Functionalism beats minimalism

Minimalism is a style that prefers as few things – objects, edges, components, or patterns – as possible. I think that that is a rubbish criteria for choosing or designing anything. Sometimes, people justify minimalism on aesthetics grounds, but that is just the result of unrefined, or badly refined, taste.

Instead, use functionality as your criteria for choosing or designing things. And develop taste to match. Let’s call this style functionalism.

Functionalism prefers things that achieve a well-defined objective. You need to come up with that objective: a kitchen that is a joy to cook in; a sofa that people want to cuddle up in; an efficient text-editor for experienced journalists; a bike for commuting efficiently in a city; or a knife for slicing loafs of bread easily.

Thus, functionalism requires an explicit purpose and tries to optimise for that; minimalism either has no explicit purpose other than itself or does not try to optimise for it. That’s why you should prefer functionalism over minimalism.

For illustration, below are two kitchens; the first (1) functionalist, the second minimalist:

Functionalist kitchen

Functionalist kitchen

Minimalist kitchen

Minimalist kitchen

Note however, that superfluous things have no function (by definition) and are therefore avoided in functionalism. That sometimes results in apparent minimalism. A sketch artist might need only a desk, a lamp, paper, and pencils in his office – anything else would be a distraction. A bedroom might need only a thin mattress, a pillow, and a blanket. A writer might need a computer program that only displays black text on an otherwise white screen while providing discoverable and useful keyboard shortcuts for moving around and editing.

That is to say that minimalism is not inherently bad, it is to say that minimalism should not be the yardstick against which you measure things. Functionality – with respect to whatever objective you choose – should be.


  1. From the article Home, Hangout, Departure Lounge in the New York Times, 21 November 2008.