Aesthetricks #2 – On Radii & Reduction


These days, many consumers have an idea that there is a concept in design called “minimalism,” and when they think about this concept, the current generation iPhone often comes to mind.

Why is that? What makes an object like the iPhone appear “minimal?”

One good way of achieving minimalism is through a strategy of “information reduction,” and there are a few ways of doing it.

In a previous posts, Aesthetricks #1 – Ghost Chrome, we discussed methods of reducing information through the use of mirrored surfaces. Now the discussion will be turned to corner treatments.

Generally speaking, lines, sharp corners, and hard transitions are read to have a greater density of visual information. Replacing these hard lines with radii can reduce that density.

The above image is of the same cube given two different corner treatments–chamfered on the left and radiused on the right. Due to the increased number of hard lines created by chamfering the corners, the cube on the left has a far higher visual information density. The radiused cube on the other hand, has achieved a reduced visual density such that its silhouette has become its primary object of focus.

So what does this have to do with minimalism and the iPhone? The following image is of a cube, the corners of which have been treated in a similar way to those of the iPhone.

One reason the iPhone is a good design is that it is very clear about which of its elements has the greatest priority–the screen. In order to draw focus to the screen, the Z-Axis corners were rounded, reducing their information density. All that is left is the iconic shape people associate with the iPhone.

There are some schools of thought that think minimalism is achieved in exactly this way.

By reducing the visual information density of elements that are not deemed important, a predetermined element can be given visual priority.

So next time someone audibly appreciates the “minimalism” of a design, take a second look, assess the distribution of visual information, and decide for yourself.

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