Back in 1976, the German industrial designer Dieter Rams delivered a passionate speech on the state of contemporary design. Concerned about the irresponsible and chaotic approach towards the matter, the ex-chief design officer of Braun shared one really important insight with the audience: “For design to be understood by everyone – which good design should strive to do – it should be as simple as possible”.
Displeased with “the era of wastefulness” Rams offered his own rulebook for good design containing ten basic guidelines. Perhaps, the most memorable one is the last rule. It is stating that “good design is as little design as possible” or briefly put into the motto “Less but Better”. Thus, Rams managed to create laws out of pure chaos with a simple and clear purpose - to achieve balance.
When doing minimal design, its practitioners are lead by the principle that the product should be as honest as possible. This would mean that after removing any ornaments and accessories the object should represent nothing more than it guarantees about. Even if the geometric forms are uncomplicated the product itself should embody its usefulness but not at the expense of its aesthetic value. It is a fine and dexterous art to establish harmony between the visual characteristics of a thing next to its pure functionality.
Yet, is it possible for one to balance between reducing the unnecessary and the wish to acquire more and more in this life? The answer is “yes” only if one is aware that the things we want are not always the things we need. After all, minimalism is not about getting rid of the clutter and confusion in your work or everyday life - it is about not having them appear in the first place.
One of the biggest questions that one faces when decides to go with the minimalistic way is “Are the things we want more relevant than the things we need”? Basically, we, as human beings, are programmed to acquire more, to surround ourselves with objects (or creatures) we cherish and bring pleasure to us. We are used to keeping tangible happiness closer than anything else and never let it go. But then again, is this trait not just a bug in our value system? What makes us think that we’re able to recognize real happiness?
Take the Japanese brand Muji for example. Muji was established in the 1980s as a retail company offering inexpensive products and maintaining a strict, no-brand strategy. Keeping a very mundane and anti-excessive policy on its marketing and advertising, Muji has become famous with their unyielding brand values. Among them are the principles that the brand is “ensuring the customers to not spend money for what they cannot use” or the “emphasis on recycling while avoiding waste in production”.
With their invocation of returning to simplicity in daily life, the company promotes its minimalist philosophy by aiming at consumers’ minds rather than their pockets. However, the numbers speak for themselves - as of 2018, Muji’s net worth is approximately USD 314,000,000 dollars as the company is supplying more than 650 outlets both in Japan and around the globe.
Just a week prior to the release of his long-anticipated sixth LP Yeezus Kanye West gave an interview describing the concept of the release. Along with his well-known bragging and self-centeredness, the rapper dropped one of the most unexpected references in terms of influences: “Architecture — you know, this one Corbusier lamp was like, my greatest inspiration”.
While everyone was wondering what could be the middle ground between French modernism and contemporary hip-hop, West had already updated the look of the forthcoming album. Bearing no factual artwork, the empty jewel case of the CD edition was decorated with nothing but red tape and a sticker with credits. In the spirit of the direction of the new material - spare, edgy and unrefined - was everything else around the marketing campaign.
Without any singles released and a touring set design consisting of a mountain and a circular screen, Yeezus didn’t just express an uncompromisingly minimalistic statement for an entertainer. It also showed Kanye’s ambition to juxtapose his older flamboyance with a radically rebranded image of his stage persona. An act that evoked artistic freedom, clarity of mind, and, most of all, the stability of the Self.
As with every other practice when the goal is set and the means are reliable it comes the inevitable question - how does that help? The real benefit of the minimalist method comes when one realises that it is not so much about frugality as it regards more focus and certainty.
While the balance is something that is universally accepted as a virtue only the ones that are able to handle the redundancy could achieve it purposefully. It is easy to speculate that there is a formula for harmony but the truth is this is a strictly individual path. It evolves not only a lot of discipline but also a great amount of courage to separate the gold from the sands. After all, you'd need to have a disorder uppermost to produce structures out of it.