Tag Archives: art

Minimalist vs. Superfluous


Many people have made a case for minimalist design and their points are certainly not lost on me. There are several great examples of highly successful campaigns, identity systems, fashion and artwork based on a minimal approach. Apple Computer is the most obvious and arguably one of the most successful examples of minimalism from a corporation of all-time. From their product design to their packaging they employ the less-is-more strategy. It works. Their devices are sleek and get out of the users’ way. Their packaging is simple and sophisticated. Beautiful simplicity.

…Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. -William Strunk Jr. in Elements of Style

Simplicity, however, is not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to present a case for superfluous design. This probably sounds a little crazy. It sound’s crazy because since we began working as professionals in the design industry we’ve fought against the idea that the purpose of our work is to “make it look pretty.” In my experience these comments usually aren’t meant to be condescending, but when delivered by a suited executive of relative power, it carries the implication that design can and will only affect the surface.

Good design can and should affect the functionality and purpose of a document. Effective design brings order, hierarchy and clarity. I believe this to be irrefutable fact and yet, I believe you can achieve these goals while stepping out of the minimalist aesthetic. In the design industry, we refer to superfluous design as “design for design’s sake,” shaking our fingers at ourselves.

But let me ask the question outright-what is wrong with design for the sake of beauty? What is wrong with superfluous design in an effort to stand out. If everyone is doing simple and streamlined, why not break the mold and do something extravagant? One who walks in another’s tracks leaves no footprints.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove. -Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Is it? I love this quote and keep it present in my mind when making video editing decisions. But removing all ornamentation is not always the path to perfection. What should we remove from the Sistine Chapel? How would you simplify Takashi Murakami’s work while preserving it’s essence? If simple is perfect why do celebrities and royalty pay a premium price for couture gowns? The true minimalist might say because they are filthy rich, unnecessary and ridiculous. I am not a true minimalist. There is beauty and perfection in detail, too.


Let us make one last distinction before I finish. There is a difference between superfluous design – or something that contains unessential parts – and an overworked piece of design. One’s definition of necessary is also important in sorting minimal from superfluous. I appreciate you reading my rant, and if nothing else, superfluous is a fun word to say.

Artistpreneurs (Part 1): William Steinman

William Steinman - photo by Kate MissPhotograph © Kate Miss

Name: William Steinman
Location: Los Angeles, California
Business: WilliamSteinman.com (filmmaker/painter)

William Steinman has two full-time jobs. He works and lives in Koreatown (Los Angeles) with his fiancé and graphic design entrepreneur, Kate. His daytime job is working as a handyman in Hollywood. Previously he was employed by Dwell studios in NYC as a production set builder. His night time job is creating art in his studio.

Will and I used to paint trains together and fill up notebooks in college. We met through a mutual friend that knew we’d get along. He was the guy who would organize a fund for paint by cutting back on a precise number of Natty Lights over the course of a week. Always working the angles.

Will is a craftsmen. He loves to work with his hands and experiment with strange substances and processes. He’s a gritty ex-street artist turned fine artist with a distinct point-of-view.

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Be Water My Friend

bruce lee imageAs a design student my ethos was simple: Make it look cool at all cost. My first priority was punchy aesthetics and I forced my preferred style (at this point, organized grunge) on every project.

My first ‘real’ job out of school required I work quickly and tear through assignments–often times at the expense of quality. My portfolio didn’t grow by many pieces but I did become one with my software packages and keyboard shortcuts. I also got to dabble outside of print design into motion graphics and some video production assistance. A little over a year later I applied for a graphic/web design position within the same organization and got the job. My thought was that I wanted to completely understand designing and preparing files for print. Done.

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