Less isn’t more. Just enough is more.

From Ten Things I Have Learned by Milton Glaser:

Being a child of modernism I have heard this mantra all my life. Less is more. One morning upon awakening I realised that it was total nonsense … If you look at a Persian rug, you cannot say that less is more because you realise that every part of that rug, every change of colour, every shift in form is absolutely essential for its aesthetic success. You cannot prove to me that a solid blue rug is in any way superior. … However, I have an alternative to the proposition that I believe is more appropriate. ‘Just enough is more.’

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6 thoughts on “Less isn’t more. Just enough is more.

  1. If taken to the (il)logical extreme, the naive interpretation would be that “nothing is everything”. Can’t see that. I think it’s more of a DTSTTCPW thing – no unnecessary complication, YAGNI and whatnot.

  2. Modernism is characterized by extremes. When we don’t like one set of extremes, we don’t reject extremism, we just latch on to another set of extremes.

  3. “Less is more” is a clumsy way to talk about elegance. Elegance is not less, and yet it seems like so much less because it seems so natural, simple, and obvious. Such is the nature of elegance.

    You can pound a nail with a rock and with a hammer. A rock is simple, it’s actually less. A hammer is elegant: it’s intuitive, discoverable, and effective. The design of a hammer seems natural, obvious. It seems like less. And yet modern hammers are the fruit of hundreds of years of experimentation, experience, design, redesign, and testing and yet a lot of work goes into making a modern hammer.

    That’s the wonderful thing about elegance. It’s so subtle and obvious that it can be difficult to fully explain. It’s less, or at least it seems like less, and yet it is also more.

  4. This reminds me of the less-is-more effect in reasoning. There are situations where more information reduces accuracy in reasoning, but the mathematics of the less-is-more effect place fairly sharp constrains on when that can happen. What happens is that additional information eliminates one of a simple (but fairly effective strategy) and until the extra information is sufficient to increase accuracy via some other ‘strategy’ (e.g., remembering the exact answer) it impairs performance.

    So the mathematical analysis of the less is more effect is precisely the ‘just enough is more effect’. I can think of other examples where additional information impairs performance by distracting (but there is no formal analysis that I’m aware of). Many, but not all, insight problems have this as one source of difficulty. A related example is the Moses illusion (“How many animals of each type did Moses take onto the ark?”).

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