What Does Less is More Mean?

Less is More Meaning

Definition: Simplicity is better than elaborate embellishment; Sometimes something simple is better than something advanced or complicated.

Origin of Less is More

This expression first appeared in a poem by Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto, in the year 1855.

  • Yet do much less, so much less…Well, less is more, Lucrezia; I am judged.

Many designers use this expression as a philosophy or inspiration to design things that are simple, yet beautiful.

Another early user of the phrase was Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969), an architect who used it when referring to the desirability of less visual clutter in the building of homes.

The idea behind this expression is that it is possible to overdo something. For example, imagine having a lot of dialogue in an action movie. Many people would be disappointed because they expected fight scenes but, instead, found lots of sitting around and talking.

In this situation, less dialogue is more effective for an action movie.

This idea can apply to many different things. One popular example is the idea that having fewer personal items leads to greater happiness.

Examples of Less is More

what is the meaning of less is more In the example below, two siblings are arguing over how to cook a meal to share at their family reunion.

Jordan: Hey, James. Try this chili I made. I’m bringing it to the family reunion.

James: Bleh! This is awful! How much salt did you put in there?

Jordan: I don’t know. I love salt, so I thought the more the better.

James: I’m sorry to tell you this, but this is a situation where less is more. If you had less salt, you’d have more of the delicious flavor of the other ingredients.

Jordan: Don’t worry. I can fix it. I’ll just add more beans and meat.

what is the meaning of less is more In the second dialogue, two coworkers are arguing over completing a presentation together.

Job: Melissa, I’m glad you finally finished the presentation, but we need to talk about your design.

Melissa: Why? Don’t you like it?

Job: To be honest, no, I don’t. You have 17 different fonts throughout the whole thing, and way too much text! You should make this look simpler. Remember that oftentimes less is more. If you get rid of all these superfluous details, the important information will be clearer to the audience.

More Examples

This excerpt is about the new license plate design for Illinois. The author thinks that the design is too cluttered.

  • Unveiled Tuesday by Secretary of State Jesse White, the new design violates a cardinal rule: Less is more, especially when the canvas is small and best left uncluttered. –Chicago Tribune

The second example is about hotel thermostats. Although having more options to control the temperature sounds good in theory, in reality it makes it too difficult for guests to operate.

  • In the end, he says, the best thermostat is the one that does not have to be fussed with too much. “Less is more,” he says. “If you don’t have to touch it when you walk into the room, I’ve done my job.” –USA Today


The phrase less is more means that having just the essential things is better than having way too much of superfluous things. It allows you to focus on what matters.