Less And More

I was just reading more of the recent iOS 7 commentary (I’ve nearly had my fill..) and thinking about Sir Jon Ive’s oft-noted admiration for the designer Dieter Rams. in the more than 40 years that he spent working at Braun, dieter rams established himself  as one of the most influential designers of the twentieth century. His elegantly clear visual language not only defined product design for decades, but also our fundamental understanding of what design is and what it can and should do. His design philosophy is summarised by the phrase “Less and More” (see the book). I suppose one of the ket tenets underpinning that is that simplicity, attractiveness and functionality are not mutually exclusive; that you can indeed have less and more. The way this is elaborated on most clearly is via Rams’ ten design principles:

good design is innovative.
good design makes a product useful.
good design is aesthetic.
good design helps to understand a product.
good design is unobtrusive.
good design is honest.
good design is durable.
good design is consequent to the last detail.
good design is concerned with environment.
good design is as little design as possible.

In thinking about how we go about creating digital products and experiences today, I think these principles are more relevant and important than ever. In fact, when you look closely, many of these come from the same intentions as our old fave, Eric Ries’ “Minimum Viable Product” (also, see adjusted versions “Minimun Desirable and Delightful Product”). When make websites, feeds, apps and other ideas it’s often tempting to be novel rather than innovative, faddish in our design or create communication products that interrupt rather than add value in other ways. The design principles above should apply more than ever to products that have interactivity embedded in them. We need to strive to have a person understand the intention of the design (without knowingly being a part of that process) and to have a clearly articulated view of the usefulness and role of the things that we’re making. If we try and follow those principles, stuff we make can have significance. For a product, being significant in some way, is the ultimate ambition.

Just thinking out loud :)


(The last time we referenced Rams’ and “Less and More” was when Georgie, The Royal, wrote and designed this piece called iPad: WTF?. It set out to explore what role tablet computing products might come to play in people’s lives. Since publishing that in 2009, the iPad has clearly found a place in many people’s daily habits.)



Audi Product and Innovation Visit with RMIT

Yesterday evening, as the clouds rumbled and rain poured upon Melbourne, a small group of Royals were lucky enough to partake in an international meeting of minds and sharing of ideas with some inspiring German geeks from the Audi Product and Innovation Department and a couple of big (and likeable) brains from RMIT. The discussion rocketed through issues close to all groups’ hearts such as computer interface design, passive and contextual notification, and the eternal balance between form and function. It became clear that technology, regardless of whether its context is marketing or motoring needs to be aware of a sort of ‘positive compromise’. It’s only through compromise and balance that it can achieve its true function and optimum potential most effectively.

Take interface design for instance – there is an almost limitless volume of information that a manufacturer like Audi could display; current and forecasted weather, personalised news updates, incoming calls, proximity to networked friends or a multitude of contextually aware social notifications. The modern car buyer thinks they want, to quote British-metal-band-with-an-umlaut Motörhead, “everything louder than everything else”. They’re prepared to pay a premium to be enveloped in modern technology, flashing lights, bells & whistles. However, this hyper-functionality will often come at a sacrifice to aesthetics, ease of use, a purist driving sensation, and ultimately vehicle safety. As such a compromise leading to a more elegant solution must be made.

Audi, RMIT and The Royals are all enamoured with the possibilities of “humble”, or “glanceable” notification systems – methods of communicating information in an unobtrusive, peripheral manner. This could take the form of subtle audio or lighting signals or through haptic feedback. However, getting a driver to understand this text-free information without a steep learning curve involving a new semiotic language is understandably incredibly challenging. This delicate dance between usability, impact and restraint is hugely important when it comes to keeping your focus on the road as you take a fast corner in your R8, a part of your mind free to take in other useful information.

Another issue we riffed on – a concept I personally hadn’t spent much time considering – was the importance of providing an exemplary driving experience to everyone in the vehicle, particularly the passengers. At the top end of the luxury segment, the owners of the car often aren’t the ones driving it. Tapping into another one of our collective passion-points we discussed the burgeoning potential of second screen experiences. In car passenger entertainment systems aren’t new – and neither are iPhones or iPads, however currently these largely operate entirely independently of each other. This is a huge area of opportunity to involve the passenger actively and safely in the luxury driving experience through the device they already carry with them.

In true style, the evening carried on to additional beers and burgers at our favourite local haunt the Richmond Hotel, the hereto measured conversation spiralling gently towards the more theoretical and progressive realms of technology, psychology and philosophy… another post entirely..

Thanks to RMIT’s Dr. Steffen Walz for organising the meetup!