Thoughts on (software) Minimalism

My last article has me thinking a lot about minimalism. I like to master a small handful of critical software titles and try to stretch the limits of what can be done rather than relying on a long list of different specialized titles that my projects have to pass through in order to create everything I need.

An unanticipated benefit of the minimalist approach is that it can save money in this age of the software-as-a-subscription pricing model, which is probably why I thought about this after that last article’s focus on software costs. It’s become important to me to weigh the amount of stuff I can accomplish with a given software title to its subscription cost. So the higher the cost, the more I better be able to do with that software. Even if a software title did just one thing that was vitally important, but cost a lot, I would rather test alternatives that had Swiss army knife qualities. A minimalist needs their software’s capabilities to be maximalist in order to have a minimalist roster of software titles.

This raises an important point: minimalism doesn’t mean software complacency. I’m always researching the software landscape and testing titles I find interesting. This part of minimalism is a lot of work, which aligns nicely with minimalist design — it’s also a lot of work to make things look simple and…minimal. Over time my standards for what graduates from testing to use on actual projects have become more stringent because of my desire to be a minimalist. Not to digress, but open standards and open file formats are a must for minimalists, as they allow you to quickly and easily change out software without needing even more software just to make that change happen.

New design technologies introduce new software — potential clutter. For example, virtual reality and augmented reality have a boatload of software titles to make everything work. Further complicating efforts at minimalism is time it takes new design technology to sort itself out in the market. Which major player will acquire the hot new startup? When will this new hardware come down in price? Which of these two nearly identical technologies will become the standard we all use? Minimalists must learn to slow down and wait for the dust to settle before committing to new technology. Minimalists are less early adopters and more early observers.

Business software adds a layer of complexity to a minimalist software approach. You inevitably need at least one or two pieces of software dedicated solely to business rather than design. This is a tough pill to swallow for us minimalists, but there’s joy to be found in winnowing the biz titles down to the absolute bare minimum too.

For a business with more than one employee, minimalism has its benefits when it comes to training on both the software and the workflows. I’ve found that a lean software library typically leads to nice clean minimalist workflows too.

I feel stressed when I see other architects and designers using a lot of software, even if they’re getting impressive results. All that extra software is clutter to me. What do you think about my minimalist approach?

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