Under The Microscope

Archive for May, 2018

A Celebration of Maximalism

Despite this post’s title, I’m going to start by talking about minimalism.

I’ve been at least a partial follower of the minimalist Steve Jobs/Jony Ive school of design since I was a teenager. Early on, Jobs famously lived in a mostly-empty home (as seen below), and he eventually minimized his wardrobe to the same bespoke turtleneck, Levi’s jeans, and New Balance sneakers. I looked up to Steve as a pioneer of interface design, and took on some of his minimalist ideals.

Steve probably wasn’t the best host for a movie night with friends.

Photo credit: Diana Walker

Being the son of an auto mechanic, however, I likely have a less high-minded approach to design than Steve had. I see minimalism as more of a tool than a religion. I also like to have furniture in my house.

From 1x to 2x

Minimalism in UI design most recently came into vogue shortly after the adoption of ultra-high resolution (“Retina”) displays. Decorative elements had less appeal when everything on screen looked so nice and crisp. Like many designers, I followed Apple’s lead on iOS 7, and purged my work of textures, drop shadows, and glossy finishes.

Flatter app icons in the style of iOS 7

Photo by William Hook on Unsplash

I’ve mostly maintained these minimalist ideals in my designs, but outside of work, I’ve increasingly found myself drawn to things that are complicated, chaotic, and full of surprises.

So I’d like to take a couple minutes to celebrate some great things that shun the idea that less is more.

The Sagrada Família

Seeing Antonio Gaudí’s sublime church, the Sagrada Família, in Barcelona is what first made the idea of maximalism pop into my head. I thought “I’m always trying to pare things down, but this place does the exact opposite, and it’s wonderful”.

Partial tours are available of the cathedral, which has been under construction since 1882, and at best will be completed in 2026.

One small corner of the massive church

Photo by Rutger Lanser on Unsplash

The Sagrada Família is decidedly not an exercise in removing every unnecessary thing until the platonic ideal of a cathedral remains. Instead, it is the chaotic addition of more and more, until every space is overloaded with surprises. Every single crevice of this building, inside and out, is filled with carvings, statues, stained glass, engravings, and shafts of coloured light. Exploring the building puts one in a constant state of discovery and delight.


Next is the ridiculously epic tabletop combat game Gloomhaven, which is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Gloomhaven comes in a 20+ pound box, and takes 100+ hours to complete. The total number of figures, cards, and pieces in the game is in the neighbourhood of 2000. It’s not without elegance, but it is definitely not minimal.

Some of what comes in the Gloomhaven box. This isn’t even all of it.

Photo by Darcy Pennell on Board Game Geek

Gloomhaven is the first game I’ve tried that’s worthy of the word “epic”. It will realistically take me years to finish, and even then I’ll probably only ever see a small percentage of the content in that mammoth box. Knowing there’s so much in there I’ll probably never see is actually part of its appeal.

RuPaul’s Drag Race

There is nothing subtle about this show.

I don’t much care for fashion or makeup, and my wardrobe is a muted rainbow of drab colours and earth tones. So I’m as surprised as anyone that a television show about people dressing up in gaudy outfits and garish makeup is one of my very favourites.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” is basically an outright rejection of subtlety, with one judge even outright stating that he “hates minimalism”. It’s unabashedly over-the-top. I’m a sucker for watching skilled people do their thing, whatever it is, and this show is packed with exactly that.

Drag Race miraculously takes what could be flaws and turns them into strengths. Endless corny jokes, over-acting, and garish colours are woven into a uniquely compelling extravaganza.

Maximalism as a Tool

All these maximalist things use their expansiveness for different effects. For the Sagrada Família, maximalism creates a sense of wonder. In Gloomhaven, it gives the world an epic feel. RuPaul’s Drag Race uses maximalism to create a sense of celebration. The idea that minimalism, or any other style, is superior to all other aesthetics is silly—all of these things would be much worse if done in a minimalist style. The style of something should follow its goals.

Where Apple’s Minimalism Has Gone Wrong

While thinking about maximalism, I also got to thinking about Apple’s recent excesses of minimalism. Apple deserves tons of praise for their transformative design work, but recently, it’s seemed as though the company has forgotten why they’re pursuing things. There has been a great deal of pushback on recent designs, most notably with the finicky keyboards and lack of ports on their recent laptops, as well as a lack of progress on their pro-level Macs. There are undoubtedly many reasons for these issues, but it seems to me that part of the problem is that Apple is more concerned with making their products minimal than making them useful.

Apple is a company with strong design in their DNA. Since the days of Steve Jobs, they’ve sought to make tools that are as simple as possible, while still enabling the user to accomplish their goals. Recently, however, it seems like they’re making things simpler at the expense of being able to get the job done. It increasingly feels like Apple is following the path of minimalism because it’s something they’ve done in the past, and not because of a clear understanding of how that minimalism actually helped people work.

Similarly, Apple’s obsession with getting manufacturing tolerances ever more exact seems to have moved beyond the point of it actually bringing any benefits. A few years ago, making parts out of precision glass and aluminum led to rugged and well-wearing products. Adding an additional decimal point to their manufacturing precision seems only to have resulted in keyboards that can be rendered unusable by the tiniest speck of dust.

Apple’s recent MacBooks Pro famously cut ports and computing power in exchange for being smaller and simpler.

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

I applaud their pursuit of progress in design and manufacturing, but minimalism in itself is an empty pursuit—helping people work or play should be the goal. Relentlessly cutting features, size, and especially ports for its own sake eventually leads to negative returns. People, especially professionals, have the capacity to handle complexity. We need look no farther than the wonderful maximalist examples previously mentioned to prove that.

Apple’s relentless pursuit of minimalism for its own sake was perhaps best lampooned in The Onion’s video: “Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard“. It was posted in 2009, but it has never felt more relevant than now.

In Closing

As far as my own design inspirations go, I still love simple things like a beautiful Dieter Rams-designed radio, or a wabi-sabi inspired garden. I live in a small apartment and try to minimize the quantity of stuff I own, while striving to keep things of high quality. Still, it’s good to recognize that not everything needs to be simple, minimal, or elegant. There is also a place for the big, the bold, and the over-the-top.

Loopback’s Virtual Audio Devices Now Offer Full Volume Controls

Loopback 1.2 has just been released, and it provides a small but useful update to our powerful audio routing tool. With this new version, you now have full control of the volumes of your virtual audio devices. This functionality has been one of the most frequent requests from our users, and we’re delighted to be providing it with this free update. Read on for more, or just update to Loopback 1.2 now.

Volume Controls for Everything

While most physical audio devices you plug in to your Mac will provide volume controls, older versions of Loopback made virtual audio devices which did not offer any controls. Now, every device made with Loopback 1.2 and up provides complete volume controls. Volume controls are now available with both master and per-channel adjustments.

When you view your Loopback devices in MacOS’s built-in “Audio MIDI Setup” app, you’ll find volume controls you can tweak as needed. As well, if you assign a Loopback device as your system output device or system input device, the volume sliders in the Sound System Preference will work as expected. If you set a Loopback device as your system output, your keyboard volume keys will even control its volume. For more details, check out this article in our Knowledge Base.

The Case of the Missing Volume Controls

It might seem strange that these volumes controls weren’t available previously, but it was an artifact of how Loopback came into existence. The technology which eventually came to power Loopback began life as the audio capture backend used by other Rogue Amoeba apps like Airfoil and Audio Hijack. This implementation uses invisible virtual audio devices to pass audio around, and volume adjustment isn’t necessary there.

We eventually used this backend technology as the base of our full-fledged audio routing app Loopback. When we did, previously hidden virtual audio devices became visible to the user, and their lack of volume controls was exposed. User requests made it obvious it was worth adding, and with so much interest, we’re particularly glad to bring this feature to our latest update. We hope these new controls make Loopback even more useful for you!

Get Loopback 1.2 Now

With Loopback 1.2, virtual audio devices are now more configurable than ever. If you’re new to our potent audio routing tool, or you were waiting for volume controls, check out the Loopback page to learn more and download the free trial. Of course, if you’re already a Loopback user, just select “Check for Update” from the Loopback menu to update for free.

Protecting Your Data and Ignoring Your Data

If your inbox is anything like mine, it’s recently been full of emails from all sorts of different sites and services you use. These emails are coming as a result of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, a new regulation coming into effect on May 25th that’s aimed at protecting privacy and data for individuals in Europe.

Only time will tell if the GDPR has the desired effect, but it’s already led companies around the globe to update their privacy polices. With this renewed attention to privacy, we also took a moment to review our own privacy policy. Fortunately, no substantive changes were necessary at this time. We encourage you to read the entire page, but the meat is right up top. That section is worth reprinting here:

We believe strongly in your right to privacy, and do all we can to protect the privacy of our users. Our business earns its money by selling software, never by monetizing your private data. Our privacy policy can be easily summarized in one line:

We don’t sell or rent any of your data to third parties, ever, period.

In addition, we collect and keep as little data from you as we reasonably can. Collecting the bare minimum of data for our needs means there’s little incentive for a malicious actor to attempt access to our databases, as well as minimal consequences were such a breach to occur.

We simply don’t traffic in data. In fact, given the liability that possessing data imposes on any responsible company, we want as little of your data as possible. We make software tools for you to purchase and use, and you should feel confident and comfortable doing so.

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