Designing great products is hard—especially with pressure to out-feature everyone else. Even with design thinking driving plans forward, it can be tempting to load up on gadgets and gizmos to wow potential users. That is, unless a minimalist design can achieve peak performance without all the frills.
How minimalist design simplifies and clarifies user experience
Minimalist design took shape in the early 1960s to break down traditional notions of fine art. When it spread to industrial design, prefabricated materials led people to encounter “artworks that demanded a physical as well as a visual response.”
To put it more simply, the experience of minimalist design looked and felt different.
Today, minimalist design strategies help “simplify interfaces by removing unnecessary elements or content that doesn’t support user tasks.”
So when it came time to design a minimalist, modular desk organizer called Gather, Jeff Sheldon did just that. We caught up with Sheldon to learn more about his minimalist design process—and how it has fared on Kickstarter.
Why do you think it’s important for people to “stay organized without thinking about it?”
Staying organized is important not just for visual reasons, but because it helps us avoid searching for things and wasting time throughout the day. When you have a dedicated place to put things, your brain doesn’t have to worry about where to find them later. It’s a simple concept, but it’s helped me to focus.
What was your initial inspiration for Gather?
My original concept for Gather came about around 4 years ago. I put a lot of thought into designing my workspace to make it productive and inspiring, but the one thing it lacked was a way to eliminate clutter that always built up.
I searched high and low for a well-designed minimalist organizer. All I found were ugly, cheaply made products that didn’t function the way I needed—and they didn’t match the clean aesthetic of my workspace. So I decided to design one.
How did you incorporate that inspiration into the design process?
I worked through dozens of prototypes and sketches to dial in every detail.
- I started with chopping rough foam models, using a pocket knife, just to prove the concept
- I worked with different shops to produce wood prototypes so I could test them more thoroughly
- I continued to tweak each prototype to improve the functionality and overall aesthetics
As a final step, I worked with industrial design engineers to produce 3D models and technical drawings that were ready for mass manufacturing. At that point, I launched on Kickstarter.
What was the biggest challenge of designing a “minimalist” product?
When designing, it’s always tempting to keep adding features. I really wanted Gather to be stripped down to just the core features—both aesthetically and functionally.“Rather than try to make it do everything, my goal was for Gather to do one job well.”
Rather than try to make it do everything, my goal was for Gather to do one job well. At the same time, I wanted it to be customizable to adapt to how each person uses it.
Did you run into any dead ends? What did you learn from them?
I tried several design iterations of the phone holder that allowed a cable to pass through. Each one had challenges that turned the design into a bulky piece—and a mediocre solution. I chose to go back to the simplest, cleanest option.“It’s better to do one thing well than do two things poorly.”
How did you choose the materials for Gather and how do your choices complete today’s design?
The materials for Gather were very intentional.
My goal was to make it look beautiful as an object by itself instead of being an eyesore like most other organizers. The wood base brings a warm, timeless aesthetic and the clean white top modules create a modern contrast against the base.
It seems you’ve really considered user experience. How did you decide to make Gather adaptive? How did you maintain the minimalist approach after deciding to use the grid system?
Since everyone tends to have a different workflow, I knew it was important for Gather to be customizable and modular.
As a lefty, I notice how many products are specifically designed for righties. It was important for Gather to be completely versatile. The grid system allows for full customization, but its constraints keep everything neatly aligned at 90-degree angles.
Can you share any lessons you learned designing a product that’s both simple and functional?
Designing something that’s “simple” is much harder than it looks. Even though Gather looks like a fairly basic concept, there were so many little details that I had to work through to get it to actually function correctly.
One example is how the metal pins fit into the grooves. There has to be enough friction to hold the module in place, but also be loose enough to pull out for repositioning. Sometimes the simplest things involve the most work to get right.
Once you got the intricacies right, why you chose to go the crowdfunding route?
Launching Gather on Kickstarter allowed me to validate the concept before I spent tens of thousands of dollars on the tooling. I was hoping that people would resonate with the product—but I wasn’t 100% sure.
With a pledge amount exceeding $370,000—20 times more than his goal—it appears that Sheldon’s hunch was right.
As Gather’s campaign nears its final few days, more than 2,200 backers are closer to experiencing the benefits of minimalist design done right.
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