long this lasts.

Continue reading →

Leave Them Weeping

Emotional connections turn users into fans and evangelists. An experience that elicits strong positive emotional reactions leaves a person attached and feeling sentimental. They’ll clamor to tell their family and friends all about the product because of that heartfelt moment that you designed.

Advertising aims to create these moments before you’ve ever used—or even heard of—what they’re selling. The best ads, the ones that work, pull at your strings in various ways. A great example of this is Google’s Dear Sophie spot.

Over the last few years, I’ve become obsessed with paradigm shifts: the change in mindset that’s so dramatic it can be described as a totally new way of thinking. Putting all of my focus into emotionally-charged experiences is a paradigm shift for me. I used to believe that simplicity and a friction-free experience were enough to make a product successful. But it’s more...

Continue reading →

Define a Grid & Keep it Simple

Grids are important tools for most types of design. Breaking out of them in the wrong ways can create cognitive hurdles in your user’s experience, and it can diminish the beauty of your information design. But, once you have an understanding of why they’re important, you can break out of them in explorative, interesting, and purposeful ways.

It’s advantageous to keep your grids simple, with larger and fewer columns. Complex grids do not lead to simple designs.

Below, I’ve included a comparison of Android’s current settings interface against one that I created with a simplified grid. The list layout that’s used here is standard across Ice Cream Sandwich, the latest version of the Android operating system, and I think this screen could feel much more balanced and purposeful. Using a strict grid also makes it easier to digest.

Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve done.

Continue reading →

We’re Not Unhappy, We’re Designers

Discontented observationalism is the designer’s modus operandi. Design is fundamentally about improvement. To be ever heedful takes a special mind. One that observes in great detail to the extent of scrutinizing the subject, sometimes to the grievance of those around.

“That letter A is so poorly kerned it’s making my eyes water.”

“Shut up, she’s four.”

Observation is the pillar upon which our unhappiness perches. A deeper understanding and appreciation for how things work, and came to be, is the observer’s reward in life. What sets a designer apart from a ponderer is the will to affect change, to create, and to make better.

Our discontent is the basis for wanting to improve the things we observe.

Next time someone says designers are unhappy people, explain that you’d be happier if the world didn’t need so much improving.

Continue reading →