Looking Forward to Monday Morning
A series of essays on business, architecture, and the business of architecture.
The Tyranny of Too Much
by Daniel Frisch
Posted October 23rd, 2018

In 2003, Barry Schwartz wrote a book titled the Paradox of Choice, and one Monday morning, our team watched him deliver a Ted Talk video on the subject.

Mr. Schwartz addresses the depression that develops from the first-world abundance of everyday choices; in everything from salad dressing to blue jeans.

We’ve discovered the same dilemma presents itself in residential design.  Whether we are studying a layout, selecting bathroom tile, or even simply picking a light fixture, we are bombarded with options. Rarely is one choice fully preferable, and when interconnected with other elements, clear and decisive design can be elusive. When getting dressed, people often ask ‘does this ensemble go together?’  Imagine going through the decision-making process for hundreds of elements in a home, and knowing the selections have a certain permanence.  To make matters worse, as we strive for perfection in design, decisions often seem equally critical and it becomes difficult to differentiate between primary and secondary decisions.

While Paradox of Choice is a brilliant and nuanced observation on modern society and the consequences of abundant choice, it doesn’t offer too much in the way of a tool kit for our daily endeavors.  In tenth grade, however, I had an influential mechanical drawing teacher named Dan Graham who taught us the K.I.S.S. method, ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid.’  I’ve enjoyed a lifetime of studying and refining the DFA design process, and love when we come across the work of a writer like Barry Schwartz or recall an influential teacher like Dan Graham, who both remind us of and reinforce our commitment to the most basic principles of design.

We strive to implement these lessons regardless of project scope or complexity. For even the largest and most complicated projects, we begin by outlining and clarifying project priorities, thereby refining the ‘program’ for the project. At each stage of development we continue to find ways to simplify the parameters, making design decisions more straightforward and determinant.

For projects where simplicity and efficiency are priorities in and of themselves, we have developed specific design approaches. Our prix-fixe STUDIO Program grew directly from our desire to deliver to clients a streamlined, straightforward, and cost effective solution for modest apartment renovations.  We are now applying similar techniques in our small-scale projects where systemic architectural renovations are implausible or unnecessary.

It takes great discipline to tune out superfluous variables and an overabundance of choices.  Finding a balance between “less is more” and “more is more” is a worthy goal.

DF, 12-10-2016