I think Mies was wrong when he said “less is more.” Though that famous aphorism sounds nice and is highly repeatable I think my thesis advisor, Milton Glaser, was closer when he said, “just right is more.” He uses the example of a Persian rug, suggesting that if you eliminate the complex patterns, color shifts and textural progressions the rug loses its identity and true beauty.
It is the job of a designer (and a writer and a teacher and a parent and a you-name-it) to communicate a specific message (or messages). Oversimplifying the message just for the sake of eliminating complexity serves to shortchange the recipient of that message of what could be an otherwise enriching experience. (Of course, Mies originally said “less is more” as a reaction to the over-stylized, over-decorated and over-designed excessiveness of the time and he did a pretty good job of “lessening” it to be “just right.”)
How often do we fall into this trap when discussing everything from the gospel to politics to how we should raise our children? I just finished reading a book called Everything Bad Is Good For You that makes the incredibly convincing argument that our modern video games and television shows are not only not bad for us but in many ways they increase our intelligence and social skills. I liked what this book offered, not because it made me feel okay for having an Xbox 360 but rather because it made much more sense than the simplistic (and false) “video games are destroying our youth.” It suggested (to me) that there is nuance and complexity everywhere if you take a serious and closer look.
I like that.
If there’s anything the bloggernacle has shown me, it is that the gospel is a vast, complex system that can’t easily be broken down and perfectly understood in simplistic terms. So often we discuss what are seemingly simple principles such as authority, “keep the commandments and you will prosper”, obedience, WoW, Law of Chastity, the pre- and post-mortal existence, etc, yet none of those are truly simple. Even the impossibly simple law of tithing isn’t simple (just a discussion of “what’s an increase?” will keep people occupied for hours). Just because something is true doesn’t mean it’s simple.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for aphorisms, examples, metaphors and parables (hey, if it’s good enough for Christ I guess it’s good enough for me, right?). They are all excellent tools for understanding principles enough to help us make decisions, but they are never complete and can even be damaging if taken literally. For example, It would be easy to be able compartmentalize the world with the simple phrase “if you’re not with us you’re against us.” but I’d hate for it to be true (which it only is in sports…sometimes).
As I’ve been thinking about this issue I’ve struggled to come up with anything, any principle that is truly simple and I’ve failed. But I’m okay with that.