It wasn’t that long ago that Instagram was flooded with saturated filters and low-resolution photos. But then the gaudy, maximalist look of the 2000s faded out of style and was replaced with an interest in clean lines and mature color palettes. Seemingly overnight, the platform became an ode to minimalism—filled with interior design and lifestyle posts from influencers anchored by organic, nautilus-shaped forms and eggshell-colored walls. Everything on the grid was carefully curated to be monochromatic, uncluttered, and uniform.

[Cover Image: Tree Abraham/courtesy Bloomsbury]

Minimalism has been eagerly adopted as an aesthetic by Instagram users and pretty much everyone else not on the social media application, too. Marie Kondo teaches us that minimalism is getting rid of anything that does not spark joy. Other influencers (and brands) suggest that it’s having a hyper-curated closet of a few basics, or a simple skincare routine featuring only three all-natural products. Minimalism has become a visual manifestation of “wellness”—a lifestyle trend rooted in conspicuous consumption.

But this loose misinterpretation belies its roots as a decades-old architecture and design philosophy. In his new book, The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism, out from Bloomsbury January 21, culture critic Kyle Chayka investigates how we’ve veered away from minimalism’s true origins, and converted it into—what can be reduced to—a “look.” Here, Chayka helps dispel the four biggest myths of minimalism.

Minimalism has deeper roots than you think

Minimalism’s recurrence as an idea, in both society and art, reveals the philosophy’s central paradox: It is a quiet celebration of space, but bold in the way its simplicity overwhelms. “In the time right after World War II, minimalism was a popular aesthetic because it’s a perfect, utopian style that everyone can access,” Chayka says in a phone interview. Soon after, in the 1970s, the idea of “simple living” began to take hold, which is the last time eco-conscious consumer practices (less consumption, more self-reliance) were as in vogue as they are today. “I think the internet and social media and the financial crisis is what really caused the super popularity of minimalism this time around,” Chayka says.

Minimalism is not just a trendy style

It’s not difficult to imagine why we, as a society, long for less. Our lives are dominated by dizzying screens, which have forced us to prioritize images over the humanness of real life. “So much of our visual experience is on the internet now. That’s the container of our experience,” Chayka says. “And so it makes sense that the spaces we occupy would be very simple because we spend so much time on our phones.”

In an attempt to counteract the harm technology has done to our ability to focus, rest, and enjoy experiences, people have adopted minimalism as a visual aesthetic. It’s blank, inoffensive, natural. It’s even been marketed as a form of self-help.

Donald Judd, 15 Untitled Works in Concrete, 1980-1984. [Photo: Flickr user Nan Palmero]

But according to Chayka, “minimalism is about experiencing the world directly and engaging with your surroundings.” Consider Agnes Martin’s austere canvases or Donald Judd’s spacious constructions in Marfa, Texas. In architecture, minimalism has roots in Japan, where “there’s a real interest in very refined textures and creating experiences with light and shadow—an architecture of ephemerality that modernism doesn’t really have,” Chayka says. In short, there was once a spirituality to minimalism that has been lost in its current expression. “The style now seems more like numbing yourself and creating a protective environment,” Chayka says.

Minimalism is not morally superior

Minimalism these days has an aura of moral superiority. “Minimalism has always been associated with moral purity or a sense of existing outside of society, whether that’s during the midcentury modern movement or the Voluntary Simplicity Movement of the ’70s,” Chayka says. “The problem with luxury minimalism today is that the style is associated with moral purity and outsiderness but it’s being adopted by the most insider people possible—wealthy women and tech billionaires. The style of minimalism [we see today] is a reality that’s not very minimal at all.” Clearing out one’s home for the sake of more space is not radical if there’s a financial safety net in place to buy it all back again, if one should so choose. (Steve Jobs’s uniform of black turtlenecks and jeans was not minimalist as much as it was a decision to not be burdened with variety.) So the suggestion that someone owning fewer objects is healthier and more put-together overlooks the fact that participating in the trend is less about the inward journey than it is about appearances. Nothing morally superior about that.

Eames House interior, 1952. [Photo: © Eames Office LLC/courtesy Bloomsbury]

Minimalism is not a commodity

Today’s Instagram-ready minimalism couldn’t have been born anywhere other than in the United States. “I think the commodification of minimalism has been very American,” Chayka says. “The idea of an entirely minimalist lifestyle is deeply American . . . we consume everything to excess, even minimalism.” Home organization entrepreneur Marie Kondo seems to have tapped into this American Achilles’ heel; her pivot to selling home goods reflects a genius awareness that consumers are eager to buy objects that represent an ideology, even though they are a shallow appropriation of it. This makes minimalism’s success on Instagram plain, too; it is now an element deeply embedded into a platform that has become synonymous with a certain brand of conspicuous consumption.

Inside a room at Yumiya Komachi in Kyoto. [Photo: Kyle Chayka/courtesy Bloomsbury]

What’s next

Sometime soon, the minimalism trend will likely slip out of the mainstream consciousness again, just as it has in the past. “I think we’ve hit peak minimalism and [are now moving] past it . . . minimalism is a trend and a style and it comes and goes in waves. We start obsessing over it and then find out that it doesn’t solve our problems,” Chayka says. For most people, minimalism is simply not a realistic lifestyle, because the very structure of our capitalist society relies on constant consumption and an attitude of overindulgence. To put it simply, minimalism—as it exists in the culture today—is a privilege. “It’s the difference between an Apple Store and a Zen temple,” Chayka says. “The Apple Store never changes—there’s perfectly clean glass and steel and empty space. But if you think of the rock garden in the Zen temple, it’s always changing and moving with time . . . it’s more interesting and sustainable than creating something that never changes.”

Buy The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism, by Kyle Chayka, designed by Tree Abraham, Elizabeth Van Itallie, Mia Kwon, and Patti Ratchford for Bloomsbury on Amazon.


Contributor and SMX speaker, Adam Dorfman, thinks the customer feedback ecosystem is going to play an even more important role in the coming year for businesses looking to improve operations and the customer experience.

Below is the video transcript:

Hi everybody, my name’s Adam Dorfman. I’m a director of product growth at Reputation.com and I’m going to talk about some of the trends and one big important trend that we’re seeing right now and that we think it’s going very much carry over into 2020. And that’s how up until recently, the way most businesses would think about how their business was doing was through the use of surveys and collecting survey data. Specifically, MPS being a metric that many businesses like to use to determine how well they were performing.

An example of an MPS question would be: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this business to a friend of yours?

And if it was an eight or higher, that was great. And if not, it was lower. And that’s still very helpful because you can ask your customers directly, after you know they visited your business and things along those lines, still a fantastic way to gage sentiment. However, it’s a very small part in all the places that customers, your customers, are leaving information about your business.

When you think of the customer feedback ecosystem, or the customer feedback economy, whatever you want to call it, there’s many, many places where information about your business is being left. And those could be on review sites. They could be on question and answer sort of sites like Google My Business Knowledge Panels, or the site Quora. It can be in forms. It can be messaging. It can be all sorts of different, all sorts of different places.

If you aren’t tracking all of those different places in the wild, where this information is being left either solicited or not solicited, more often than not, not solicited, you’re missing a huge opportunity in being able to understand what customers truly think about your business and how to improve your business operationally, to make a better business and to improve the customer experience.

More predictions for 2020

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.

About The Author

Adam Dorfman is a technology and digital marketing professional with more than 20 years of experience. His expertise spans all aspects of product development as well as scaling product and engineering teams. He has been in the SEO and Local SEO space since 1999. In 2006, Adam co-founded SIM Partners and helped create a business that made it possible for companies to automate the process of attracting and growing customer relationships across multiple locations. Adam is currently director of product at Reputation where he and his teams are integrating location-based marketing with reputation management and customer experience. Adam contributes regularly to publications such as Search Engine Land, participates in Moz’s Local Search Ranking Factors survey, and regularly speaks at search marketing events such as Search Marketing Expo (SMX) West and State of Search as well as industry-specific events such as HIMSS. Follow him on Twitter @phixed.


More than any designer this side of Cupertino, Matias Duarte has made phones easy to use. During his tenure at Google—first overseeing the design of Android—the vice president of design watched Google’s operating system capture more than 85% of the global smartphone market. Duarte has likened his own work in mainstreaming these addictive devices to that of an arms dealer—”I just make the guns! I didn’t make you guys shoot each other!”—but he’s also not slowing down.

After pioneering Material Design—a user interface metaphor that’s helped de-uglify and unify Google’s products—he’s here to stump for a new vision of Google’s computing future, one that extends well beyond the smartphone. “We’ve been calling this idea ambient computing,” says Duarte. “Where you are able to reach services wherever you are.”

Ambient computing—also dubbed ubiquitous computing or calm computing—isn’t a new idea. It’s simply the premise that, eventually, computer interaction will reach beyond our devices into the environment around us.

The news of today is that Google is repositioning an open source technology it developed called Flutter to have a bigger scope. It’s a software development kit that allows designers to build an app UI just once, and then use that UI on platforms like Android, iOS, or the web without needing to rebuild it or recode it. Flutter allows rich, animated interfaces to be transferred between devices—which has led a million developers to adopt it since 2018. If you’ve played the New York Times crossword puzzle on a phone, or tried Realtor.com’s app, you’ve experienced Flutter without even realizing it.

[Image: Google]

But whereas Flutter once connected apps across phones and laptops, now, Google is positioning Flutter as the user interface platform to power ambient computing. Basically, Google wants to make Flutter the gateway to building the digital interface of the world itself.

An idea decades in the making

Ambient computing as an idea can be most easily traced back to the late ’80s at Xerox PARC, where the late researcher Mark Weiser proposed that, instead of computers that glued us to our desks, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” He imagined, and began prototyping, a digital world connected by wireless frequencies, tracking and reacting to our needs, and answering our queries through conversation rather than graphic interface. One of his group’s most notable projects was developed by artist Natalie Jeremijenko. Called Dangling String, it was an eight-foot-long plastic wire that whirled in concert with increased network traffic—a quiet manifestation of the digital world.

Weiser passed away too early, at age 46 in 1999. And many of his ideas were thought-subverted by the rise of smartphones (though to be fair, he predicted those, too). Why would an environment need to be intelligent or a digital experience barely visible, if you could just carry an internet-connected supercomputer around in your pocket?

But now, the world is catching up to Weiser’s thinking. Amazon and Google both make voice assistants, along with their own automated camera systems to monitor your home. Google’s vice president of Hardware Design Ivy Ross has told me that the built environment is the next great frontier for her design department; this year, she demoed a concept, which showed users their biometric response to environments filled with different scents, colors, and furnishings. Google’s design team reaffirmed the company’s interest in building hardware for ambient computing at its 2019 Google I/O conference in May.

The missing piece: a UI framework

Now, crucially, Duarte is rounding out the narrative for Google from the standpoint of user interfaces, explaining how he wants to see the company push ambient computing forward by providing a user interface framework for it. “We, as Google, see we’re at the cusp of a new type of digital transformation. In the same way previously our digital lives were locked in the desktop, and they changed very radically when digital lives became mobile…we feel as a company as a whole that there is a new one of these transformations [now],” Duarte says. “Unlike the previous transformations that are characterized by a single device or interaction, we’re seeing a…mass of the devices of the past and future, creating a continuous digital canvas that surrounds people.”

In other words, it’s Android phones. And Google Nest assistants. And Google Project Jacquard smart jackets. And who knows what else from other companies. All of this stuff needs an interface to connect the human to the computer, and much of it will need a customized graphic user interface. That’s where Google wants Flutter to go next. Your company’s app can live on a TV screen, or a refrigerator, or a projection on the sidewalk, if it adopts Flutter.

[Image: Google]

Flutter is open source, so there might not be a clear path to monetization for Google. Yes, Android owns over 80% of the smartphone marketshare. Technically. But Android has been repurposed by handset manufacturers like Samsung to be theirs, not Google’s. As Frank Gillett, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, recently put it to me: “Google does not have visibility to a major chunk of Android. They have zero visibly to all Android in China, and a significant chunk of emerging market Android…Google’s relationship through the phone is terrible. They have an incomplete view, and they don’t know what they don’t know.” That’s why Google launched the Pixel, its true, own smartphone, which owns a mere 2% or so of the U.S. smartphone market. So as with Android, Flutter can become the de facto UI framework that isn’t owned by Google alone. But obviously Google’s entire business model, ultimately built on ads served from deep data tracking, has a lot to gain from connecting more and more objects in our lives to the internet.

In any case, as Duarte tells me, he recognized the need for something like Flutter roughly a decade ago. Vision videos, by companies like Apple and Microsoft, often have teased this ambient computing future world, where someone might wake up in the morning, talk to their computer to finish a report, check the weather on their bathroom mirror, then drink a coffee that’s automatically been brewed for them. “Everyone else would get so excited about these videos, and I was sitting there writing down, ‘two more designs for this…that’s another display–how many designers for that?’” Duarte laughs, critiquing the sheer manpower it would take to make these concepts come to life. “And I realized there was no way that continuing to do things the way we did in the past, starting with a [single] device framework, could ever bring us to that future.” Put another way: a world in which everything is connected needs a lot of designers to thread it all together. Too many, designers, in fact, to make it possible. That’s where Flutter comes into play. As a framework, it reduces the need for designers to individually code each display.

Ambient computing does not equal quiet computing

In many ways, the world Google has enabled so far is anything but the quiet computing imagined by Weiser. Just using smartphones is making us measurably less happy.

When I ask Duarte if Google’s vision of ambient computing will be “quiet” as Weiser imagined, he stands firm that the phones and other devices we have today aren’t going anywhere. It’s just that Google wants to connect more to this existing network.

“I feel like we, as technologists, sometimes succumb a little, too, and fall a little too in love with, the idea of transformative revolutions where the old is gone and replaced with the new better on every axis,” says Duarte. “What I found in my experience was the growth of computing and these platforms has been one that’s more additive.” He points to the PC terminal command line as being the origin of working on a computer. Even though we have loads of beautiful software to use on mobile devices, coders still turn to this command line for its sheer efficiency. Similarly, even though we have smartphones, we still use laptops. Even though we have video chat, we still text.

“I see that [same evolution] happening as part of this ambient growth,” says Duarte. “We see more quiet computing moments, more voice command, more simple suggestions—things coming up on smart displays. But I don’t think that’s to the exclusion or replacement of all other types of experiences. You’ll see a continuum to things . . . finding their natural interface.”

Flutter’s new north star of ambient computing wouldn’t mean all that much on its own, but it cements a fresh focus for Google that the company stressed time and time again in  2019. Ambient computing will have vast consequences on our lives. Whomever wins in this space will ensure its products are more baked into our world than any technology ever before. And while that will certainly be convenient, to many, these surveillance technologies already feel more than a little too close for comfort.


The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) has many companies in the U.S. scrambling to figure out whether and how to comply when the law goes into effect on January 1. It explicitly covers for-profit companies doing business in California or with California residents.

The plain language of the statute says one or more of the following conditions must apply to companies for them to be covered by the privacy law:

  • Has
    annual gross revenues in excess of $25 million;
  • Possesses
    the personal information of 50,000 or more consumers, households, or devices;
  • Earns
    more than half of its annual revenue from selling consumers’ personal

This would appear to exempt companies that don’t fall into these relatively clear categories. However, that may not necessarily be the case. I asked several companies and experts for their responses to the question, “Which (types of) companies can confidently ignore CCPA?”

Some probably can but shouldn’t, was the consensus.

Questions for agencies

“One area where the verdict is still out is how CCPA will impact large agencies because of the issue of data ownership,” said Noah Jacobson, SVP of Corporate Development, TapClicks. “Does the responsibility rest on the shoulders of agencies themselves or their clients? For example, a brand might fall under the CCPA threshold and would not have to meet any of the new regulatory requirements, but if an agency has multiple accounts like this, the volume of customer data can quickly surpass the 50,000 threshold. Will that agency then, along with all the clients/brands it represents, have to take action in order to comply?”

CCPA is the beginning

“With CCPA looming in 2020, many companies large and small are evaluating if it applies to them and, if so, how they will be complying with the law,” said Justin Scarborough, programmatic media director, PMG. “The short answer is that any organization that collects any amount of personal data from California residents — be it as innocuous as a cookie or device ID or as robust as customer information — and does any business in the state of California or with California residents will almost assuredly be subject to the regulation.”

“Additionally, our point of view is that CCPA is only the first step in a journey toward more GDPR-style regulation at a national level. Nevada already enacted a similar measure and numerous other states will be addressing comparable legislation in 2020,” said Scarborough. “These state laws will likely pave the way for federal regulations that will apply to all US residents, not just those of a single state. This is why we are urging our partners and customers to have a long-term vision and strategy for handling and processing customer data beyond CCPA. We believe it is important to consider long-term, scalable solutions that address this issue beyond 2020 and across all markets.”

If your business is online at all, pay attention

“The only companies that can confidently ignore the CCPA are businesses with no online footprint whatsoever, no loyalty program, no email marketing, no system of digital record-keeping — nothing,” said Cillian Kieran, CEO and founder, Ethyca. “If you’re a dog walker that posts local flyers to reach clients, if you’re an independent mom and pop corner store that processes credit cards manually, maybe you can afford to completely ignore CCPA. Otherwise, even if you fall below certain threshold criteria, you have to look at how the wind is blowing.”

“The public frustration, the regulatory energy, and the proliferation of tools to help you comply all point to the same thing: the penalties for getting privacy wrong will grow and the equity gained from employing good privacy practice will also grow,” Kieran added. “In the end, I don’t believe that regulators will be the strongest enforcers of privacy compliance. I believe customers will vote with their feet.”

Massive cultural, regulatory shift

“I don’t think any companies should ‘ignore’ the CCPA because privacy is not a trend that is going away. As an experienced CMO, and as any experienced executive should see, I believe there has been a massive shift in the landscape around privacy and companies must pay careful attention to the law as well as to the overarching cultural climate,” said Norman Guadagno, CMO of Acoustic. “This is not a time for any business to ‘ignore’ this issue or the regulations emerging.”

“Instead, brand marketers – whether or not they’re currently doing business in California – should be putting their own systems in place that are transparent and respectful of customer privacy as opposed to taking a wait-and-see approach when it comes to privacy issues,” said Guadagno. “Trying to circumvent the CCPA now will ultimately be fruitless as future privacy regulations, many of which are already under review with other state legislatures, are inevitable.”

“As consumers become more educated on where their data lives, they will begin to, as they already have, invest in brands that respect their privacy and are transparent about how they use personally identifiable information,” Guadano predicts. “The brands that will succeed in a future where data and privacy are top-of-mind for customers are the ones that are already being proactive and updating outdated privacy policies, whether or not they’re legally required to do so.”

Marketers benefit

Guadano went on to say that, “Despite the air of uncertainty from the marketing and advertising industries, I actually believe the CCPA will benefit marketers by forcing them to find new ways to drive loyalty without jeopardizing customer privacy. According to Acoustic’s own research, privacy regulations are pushing brands to have an increased focus on list hygiene and higher-quality subscribers, thus improving email marketing campaign targeting and increasing success rates.”

He noted that Acoustic’s 2019 Benchmark Report found open rates climbed 14% and click-through rates increased by 19% between 2014 and 2018, “which indicates to me that privacy regulations are benefitting marketers already, even though the first U.S. privacy law has not even come into effect yet. I predict even more beneficial changes once these regulations begin to roll out, beginning with the CCPA in January 2020.”

Think “privacy forward”

Studies in Europe have shown that adherence to GDPR privacy rules has not hurt firms doing business in the EU. In fact, it appears to have had the opposite impact — helping them outperform their non-compliant peers. By extension there could be a similar benefit for CCPA-complaint companies in the U.S.

However, whether or not CCPA technically applies to your brand or agency, comprehensive federal privacy legislation is probably coming. As the perspectives above indicate, companies should be “privacy forward” in their thinking and recognize this will be critical for any company dealing with customer data, as well as potentially integral to their marketing, in the future.

About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.