The Absence of Effect

I saw blues guitarist Jimmy Vaughn play the other night. He’s the slightly older brother of Stevie Ray Vaughn (who died in 1990). In almost comical contrast to his brother’s flare for the dramatic, Jimmy’s style is luddite. He often depends on a single finger on the fret board, the rest of his hand wandering as far away from the guitar’s neck as possible (bad form in guitar-geekdom). His amp is void of reverb. His effect pedal board? He didn’t have one. His rhythm was consistent, though on the back side of the beat.

I took a note on my phone while I was watching him: “Jimmy is in no hurry”. Indeed, it seems that contrary to his brother’s need for embellishment, Jimmy’s trademark is an intentional lack of facade. It was a naked, simple, presentation of his music and words. Jimmy’s stack let the truth of his notes, technique, and words fight for itself.

Good design doesn’t make a user consider the options the creator might have otherwise explored. Rather, it welcomes the user to the creation in its simplest, most effective form with no interference. The good designer is his/her own best curator.

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery

It takes a brave, experienced designer (or musician, or writer) to leave a creation so bare. It takes trust in the discerning consumer (user, listener, reader) that the creation be received with a respect for that deliberate absence of effect. Long live Jimmy Vaughn.