Keeping it Simple

28Nov10

In a few more days, we’ll be launching our new website designed by Scott Thomas, a.k.a. SimpleScott. Thomas began his studies in architecture and went on to pursue graphic design and Web development—eventually becoming the design director of the historic Barack Obama presidential campaign. He’s got a Miesian take on Web design: to continually simplify the user experience. You might have seen him in S. R. Crown Hall in January, when he gave the lecture, “Architecting Change.” Following is a recent chat with Scott about good design.

Mies Society: What is Miesian about your design for the website?

Scott Thomas: The Web, like architecture, offers spaces in four dimensions. An X-axis, Y-axis, Z-axis of interaction, and time is the fourth dimension. A master architect uses each dimension to compose a prescribed experience on a user. Similarly, a Web designer understands its users must interact and move through a virtual space in a timely and effective manner.

Mies offered the world a philosophy of “less is more,” and as technology becomes more complex, the experience of using it should become simpler and easier to use. It has never been more important to recite Occam’s Razor, the principle that one should not “multiply entities beyond necessity.”

M.S.: How can Mies’ architecture influence good Web design?

S.T.: I don’t know if it’s Mies’ architecture as much as Mies’ and Bauhaus philosophies that influence Web design and design in general. Openness and transparency are ever-growing elements of not only Web design, but also the society and communities that exist online. I think the Web will open up some of the most opaque institutions on the planet and make our world a more transparent place; that will make societies more connected and understood than at any time in history.

M.S.: What do you do in your everyday life to evolve your design practice?

S.T.: I try to keep exploring, constantly reinventing and questioning whether things can be done differently—better, simpler.

M.S.: You’re also making books. What design possibilities do books have that are unique from the Web?

S.T.: Books, like buildings, remain. They exist through time much longer than the Web’s evolving content. We have yet to figure out the best way for archiving the happenings on the Web. The book offers a shelf life, and as long as the paper is cared for, the words will remain. It is important to note the concept of the book is at a unique moment in its history. Its medium will change, making it easier to distribute and easier for people to access. The book hasn’t seen this kind of advancement since the invention of the printing press.

M.S.: Pictures vs. text on the Web: which one wins?

S.T.: It depends. Both need each other to create communication experiences. In some instances, words are more important than visuals, and at other times, visuals are more effective at communicating. More often than not, words are furthered with accompanying images. So I guess I never knew they were in competition with each other. I thought they were a happily married couple.

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