We hear quotes on design all the time, up to the point where they become cliché’s and lose their meaning. In the next few months I want to explore and remind myself of my favourite quotes on design, explore their meaning as well as where they came from.
In part 1, I want to start by highlighting the first two quotes that have played a big role in my life as a designer, which I’ve been using as inspiration in the work that I do.
Less is more
To design an object (product) well, it should hold just the right amount of information (features, shapes, colour, interaction, feedback, etc.), so that it is obvious to the user what the primary purpose of the object is, as well as how to use it.
The phrase “Less is more” was first found in a poem:
Andrea del Sarto
Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.
– Robert Browning
By following this as a principle will keep you from introducing unnecessary complexity into the user’s world. Each additional feature (shape, colour, interaction, etc.) means an additional piece of information that needs to be processed by the user.
Perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove.
This quote (my personal favourite) inspires a method of design which designers should keep in mind through the design life cycle.
Il semble que la perfection soit atteinte non quand il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais quand il n’y a plus rien à retrancher. (Terre des Hommes, 1939).
Translated to english:
Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
As designers work through iterations, more information (features, shapes, colour, interaction, feedback, etc.) emerge from the design, unintendedly increasing the complexity of the design. There are many contributing factors that cause this complexity such as client requests, development enhancements and even user feedback (without understanding) to name a few.
It is up to designers (and product managers) to design responsibly at each iteration to make sure that they don’t fall into (accidentally) adding noise that interfere with the user.
Adopting these as design principles will allow designers to achieve minimalistic design in the “objects” they create – objects that can be understood by the people meant to use them.
On the other end of the scale there is the risk of designing something that is too simple. My favourite example of where something has been designed to be too simple comes from Giles Colbourne’s book, Simple & Usable, where he uses a unicycle as something that has been designed to be too simple (for ordinary people).
Simpler than a bike. Until you try to ride it. – Giles Colbourne, Simple & Usable
Remembering to keep things as simple as they should be will help you make the right choices for your design at each point of a feature request or a design change request (based on opinion).
Further research supports the theory of limiting choices by keeping things simple, which include:
The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two
It is often interpreted to argue that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 +/- 2. This is frequently referred to as Miller’s Law.
…the number of objects an average person can hold in working memory is about seven.
…describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically.