When our days are filled with sensory overload—flashing lights, billboards, news, traffic—the appeal of minimalism is clear. It’s a deep breath, a moment of calm. And while some carve this out by taking the Marie Kondo route—shirking everything that doesn’t spark joy, streamlining worldly possessions down to a minimum—others take a more aesthetic approach. This conscious paring back is what Red Dot Design Award’s latest exhibition The Form of Simplicity hopes to highlight.
The exhibition, which runs from September 27 through 30, will take place in Beijing—a riot of futuristic color and noise that serves as a worthy foil for the approximately 150 innovative products on display. “Designers and manufacturers that enter their innovations in the Red Dot Award: Product Design category regularly surprise us with plain products that are easy to understand,” explains Professor Dr. Peter Zec, founder and CEO of Red Dot. With this show, timed with the 2018 Beijing International Home Decoration and Smart Home Exhibition & International Expo, Zec goes on: “We want to illustrate the development of the principal of simplicity and how it helps increase quality of life.”
The display spans nearly 160 years of design that adheres to the mantra “less, but better,” a philosophy that celebrates shedding unnecessary embellishments for simple, comfortable, and—above all—functional design. Thonet chair No. 14 (more commonly known as the Vienna Café chair, or the ancestor of the seats you’ve settled into for a glass of wine alfresco in cities across Europe) designed by Michael Thonet in 1859 serves as the exhibition’s historic anchor. The Austrian-German furniture maker spent years developing the steam-bending technology that allowed the chair’s beechwood frame to take on its now-iconic curves—a shape that became a model of modern functionalism. On the more modern end, Artemide’s Tolomeo task lamp from the late 1980s serves as a standard bearer—its deceptively simple conical shade, articulated arms, and exposed hinges belie an aesthetic that places the user’s experience at the center without sacrificing sophisticated lines.
In between Thronet and Artemide is a lineup of products both vintage and current that display how designers and developers tackled the question of simplicity as the world around them grew more complex. It should be no surprise then that Apple’s iPhone bookends the exhibition. “The iPhone,” notes Zec, “revolutionized our communication and affected our understanding of a mobile phone’s aesthetic with only a single button.” And it is this deceptive simplicity—a single button that unlocks a dizzyingly complex virtual world—that Red Dot aims to highlight.
“The world is spinning more rapidly than ever before,” he says, “and it becomes apparent that simplicity must not be seen as the opposite of complexity but rather as its elaborate design.”