Less is Less

This month’s issue of Inc. Magazine features a profile of Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals. The part that caught my attention was the open:

You could sum up Jason Fried’s philosophy as “less is more.” Except that he hates that expression, because, he says, it still “implies that more is better.”

More clearly isn’t better. I wrote about a small bit about the ideas of Sarah Susanka a few months ago. Carried to an extreme, the idea of smaller houses results in the work of Jay Shafer, like in this video (via the 37Signals blog):

A happy coincidence occured, where I saw the above video during the same week that that I saw the video that follows: an etude for piano and electronics by fellow Jamoma developer Alexander Refsum Jensenius. As Alexander describes it:

Many performances of live electronics is based on large amounts of electronic equipment, cables, sound cards, large PA-speakers, etc. One problem with this is that the visual appearance of the setup looks chaotic. Another is that the potential for things that can go wrong seems to increase exponentially with the amount of equipment being used. The largest problem, though, at least based on my own experience of performing with live electronics, is that much effort is spent on making sure that everything is working properly at the same time. This leaves less mental capacity to focus on the performance itself, and sonic output.

I am currently exploring simplicity in performance, i.e. simplicity in both setup and musical scope.

I can attest to the problems Alexander relates, and I think the musical results he achieves are incredibly beautiful – in part because using less helps to focus the musical expression and make it more concise.

Making things simple, concise, and expressive, is incredibly difficult to do: whether it be music, prose, code, business, architecture, or hardware. It’s great to see examples of people finding the sweet-spot.

Not So Big…

This past week I received a gift.  It was a DVD called “The Not So Big House” by Sarah Susanka.  She has also written a couple of books, though I haven’t read them (or at least not yet).  It doesn’t say it so bluntly, but it essentially provides a foil to the bankruptcy of architectural trends in the U.S. urban-sprawl markets (which is to say, most of the U.S.).  There is an interview with her in the Washington Post (though it is more nuts-and-bolts than philosophical).

We often get caught in the trap of scale.  We want a ‘big’ orchestra.  We want to want to create a ‘large’ or ‘significant’ work, like a concerto or symphony.  Or a giant installation vs. a small sculpture.  This is often encouraged by our academic and accrediting institutions.  It is much easier to judge based on the quantity of music or art rather than subtle issues of a work’s quality.  The same is true of houses — is bigger better?  Most everyone will tell you ‘yes’ without giving much thought to the various qualities that may affect the persons living in the house.

While I don’t have any earth-shattering conclusions to share, I have been thinking about applications of this architectural philosophy to software design.  There are very superficial ways to apply it (using small focused tools, etc.), but I think there are deeper applications which even impact the structural aspects of code-bases.

Architectural patterns and issues are among the most fascinating subjects.  As an artist I find the same approaches to design showing up in my artistic output as well as my code and hardware development.  How I approach building furniture with hand tools, sketch an idea for remodeling a room in the house, shape the flower beds for landscaping, craft contrapuntal lines in my orchestration, and pattern software are all expressions of the same essence and character.

And now?  Now it is time go design a meal to enjoy.  Yum!