Industry Musings - Ad Infinitum
Imagine a bicycle. One of the simplest, purest pieces of design in existence. It’s stayed essentially the same for generations because it’s good at what it does. Put simply, it’s a machine that efficiently amplifies your input into a greater output, helping you travel over most terrains. It’s also a vehicle that’s light and sleek enough to fit through most doorways, gaps and alleys.
But maybe you need to see in the dark, so you add a light or two. And you need to know what’s happening behind you, so you add side mirrors. And sometimes it’s tough riding uphill, so you add a motor. And it’s not always convenient to carry a rucksack and all your shopping, so you add a carry-box too. And isn’t it annoying just listening to cars fly past all the time, so you add a stereo system. And, because it’s so easy to get lost, you add a GPS system. And – this is the worst – it gets so boring waiting at traffic lights all the time, so you add a TV right on the front.
Has the bicycle been improved by all these additions?
It’s certainly bigger, more modern, more expensive and eye-catching.
But is it better?
It’s heavier, busier, wider, longer, more complex and more confusing.
Not the attributes traditionally valued in a bicycle, which – let’s remember – is a machine designed to make your life easier by helping you get from A to B.
The temptation with the creative process is to misunderstand the word ‘create'. It doesn’t necessarily mean ‘add'. Sure, the first few stages require elaboration otherwise the response to every client brief would be a blank piece of paper, but there’s always a stage where restraint has to take over.
You can create just as much by taking away as by adding.
Think of Michelangelo (not the Turtle). He started with a 12 foot block of solid marble. And he ended with David. Or Jesus. Or Medici. Precise. Discerning. Pure. Without any elaboration.
This is a sentiment equally shared by the Bauhaus, Leonardo di Vinci, Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen King, to name just a handful of people who knew a thing or two.
Simplicity is elegant in of itself. It isn’t showy, because it would rather just work. If it doesn’t need gold leaf and neon arrows to function, then it doesn’t need them, full stop.
So next time you’re happy with a piece of work, remove 10% of it. If that makes you happier, then try taking away another 10%. Because that’s when sometimes work starts to get really interesting. There’s a clear sophistication in refinement; in shaving away all that is unnecessary. Because what you’re almost always left with is something that’s useful. Something that will last.
Gavin Finney is Senior Creative at Red Apple Creative