Less is more. Even less is perfection.
Reduction means leaving out the superfluous. It sounds like a simple, natural process – but it isn’t. Reduction is hard. It is only once you’ve gone down every path of complexity that you arrive at the essential and discover the principle of the golden ratio. Like Dieter Rams, whose 1960s electrical appliance designs for Braun remain vibrant today. Or like Apple, with their radically reduced designs. But Rams didn’t just set standards in design, he also distilled them into a kind of manifesto: “Good design means as little design as possible.” This is the last of his ten principles of good design and it also serves as the quintessence of simplification. How little can we get away with? How much can be left out? Everything except for the functional. The aesthetic will then suggest itself.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,”proclaimed the great Italian artist and polymath Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century. But naturally the principle of simplification is much older, and it can even be calculated:
In other words, the ratio between the whole and its larger part corresponds to the ratio between the larger and the smaller part. The formula of the golden ratio first appeared in the writings of the mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, who is thought to have lived in the third century BC. Two centuries later, the Parthenon was built on the Acropolis in Athens – a temple to Athena, goddess of wisdom, the arts and battle. There are dozens of different ways to group columns around an inner temple. As front or side columns, in a circle, a rectangle, a single or double row. Here the golden ratio helped the builders tame this mass of options. The harmonious division into a lower and upper section, as well as front and side columns, lend the temple not just order but also a measure of tension. Balanced, but not static. Simply perfect.
We have no choice. A good logo gets into our heads unbidden, and it stays there. The German typographer and graphic designer Kurt Weidemann (1922–2011) said “A good logo is one you can scratch into the sand with your big toe.” The simpler it is, the clearer it is. And the clearer it is, the more memorable. That applies to sound logos or jingles, too. C-C-CE- C. Five quick notes in C major. Any German who hears it will automatically think of their country’s telecommunications giant, Deutsche Telekom. American musician Christopher McHales composed the sound logo. That was in 1998, three years after Deutsche Telekom was founded as an offshoot of Germany’s federal post office. McHales was inspired by the company’s new logo – three grey boxes, a pink capital T, and another grey box. Have you been keeping count? McHales’s first thought was that it had to be five notes, the fourth higher than the others to correspond to the capital T. C-C-C-E-C. Communication has become digital, complex, but we make it a simple experience. That’s what this sound logo promises: an identity so simple you can whistle it.
We first started painting with our fingers. Then we used twigs, brushes or other tools. Originally we painted what we saw onto the walls of caves. Then we wrote down our thoughts and dreams and experiences on paper. Finally we invented a machine that could process data – the computer – but you had to express what you wanted from it in the form of source code. That used to be the sole domain of Harvard graduates; the rest of us were left out in the cold. Then came the 1970s and Apple, and the computer became personal, concealing its complexity behind a screen. Navigation became intuitive, especially after Apple launched the first computer mouse in 1983. Click. Even today, the mouse remains an ingenious input device and a revolutionary example of simplification. Like the pencil, it was an extension of the finger, more or less, which allowed for intuitive operation. Gradually the field of operation for the mouse expanded, while the mouse itself became slimmer, more reduced. The cable, visible keys and even the scroll wheel disappeared. Perhaps the rest of the material will soon be superfluous. Or maybe your fingers will do the job on their own, as with smartphones.
Anyone who owns a smartphone knows how to use it: how to make calls, how to browse the Internet, how to make videos. But how the processor behind the touchscreen works – who knows? And that’s OK. The world is too complex for us to understand every last detail of it. German product designer Dieter Rams felt the same way. “Good design makes a product comprehensible” and “Good design makes a product usable” were two of his ten principles of good design. We have designed the interface for our new heating system, System M, in such a radically intuitive way that instructions are superfluous. One thing you can rely on: System M works at maximum efficiency whether it’s warm or cold outside, at whatever temperature you want inside. You simply express your requirements using your fingertip on the touch display, either on the device or with the Smart Room Heating app on your smartphone. Everything you can see and touch is all you need to know.