“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” – Leonardo Da Vinci
This well known maxim has been the basis of design principles for many successful industrial designers and architects. Simplicity often denotes beauty, purity and clarity (of thought in the design context). Simple buildings are neat and functional, using minimalistic elements which are showcased in their honest form.
Another popular maxim “Less is more” has been the design philosophy of famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. By emphasizing open space and revealing the industrial materials used in construction, he helped define modern architecture. His mature buildings made use of modern materials such as industrial steel and plate glass to define interior spaces. He strived towards architecture with a minimal framework of structural order balanced against the implied freedom of free-flowing open space. He called his buildings “skin and bones” architecture. He sought a rational approach that would guide the creative process of architectural design.
Mies van der Rohe along with a fellow German architect Walter Gropius (both moved to USA later) was instrumental in the Bauhaus movement after World War I. Bauhaus (literally meaning “house of construction” in German) determined the underlying principles for modernist architecture and the straight line design which is reflected today from architecture to household goods.
Another great architect, Frank Lloyd Wright believed in designing structures which were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. This philosophy was best exemplified by his design for Fallingwater (1935), which has been called “the best all-time work of American architecture”. His simplistic approach can be summarized in a quote by him, “Simplicity and repose are the qualities that measure the true value of any work of art”. This approach strengthens the belief that, to design a simple structure or a product, the design process needs to be very clear & at the same time complex so as to incorporate all aspects of function and art.
My personal favorites are Apple products and it’s a known fact that Steve Jobs was greatly influenced by the Bauhaus. His obsession with “zen-like” designs and heated discussions with his design team & management were quite well known in closed quarters of Apple. There is an interesting anecdote during his last years, when he was in the hospital for treatment. “His doctor was going to perform a procedure which required administration of anesthesia. On the operation table just before anesthesia was administered to him, Jobs expressed his displeasure at the design of the mouth piece. The doctor was pleasantly surprised when Jobs actually sketched out 5 design options for the mouth piece.” Of course he was administered it with the existing mouth piece but this episode does highlight the importance of design and about the great minds who have altered its course. In case of Apple we got path-breaking products like the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and more recently the iPad.
Design boundaries have become porous and even as an architect I have to co-ordinate various disciplines of design i.e. building, furniture, product or graphic. I have begun to realize the value of simplicity & honesty in design. Design when approached functionally, staying true to the materials, using minimal embellishments always delivers a powerful & impactful product, in our context a building. At the end of it, when your belief reflects in your design approach & the temptation to follow the herd is resisted, the outcome is certainly worth every bit of effort.