The trend towards minimalism started long before Apple (AAPL). Steve Jobs embraced the concept with products like the Mac, and its all-in-one design, or the iPod with its simple, multipurpose click wheel, and the iPhone with its blank glass palette and single home button.
The irony, or perhaps oxymoronic assertion, that “less is more” is founded on the philosophy and principles of many great inventors, artists, and designers throughout the ages. For example, Einstein’s tenet that it’s best to make things as simple as possible, but no simpler, has inspired and guided many engineers to create extraordinarily useful things, myself included.
The irony is that making things simple and elegant can be quite difficult, and requires a philosophy, a primary tenet to follow. Steve Jobs often said that his primary design principle revolves around, and I paraphrase; “not what you can add, but what you can remove.”
John Maeda, the president of the Rhode Island School of Design, named one of the 21 most influential persons in the twenty-first century, published a book called The Laws of Simplicity. And his number one rule is to Reduce, which states, “The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.”
The aphorism “less is more” was the central theme to the emergence of modern architecture, embraced by greats such as Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. And they were in turn influenced by the simple beauty and function of traditional Japanese design, developed over millennia. It’s certainly not a stretch to include Steve Jobs’ name among these greats.
Jobs understood that there’s a profound beauty in designs where the subject is reduced to its necessary elements, where form follows function in elegant presentation. Less is more, because when the distractions of useless ornament are removed, it allows us to focus on an intended purpose. This economy of mind frees our imagination to explore new ground, increasing our chance for serendipitous discoveries and encounters.
The iPhone 5 maintains and advances the “less is more” philosophy, set out by the original design, by simultaneously increasing the display size, while reducing the weight and thickness of the phone. This simple improvement dramatically improves the video and picture capability of the phone, provides more area for apps, and makes the phone easier to hold and more comfortable to operate.
It’s a small and seemingly innocuous change, yet it produces a phone that’s far more usable and capable. The real beauty, though, is hidden from the pedestrian user, and that’s the brilliant engineering and huge advances in manufacturing processes that went into making this device a little less.