On minimalism

January 15, 2010

Minimalist chair from Evinco

I’ve always been a fan of peace and calm. Don’t ask my parents that, though.

In my eyes, minimalism is doing the most with the least amount of material and effort. Minimalism is making one part perform many functions. Minimalism is unobtrusive and timeless. Minimalism is utilitarian while still retaining a pleasing aesthetic. One of the best examples of minimalist and functional design, to me, is the MacBook Air’s topcase:

Apple's MacBook Air top case, bottom view

This one part is designed to perform the function of many different parts. It holds all the screw mounts (if that’s what you call them) that are needed to keep the whole computer together. The result is a notebook of unparalleled thinness. This is a testament to the complexity that a very simple design can hold. Here’s the MacBook Air when it’s put together:

Image copyright TechSassy

Nothing short of gorgeous. But why? It’s so simple. Aluminum with black keys. Thin. A uniform bezel around the screen. Let’s take a look at a Toshiba model that I find particularly ugly:

This is what most people are used to in a notebook. Why is it ugly to me? Look at how ‘busy’ it is. The speakers are clearly outlined with a different-coloured ring. The webcam is highlighted by a high-contrast metal-looking material. The trackpad button is also highlighted by the same colored bezel as the webcam. All the ports are clearly in view. Look at the labels on the optical drive. Why are these things there? To remind us that the laptop has speakers and a webcam? To remind us that it’s a DVD-RW drive? We already knew that when we bought the computer, so why do we have to keep an eye on them? We intrinsically know where the trackpad buttons are by now; we don’t need them contrasted from the rest of the computer.

The only way we know that the MacBook air has a webcam is the small dot, which needs to be there in order for the webcam to function. There is a hidden indicator light beside the laptop, which is only visible when the webcam is in use. When it’s not, you can’t see it.

In the documentary “Objectified”, Apple’s chief designer, Jonathan Ive, explains why the indicators are hidden. He takes it back to the sole purpose of an indicator: to show when something is happening, or when something is in use. When nothing is happening, and a particular part is not in use, the indicator should not be visible, in order to keep all attention focused on the most important aspect of a computer, which is the display. It is in this way that Apple’s approach to design really appeals to me. They only have you look at something when it needs your attention, and hide it when it doesn’t. It’s like driving a car, and inside the car there are flashing lights telling you where the gas and brake pedals are. You already know where they are, so why would you need the lights diverting your attention to them?

This is me.

I take this same approach with my own ‘style’. My look reflects my attitude about myself and the world. I don’t wear jewelry or expensive clothing, and I have many pair of the same jeans. Most people would think that’s weird, but I dress this way for two reasons. One, my personality is much more interesting than my outward appearance, and two, for the simplicity of it. Many of the shirts I see for sale these days even have gold embossing on them. You would not catch me dead wearing something as noisy and distracting as that.

I myself exercise minimalism every day. There’s a reason that I have 4 pair of the same jeans. It’s the same reason that I only wear single-colour shirts. Only recently have I started wearing colored shirts; before then, it was only white.

I feel that our lives are cluttered and polluted by noise, bad design, and bad taste. I myself feel that I should exude my own displeasure with what is popular, and just wear things that I myself find appealing. Look closely. Relaxed jeans, a single-colored shirt. My shoes are kind of funky because I put some green laces on them. That’s me dressing up.

E.D. Hardy drank red metallic paint and shot diarrhea on a piece of cotton.

Take this shirt for example. It’s so noisy. What is it even trying to say? This shirt has the same personality of that annoying guy drunk and on drugs at the bar that you try to ignore. It’s saying “Hey! Listen to me!” Intrigued, you say “Yes, sir? What have you?”, to which he replies “FGSFDS”, and insists that those are the most intellectual words ever spoken. 20 years from now, people will reel back looking at a shirt like this, but now it’s popular. Oh, and that shirt is $100. My shirt was $5.

Ok one more thing. This is getting long. Yeah, Apple stuff and ‘designed’ stuff is more expensive. Shouldn’t minimalist things cost less? I agree. A simple design that uses less material should surely cost less than a gaudy, blown-out version of nearly the same thing. I don’t have much money, but it is my thought that a less-trendy, more timeless item with a well-thought-out design is going to last much longer, both aesthetically and mechanically, than a product that is thrown together quickly with the most bells and whistles that are available at the time.

Another one of my favourite computer designs that has certainly stood the test of time is IBM’s ThinkPad series. The computers have retained the same bloody design for nearly 20 years. Why mess with a good thing? It’s a simple, minimalist, utilitarian design that in my eyes is further evidence that design need not be busy and cluttered, but simple. The ThinkPad’s design fully communicates its purpose. It is a business-class notebook that is both robust and functional.

So yeah, that is my opinion on minimalism. I could go into minimalist art and music and such, but I will stick mainly with what I know best, and that’s computers and technology, and myself.

One Response to “On minimalism”

  1. Len said

    I wondered at one point why you only wore white shirts. I should have known it was because of this. I actually learned something new about you today :)

    Looking forward to more of your thoughts here.

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