Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Day 272, on which less is more [29.9.10]

Dag to hundrede tooghalvtreds. I had a meeting about a certain design challenge named 'Design Ventura' today, very interesting stuff. Design Ventura is a competition organised by the dismally small London Design Museum, to encourage kids to design stuff for their gift shop. It's great and all, we had some interesting visitors over to our school to help us with our designs, but what I Hate (capital H) is that it's all 'design to fit a problem'.

Whilst that's not explicitly mentioned in the brief, it's what they're training us to design. One of the ideas was an ice cream scoop that could heat up to melt the ice cream. Whilst that's a good idea and all, that's not design. That's what I'd call 'design'. Pfft.

OK. Now for another design rant, because I admit that posts have been pretty lightweight recently and there's nothing better than a two-tonne design rant to weigh it back down. Like a brick in water. Or a brick in air. They both fall (one sinks, but it's technically falling).

Less is more.

These are three famous words by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, who was one of the founding fathers of modernism back in the 1920s. He was in the Bauhaus movement, which was the leap pad from modernism to take off from. Why? Because Bauhaus acted under one principle that no designers had done before: function before form. No frills and Victorian details, not just wood, but in fact putting function first and revolutionising the world of design.

So back to 'less is more'. This is a foundation concept in everything my favourite designers have worked from: Jacobsen's middle name was simplification, The Panton Chair is proof that Verner Panton had the right idea, and Dieter Rams was practically Van Der Rohe's son in terms of design philosophies. What the three words mean is reducing the product to its bare minimum.

Why? Users can get scared off. Why have lots of frills, decorations, bits 'n' bobs when you can in fact put across your message with less detail? As I've mentioned before, something should look good from far off, and that doesn't mean the user squinting and saying 'what's that thing on that chair there?'. They can come over and see for themselves, but their first impressions of it have been 'confusing' or 'hard to make out'. 'intriguing' is not the same as 'I wonder what that is', kids. Remember that.

For our example today I thought I'd delve into some Finnish design, because - amongst other things - I'd forgotten the difference between Eero Aarnio and Eero Saarinen. Though it's pretty dumb that they have the same first name.


Everyone knows what this chair is: Aarnio's Bubble Chair. It's a true classic of late-20th-century design. It has lots of important design points relating to personal privacy and creating new spaces, but I'll save you that for today. I'm going to focus on 'less is more'. Because, Aarnio has shown here that less really is more. No decorations on the bubble, no little details - shelves, trays, metal outlines, nothing. No frills. No extra bits 'cause it might look good with a khaki motif. No. Nothing. This is also a very Finnish thing to do - Finnish design is very bland and simplisitic. Not always my piece of cake at times, but the bubble chair gets my vote. Complete with Aarnio's daughters, as in this photo.

As a result of the 'less is more' approach, users can warm to the design because they know what it is. It's not trying to be something else, or two things - a personal workstation bubble, complete with desk and drawers, for instance. It's simple a bubble. Sliced through a sphere, curved edge for safety, attached via rope to the ceiling. Three parts, two components. It doesn't even come with the cushions. It's simply a bubble. You can personalise it with your own cushions and doodads (here Aarnio's daughters have chucked in some garish silvery things), so you can start to form a relationship with it. Remember I've talked about aesthetic flexibility? Well, this is it. Your cushions. In a 'blank canvas' chair. It's a striking shape, it's interesting, it's truly intriguing, and there's no 'selling points' - no shelves, no 'comes in red, too'.

Less certainly is more.

~John

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