Is the Simplest Design the Best Design?

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Forum topic by pashley posted 08-07-2013 01:34 PM 1818 views 0 times favorited 58 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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08-07-2013 01:34 PM

In this blog post, I argue that the simplest design is the best design; do you agree?

-- Have a blessed day!

58 replies so far

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#1 posted 08-07-2013 01:36 PM

It is much easier to develop a complex design.

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

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Bill White

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#2 posted 08-07-2013 01:54 PM

I’ve always had an affinity for the well done, simple approach. Could that mean that I’m a Shaker?


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#3 posted 08-07-2013 01:56 PM

Woodworking isn’t an exact science like philosophy where parsimony is better than complexity. I make adirondack chairs for sale and I try to simplify my design from the plans that are out there. I think I’ve done fairly well, but I’m afraid that according to the post here, a simple wooden chair would be ‘better’ than my design. So to a point it’s good to keep it simple. Woodworking is an art, and the guiding principles can be anything, from complex to simple.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

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#4 posted 08-07-2013 03:36 PM

It must be a matter of taste.

To me, it is both form and function, in balance. Embellishments, the carefully selected combination of artful forms, may – in fact – direct the form of the overall piece. That would seem to be the case for the highboy example.

The selection, composition and execution of these embellsihments are a means of expression for the artist / craftsman; they are the human voice of the completed work. Limiting forms to minimalist simplicity would be like limiting a coloratura soprano to Gregorian chants.

There is much to be said for the elegance of simplicity, but that is not (to me) the qualifying characteristic of great design. Adding a requirement that a design must be easy to execute, even by the novice woodworker, in order to be considered “great” is just wrong-headed. T’would be a rare novice that could well execute a Maloof or Krenov deisgn.

Woodworking is an art that requires skill as well as talent. Talent we are born with; skill is ONLY achieved through practice, practice, practice. Me, I ain’t got much talent, but after 25 years I’m starting to get SOME skills. If I keep working at it my pieces will keep gettin’ better and better.

Maybe someday even I will be able to credibly execute one of the Maloof or Krenov designs I so admire. Or, even, a highboy.

-- Jim Maher, Illinois

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#5 posted 08-07-2013 03:49 PM

As a cabinet designer for 30 years I would say that function is most important and should lead the design. Make it work first, then make it pretty.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

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Gerald Thompson

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#6 posted 08-07-2013 04:05 PM

Form follows function.

-- Jerry

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#7 posted 08-07-2013 04:15 PM


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#8 posted 08-07-2013 04:27 PM

the simplest design is the best design

In order to decide that one design is “better” than another (and, therefore, in a finite set of designs which is the “best”), you need to define a metric for measuring the “goodness” of a design.
To answer your question you would also need to define a metric for quantifying the “simpleness” of a design.

Neither of these are easy issues – although one could, at least, make a stab at the second – for example – “the simpleness of a design is a count of the number of joints” – not useful, perhaps, but it is a metric.

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

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#9 posted 08-07-2013 04:29 PM

Forms always follows function, but you aren’t arguing this. You are arguing types of form, which is a highly individual preference.

I disagree with the premise that a “simple form is better.” Saying so, to me, is a cop-out…a statement made by those who wish they had the skills to do something grand, but cannot. Personal tastes aside, I’m not a fan of the highboy, or any such design, for that matter. But I sure do appreciate it…and I would not presume to say simpler styles are better.

In short, what I would put in my home doesn’t say anything to the design of the piece, rather that I just LIKE it.

-- jay,

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1044 posts in 3739 days

#10 posted 08-07-2013 04:40 PM

Bill White: You’re a mover AND a Shaker?! LOL

RussellAP: I would just add that the Adirondack chair (and I’ve sat in many; the Adirondacks are just 3 hours from me) is very good design. Really, it is quite simple, and certainly unique. It’s an upright sitting chair, yes; but it also is somewhat of a recliner at the same time. I certainly don’t mean to imply something like a ladder back chair would be better than your design.

jdmaher : If I did say that a novice should be able to execute the design, for the design to be good, I’m not sure I meant just that – more like it was a bonus. I agree, embellishments allow the crafter to express themselves, to come up with a beautiful way to show off a wood or design. The Highboy is a great example of this, with the finials, crotch veneer and so on. My posit is that a great design doesn’t need those embellishments to be a great design. A simple drinking straw; a pencil; a rat trap even – all great designs that adding flourish to wouldn’t make it a better design, IMHO. Likewise, in wood, simple can be genius.

Earlextech: Of course, form must be primary; a two-legged coffee table isn’t going to work, LOL.

James101: I thought my article was clear?

KnickKnack: You are trying to quantify art in order to arrive at an answer, which is impossible.

Cosmicsniper: I disagree. Anyone can add eye candy, but does it improve the piece? Was it worth the time and money? Will customers pay more for it? If you understand what I was saying with the vase example in the blog post, I think you might feel differently? I must admit, trying to explain my thought line was difficult, and I may have not done as good I job as I had hoped.

-- Have a blessed day!

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#11 posted 08-07-2013 04:46 PM

Read David Pye.

...or don’t.

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#12 posted 08-07-2013 04:49 PM

Since when are “design” and “profitability” synonyms? That’s a presumption on your part.

Just because I could make that vase in an hour or less doesn’t make it a good design…nor does it necessarily make it something I would purchase. Just because you can make something out of wood doesn’t mean it’s the best medium for a given work either…I’d rather have a hand-blown glass vase than something made of wood -I’d argue that vase is good in form but poor in function – and I’d likely pay more for artistic glass if I could afford it. But the fact that I can only afford one made of wood doesn’t mean that vase is a better design.

Again, it’s a cop-out…and it’s an insult to real artists who put lots of time into a work and could care less about profitability.

Sorry to be so disagreeable, but if you write a blog post and are soliciting comments, then you should probably expect some constructive feedback.

-- jay,

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#13 posted 08-07-2013 04:50 PM

I see a pendulum effect with furniture design. When Victorian becomes too elaborate, simple craftsman lines look appealing. When shaker becomes too plain, details are added a la Greene and Greene.

I like simple, strong construction with just enough detail to catch your eye.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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#14 posted 08-07-2013 04:55 PM

BTW, there is a certain elegance to simplicity, but that’s only a small part of the total design aspect and it certainly isn’t the only metric. Complex works can also be very elegant.

-- jay,

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#15 posted 08-07-2013 05:14 PM

Your blog seems to be conflating “best” and “great design”. Best is an arbitrary concept. To you, it may mean an efficient box; to another best may mean most impressive.

-- Rick M,

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