Getting Less out of More
There is the clock-radio. The clock-radio takes up less space, weighs less, costs less, and works half as well as a clock and a radio. It exists in a strange in-between place of neither and both. A jack-of-all trades and master of none. True the clock-radio plays radio broadcasts better than any timepiece. It displays time better than a radio. And it does these things gracelessly, clumsily, cloyingly, too eager to please, trying too hard…
A list of features advertised on a refrigerator:
- 24.2 cubic feet of storage to hold all your groceries
- High efficiency LED lighting
- Exterior ice and water dispenser
- The upper drawer in the freezer comes out automatically
- Increased power efficiency
- 21.5” Wi-Fi enabled touchscreen
- Creates shopping lists
- Shares calendars, photos and memos
- Streams music and videos
- In-home tutorial, where a product specialist will explain all the functions, provide tips-and-tricks, and answer any questions
- One year parts and labor warranty
I was looking to buy a new desk. I found a fine desk — well-crafted, handsome lines, the right dimensions for its intended space. However, with a single drawer it could not hold much. What good is a desk that cannot accommodate my notebook, papers, pens, pencils, sharpeners and erasers, cables and cords, more papers, and miscellany that finds a place where it will? This question made me consider the purpose of a desk: a desk is there to work upon. The viability of a desk as such is not determined by the quantity of its features but by the fulfillment of its singular function.
My initial question around the storage capabilities of a desk points to a dead end. If I found a desk that could store the things on that list, what about other things? Is it unreasonable to expect the desk to hold a couple of books? Some magazines too? How about napkins and placemats (sometimes I may eat there)? Some silverware? A screwdriver or two (flathead and Phillips) and some other basic tools? Toothbrushes and toiletries? A few articles of underclothes? Maybe an outfit change?
The function is the response to the need. To write is one discrete need. To store is another. A desk is for writing — the rest is superfluous. A good desk serves its singular function perfectly, without complication or distraction.
Theory as Practice
The process of designing presents manifold distractions. The push to add more and more is strong often coming from multiple directions at once. There is the desire to grant the client’s every whim, to incorporate a flourish or embellishment, to increase and inflate, to implement yet another feature. However, anything that is not fundamental has no place. Anything that is not the direct response to a precisely defined need not only diminishes but works contrary to the design solution.