The Famous Quote I Never Said

    You might have seen a quote on the Internet that is mistakenly attributed to me. It looks like this:

    “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Design is knowing which ones to keep.” – Scott Adams

    People like that quote so much that they have turned it into countless colorful posters and put it on products. A search for that quote got 451,000 hits.

    But I never said it. 

    Nor do I agree with it. It is literally the opposite of my opinion.

    What I did once say, years ago, in one of my books (I forget which one), is this:

    “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

    You’ll see lots of versions of that quote floating around the Internet too (see a few in the image above), but many of the newer ones have been altered from “art” to “design.”

    My problem with the altered quote (aside from creating a misleading history) is that design is largely rules-based. Art is not, or at least not so much. When I hire a designer, I want someone who has the training and experience to know what will work for a particular commercial purpose. They should be thinking about how the message is delivered, how the human brain processes ideas, what part of the design has the button you want users to press, and so on.

    That is pretty much the direct opposite of art. So putting design in that quote is an attempt to (elevate?) design to art, as if art is somehow more important. 

    Personally, I think good design that affects millions of people is more important than art than hangs in one room. But I’m not trying to pick a winner. All I’m saying is that the famous quote about design, mistakenly attributed to me, doesn’t make sense. 

    Today’s post has two objectives:

    1. Correct the record on what I said, for historical purposes.

    2. Show you how common it is for inaccurate quotes to be attributed to famous people in ways you could not imagine. I have been misquoted in this fashion – where the entire meaning is changed – perhaps a hundred times in my career.

    Would you have guessed that I didn’t say the quote most often attributed to me, and that I don’t even agree with it? Probably not. By its nature, it is hard to believe.

    Just remember that 98% of everything you read on the Internet is bullshit. The other 2% is accurate by accident.

    You can misquote me on that.