There is a quote from Steve Jobs that says “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.”
At first, when you look at a simple design, you may assume it was easy to create. While it may be easy to copy due to its simplicity, the process behind it is often far more complex then we realise.
This is the beauty of simple design. The hidden detail and thought, that carefully and meticulously chose the right design elements to communicate the right message, simply and elegantly. In many ways, it is about finding a way to say more by using less, and in that, it can be hard to achieve.
Then there is the mental side of letting go and feeling free to design minimally. Feeling confident that while your design may seem simple, it is everything it needs to be. You are not trying to over compensate. It is raw and exposed. Therefore more open to judgement. Which can be a challenging mindset to get into.
While there is certainly a place for the decadent and opulent and detailed. This kind of work should be done because it is the style direction and inspiration of the design. If you are creating something that can be expressed more simply, but you keep ‘adding more’ this is when you have the battle and complication of trying to design simply.
COMMUNICATING MORE WITH LESS
Visual design is basically communication design.
Remember a lot can be said through basic design elements. Colour can evoke emotion, and inspire action. A font can set a tone, and impact perception. A line can direct the eye. Size can create a hierarchy. Shape can tell a story.
So always ask yourself, ‘How can you do more and say more with less?’
You want your message to be clear, instantly understood and direct. When you keep your design simple, it removes distraction, and helps the viewer quickly understand the message. The more simple, the more direct and fast your visual communication becomes. And when people make judgements fast, and decide if they want to know more within seconds, it is important to make your message quick and effective.
Simple design is more restful and clear. It is not busy, and overstimulating the mind, but is direct and clear and communicates with ease, and not confusion or overwhelm.
Every detail of the design should have a purpose. If you design minimally, every element matters and has a job.There are no fancy trimmings or ‘just for fun’ elements. Everything communicates something and directs the eye. Colour should be chosen to refelct the message, the fonts need to strongly suggest the feeling and status.
In many ways you need to get back to basics, looking at line, direction, colour, and shape and what each communicate and how they play a crutical part on the design.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?
I think the reason simplicity can be hard to accomplish, is much like the mindset issues around over delivering. In an attempt to give and please and be liked and admired we over deliver on the design.
It is something most designers struggle with. When is enough, enough? How do you decide when you are done?
Although there is a place for detailed design. If something can be done simply yet we keep adding to it, it may be that we are over delivering in our design in an attempt to please and validate our ability. As if we have to prove ourselves and show all we are capable of in one design.
We also can not be everything to everyone. Trying to over please, or attempting to make the ultimate best design ever, will only end in mess. Get out of the competitive mindset. It is not a competition to see who can be the best designer. Good design is when the design is almost invisible. Itis so well executed and does the required job so well, that it is not obvious or overdone, good design is subtle and considered.
It is a struggle. I know. I always find myself trying to add more. And while I think attention to detail is important, this doesn’t mean it can’t be done in a more simple way. You can still consider carefully all aspects but then thoughtfully design them in a simple and pleasing way that melds well with the rest of the design. A small detail can be subtle but still delight.
In order to get there, you need to change your mindset. Let go of that feeling of needing to prove yourself, and look more critically at your design and how you can be more design efficient and do more with less.
So how do you shift your thinking to design more simply?
THE MINDSET SHIFT TO DESIGN SIMPLY
It is the same mindset shift as with simplifying anything. Be it live life more simply, declutter your home, live more minimally, simplify your business, simplify how you eat or any other aspect of life and work.
Instead of looking at it from the when do I stop, is it enough, do I need more, is it sufficient perspective. You instead need to come from the, what can I cut back point of view. What is unnecessary, what is distracting, what does not bring any joy, function, growth or purpose? Was something added just because it looks nice, or out of a whim to try it out, or because it just felt like something more was needing, and it was filling a void?
Try taking it away. Then ask, without it, does this still function how we want it to, does it still communicate the message we want it to. Is it enough to do the intended job? And why did I feel the need to add it? Did it balance the design, did it help direct the eye, did it communicate something that no other part did?
And if you find it wasn’t necessary, remove it. Or if it did have a purpose, is there a simpler way to do the same thing?
Always look at what can be cut back, rather then what more can be added.
It also helps to step away from a design and then come back with fresh eyes. When we are so involoved in something, we are more critical and often trying to hard. When you look at it with the eyes of an outsider, you can better judge if it is enough, and if it is beautiful in it’s simplicty or if it really does need something more added. Even asking others can help. See if the design conveys the message, or if they need more deisgn elements to make it more clear.
Just as in life, when it comes to design, less is more. Often the simplest designs can have the largest impact. It is about more then beauty, but communication and purposeful connection. Simple deisgn is all about design thst is considered and carefully crafted for maximium impact with minimal elements.