“Design is so simple; that’s why it is so complicated.” – Paul Rand
This short yet powerful quote is one that has stuck with me throughout my graphic design career. As a designer, you are expected to conjure up several ideas, concepts and styles in order to solve a particular problem. With that being said, the ability to keep things simple can sometimes become an extremely difficult task.
Time to brainstorm
Graphic design doesn’t start simple; it starts with a magnitude of sketches, scribbles and random words. Enter the brainstorm: a fun and messy exercise that can leave a designer excited yet overwhelmed with an extensive amount of options. A successful brainstorm serves a very important purpose: allowing the designer to see the realm of possibilities. With the brainstorm complete and a jumble of information in front of you, you can begin to determine which particular idea accomplishes your goal most successfully. It’s important to then take all that information and trim it back, leaving just the information that accomplishes your goal. Keep it clean, direct and simple.
Going through a list of ideas and eliminating the weaker options will make you more confident in making your final design decisions. Personally, knowing that I have attempted various approaches and selected the best option gives me peace of mind and prevents the “I wish I would have tried that” at the end of the project.
After all the research and exploration (that is the design process), you must be able to step back from the chaos and remind yourself of the main objective: communicate to your viewer in the most simple and direct way possible. Doing this multiple times throughout the process will help you stay focused and keep the design from going off the rails. Trimming back the unnecessary items is important for both a content and design perspective. A bunch of unnecessary content/graphics only distracts the viewer and can lead to confusion. Too much information can overwhelm the viewer, while not enough can leave them with unanswered questions. If the viewer is not able to gain the knowledge they need from your design, no one wins.
Putting all the ideas on paper allows you to see what elements work, what parts work together and most importantly what simply doesn’t work at all. With all the options in front of you, it makes it easier to sort through and determine which parts must stay and which need to go. By using only necessary elements, a balanced composition, and an appropriate amount of white space, you will deliver a clean and concise message. The viewer will leave clearly informed, and you will have been successful in achieving your goal.
In college, I was taught an important lesson by one of my professors: design space, don’t fill it. With the abundance of ideas that are discovered through the graphic design process, it can be easy to try and incorporate several elements into a single composition. Even if all the elements are well-thought out and well-executed, it doesn’t mean that they work together. Just because you “have the room” to add additional elements in your layout doesn’t mean you should. If you come up with a few concepts that are equally successful, do two options rather than forcing ideas together. Being able to solve a particular problem with two completely different styles shows you have done your due diligence, understand the task at hand and are an experienced graphic designer. Getting the feedback “I would have never thought about it that way, but I really like it” is always a great thing to hear. Doing the unexpected and making it work shows your value as a graphic designer.
Remember to keep it simple and intentional. A simple design is perceived as sophisticated, and perception is reality. When working with limited elements, every piece should serve a purpose and add to the functionality of the design. The clean look of “simplicity” elevates the composition, looks professional and brings credibility to your message. Viewers are more inclined to trust something that comes across as professional. Less is more!
There are several examples in our world that follow the idea of simplicity, but I won’t get into naming specifics. When you run across an advertisement that you find intriguing, take note. What does this design do that drew you in? Simplicity comes in several shapes and sizes, but they all maintain the same principles. Be aware of what works and be inspired to create something better than what’s around you.