This is my first article. Beginnings are always difficult: the choice of the appropriate word, the rhythm, the perfect sentence. Here I am –once again– staring at the blank page. There is a book lying next to me on the table, one of my favourites, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. I open it and go through the chapters, looking for a specific page. There it is. I read: ‘hard writing makes easy reading.’
I remember how the sentence struck me the first time I came across it. I was fascinated by the soft quality of Stegner’s novels, by that smoothness in writing that makes them very easy to read, as if they were delivered with no real struggle. With time I came to understand that the most simple stories – in literature, but also in design, in art, in architecture – are always the most difficult to write. That is what makes them great. Simplicity is a combination of effort, perseverance and patience. A lot of patience.
Simplicity is also a question of taking out the unnecessary and bringing to the surface the fundamental message of the story. Or as Mies van der Rohe stated: ‘less is more’. The German architect (1886-1969) is known today for his minimal style and his concern to show the skin and bones of his buildings. The same feeling of ease as with Stegner’s books springs to mind when visiting, for example, the Barcelona Pavilion, one of his most famous and important works. There the visitor is immersed in the lightness of the structure, the smooth walls subtly indicating the journey and the bareness of the materials. The apparently simple and effortless placing of the elements in the space is but an illusion. Behind the minimal expression lies the work of an architect engaged in developing visionary projects for a modern society.
Likewise simplicity is about assembling a timeless story, one where the reader is able to understand every single part of it with just one look. This is what Dieter Rams sought with Braun’s products while he was head of design at the company from 1961 to 1995. Through his iconic creations, which range from calculators to furniture and audio equipment, Rams exposed his well-known ten principles for good design. The industrial designer was concerned about long-lasting and environmentally friendly products, devoting himself to create honest and useful designs. When looking at the purity of any of his pieces – the simple lines, cleanliness and functionality – the result might seem an easy thing to achieve, but there is nothing more difficult than deciding to remove the non-essential parts of a story.
I take again Stegner’s book and look at the open page. The sentence is still there, speaking silently about how simplicity is the least simple story to tell. Because simplicity, as per Dieter Rams tenth commandment, is as little design as possible.