Sean Wolcott likes to keep things simple. Extremely simple.
The Everett graphic designer creates corporate signs, websites, packaging and, more recently, smartphone applications. His newest iPhone app, Minimal Calendar, made the Apple App Store’s top 5 in the Productivity category.
Wolcott, 41, who owns his own graphic design studio in Seattle, says all of his designs are rooted in a philosophy of “extreme simplicity.” They feature bold typography, colors and shapes, and are inspired by modernist design from the 1950s to the ’80s.
Wolcott’s rare collection of modernist posters from that era was featured in the “Graphic Clarity” exhibit in Everett Community College’s Russell Day Gallery. His collection features the revolutionary work of more than 30 designers from around the world.
Here, Wolcott talks about his background in graphic design, the ideas behind his calendar app and our need for simple design in today’s chaotic digital age.
Tell me about your graphic design studio, Rationale.
I started Rationale about 10 years ago, but I’ve been focused on it full time for about two years now, with no plans of stopping. Having my own design studio means I can keep the culture of my small team of three solely focused on design. We can be selective about the type of clients we work with to ensure we do nothing but our best work.
What made you want to make apps?
The intersection of technology and graphics has been exciting to me since I was a kid. My interest to apply lasting design to the ever-changing digital world has been something I’ve wanted to do since the genesis of smartphones, and Minimal Calendar is my first big step. Also, having products be a part of what Rationale does, versus just services, has always been a goal, too.
Tell me about your calendar app, Minimal Calendar.
I decided to take a different approach that strips out the unnecessary and provides more clarity and beauty. It has all the core parts of a digital calendar experience — scheduling, reminders, etc. — but with more focus. In many ways it is more about what it doesn’t do versus what it does. As my mentor, Italian designer Massimo Vignelli said, “If you can’t find it, design it.”
Meaning, less is more?
Most everyday calendar users only need a handful of features to have an efficient and pleasurable experience, so by taking away everything that wasn’t serving the core experience, you have just the basics left. It forces you to do them better in every way — both in function and form.
What made you want to go into graphic design?
I grew up loving to draw and had a strong impression left on me by the graphics surrounding me in my life. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized what the occupation of a graphic designer was. It has been a pursuit of passion ever since. I’ve been doing it for the past 25 years.
What do you like about the job?
For me, what’s most satisfying about being a graphic designer is the nature of problem-solving for your client’s needs. Success is very tangible when done right. Too often designers just copy what they see around them, recycling whatever is fashionable at the time, without much thought to what is behind the work.
As a new designer, I was seeking the simplicity I couldn’t find in the world around me. Once I discovered the works of Vignelli, my idea of what design could be was radically transformed, and my work along with it.
Tell me more about Vignelli.
Massimo Vignelli was an Italian-born modernist designer who is known for creating the iconic map for New York City’s subway. The map was hailed as a landmark in modernism information design for simplifying the chaotic transit system. He also designed for Bloomingdale’s and American Airlines. I had the privilege of studying under him before his death in 2014. I was influenced by his strong, beautiful typographic design. He taught me that designs can be free and open — separate from the trendy and chaotic designs I saw around me.
Isn’t that what you were trying to achieve with Minimal Calendar?
Yes. I wanted a bold, visually powerful design that was also appropriate to what works on the screen for everyday users. My years of experience in digital design, as well as challenging myself to make the most of the fewest elements for maximum impact, was crucial to making this a success.
A more refined and simple design can help you get to your information faster. I hope it can mean that you spend less time in our application and more time in life away from the screen.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.