Words Worth Repeating #5: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

“Less is more.” - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, German-born American architect Mies might have said it most succinctly, but we’ve heard it in every context imaginable.  This idea seems to operate best when it’s understood not as a call for plainness, but rather thoughtfulness.  A piece of work tends to gain a greater effect when you include only those elements that were chosen by wittingly -- the ones that really make sense together as a whole.

It’s especially easy to see the brilliance of that adage when it comes to projects involving the visual arts or any sort of design.  If your composition is ill-conceived, you’re nowhere.  And it’s immediately obvious to onlookers.

The less-is-more dictum applies to writing as well, but there it often gets translated in a slightly different way.  With writing, they say deciding which details should be left out is the key to crafting a compelling paragraph.  Whether it’s a novel, a journalistic article, or the copy used to describe a brand, the ebbs and flows of good storytelling only work when you don’t force your reader to slog through any clutter.

But if we extrapolate this out a little further to the level of information (full stop), the situation gets murkier.  What would Mies say to the maze of potential knowledge on today’s Internet?

On the one hand, the vast amount of information that is becoming available to more people every day can only be seen as empowering.  On the other hand, though, it can feel paralyzing if you aren’t sure where to look next.  And the awareness that there is always something else to read on a given topic can be frustrating even on the best of days.

The answer to this problem is not, of course, that there should be less information.  When it comes to knowledge, more is more.  But we can still find wisdom in those words uttered by Mies.  After all, what he was really calling for was not destruction, but focus.  Simply having a few well devised lines of sight can do wonders when it’s time to stop searching for raw information and start fleshing out those good ideas.