When you’re thinking of your next project, ask yourself if the core idea can be summarized in a single sentence. This was one of the key lessons artist and computer scientist Jonathan Harris learned from interactive designer Andy Cameron while working in Italy. Cameron asked him if it was something the ‘Italian everyman’ could understand:
You know those old Italian men who gather on Sundays in Piazza Signori in Treviso, wearing their top hats and suits? If you can go up to one of those men and, in your bad Italian, communicate your idea—and if he can understand your idea, respond to it, and think it’s interesting—then you’ve almost certainly hit on something strong and universal.
Since then, everything Harris has worked on can be expressed in a single phrase. He decides on the core message early in the design process and uses it as a guide to check his work against. If it isn’t consistent with the core message, it is not included. That way, when one of those Italian men ask about his work, he can reply, “I’m building a public library of human experience!” Hopefully he would reply, “Ah! It’s beautiful! It’s lovely!””