Design is adjustment. Reduction is adjustment. So is addition.
- Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.
- One can furnish a room very luxuriously by taking out furniture rather than putting it in.
- Make every detail perfect and limit the number of details to perfect.
- IP and lines of code are liabilities, not assets.
- Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
- Simplicity is complexity solved.
- Less is more.
All the phrases above, which I had gathered on Quora, suggest a reductionist approach to design. It seems to me most people who subscribe to the minimalistic mindset don’t have a clue what simplicity really is. Less is not more. Enough is more.
Before I elaborate, Here’s a quote from Steve Jobs which describes the actual process of design very well.
When you start looking at a problem and it seems really simple, you don’t really understand the complexity of the problem. Then you get into the problem, and you see that it’s really complicated, and you come up with all these convoluted solutions. That’s sort of the middle, and that’s where most people stop… But the really great person will keep on going and find the key, the underlying principle of the problem — and come up with an elegant, really beautiful solution that works.
That’s right. Most people stop at the middle. They are happy with complexity, mistaking it for richness and power. They over-design. They are the maximalists minimalists like to criticize. Minimalists’ answer to over-designing is under-designing. “Content is ugly! White space is beautiful!”. They are both wrong. Both over-design and under-design are mal-design when relative to enough design.
Stopping in the middle at complexity is an obvious problem. Reducing and not adding enough before reaching complexity is a less obvious but bigger problem. We are seeing the primary cause of product failure shift from complexity to poor market fit. It used to be something had so many features that it probably fitted into multiple markets but because it was too complex it sucked and failed. Now we are seeing simplistic products with lesser features but are hardly useful.
Look at the illustration above. I’d say the process of designing a truly good product therefore begins with a relentless pursuit of information to form the initial chaos from which the designer with his intuition, craft and knowledge can derive the initial order which is then distilled. The end result is a state of carefully considered simplicity, as opposed to blind simplism or complexity.
Here’s another quote from Albert Einstein.
Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.
Einstein suggests there is a limit how simple you can be. This is true but it is only half the equation. You cannot make anything simple from a state of nothingness which is simpler. You cannot reduce your way to a positive value from zero. You have to start at zero, move to a very high positive value and fall back to a lesser but optimal positive value. Design is therefore both reduction and addition. Design is adjustment.
Update: I found a quote from Milton Glaser’s 2001 AIGA Talk he gave in London titled Ten Things I Have Learned.
LESS IS NOT NECESSARILY MORE.
Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense, it is an absurd proposition and also fairly meaningless. But it sounds great because it contains within it a paradox that is resistant to understanding. But it simply does not obtain when you think about the visual of the history of the world. If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realise that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. That also goes for the work of Gaudi, Persian miniatures, art nouveau and everything else. However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’
You should follow me on Twitter.