Lavinia Aparaschivei

Lavinia Aparaschivei

June 10, 2021
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June 10, 2021
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How do you start your day?

Many of us just grab a cup of coffee and a sandwich somewhere along our daily commute.

But in this short period each day, usually spent rushing around, have you ever noticed how much information you've taken in? From our smartphones to TV ads to billboards; data and advertisements are everywhere.

We could easily be overwhelmed, except that we're so used to it. We consume and process incoming information nonstop, from the moment we wake up to the time we go to bed.

This is one of the primary reasons that simplicity in design has grown in popularity over the past few years. With such an overload of information in our day-to-day lives, we need designs that are easy to understand.

But What Exactly is Simplicity in Design?

Simple design is also known as minimal design.

If we look at the definition of "simple," we find a lot of the same adjectives can easily be used to define simple design. Simple design can be defined as a design that is not elaborate or artificial, but is crisp and concise. It's unambiguous and unadorned, and it uses the least possible number of components, classes or methods; or the simplest solution.

Simple design is unaffected, unassuming, and humble. It conveys its message effectively, and it gets to the point in a sincere way. 

Moreover, simple design is the opposite of grand, sophisticated, or busy design, and it fulfills the design need without over-engineering, bells, or whistles.

But one of the most fascinating things about simplicity in design is the fact that it allows for rediscovery and repurposing. When design is highly complicated, it becomes more and more specified for the viewer with every layer of complexity. So while complex designs communicate their one message successfully, they usually don't allow for interpretation.

Simple design can allow for multiple messages to be communicated. With the passage of time and its exposure to different parts of society, the design elements that make it up to communicate different feelings and ideas to people time and time again.

simplicity-in-design
Image from infinitenoon.com

How Did Simple Design Become so Popular?

The trend towards simplistic design has been around for a long time.

It began with Mission-styled furniture design, popularized in the late 19th century, which emphasizes simple horizontal and vertical lines and flat panels to accentuate the grain of the wood.

Next, the "form follows function" design principle was developed and coined by architect Louis Sullivan in 1896, and states that the shape of a building, furniture, or object should primarily relate to its intended purpose. 

"Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change." - Louis Sullivan, "The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered"

Later in the 1950s, Brutalist Design emerged in architecture. Brutalism is defined by extreme simplicity. Think blocky, large, monochromatic, and geometric.

Source: IGNANT

But outside architecture, we can see simple design everywhere we look. From user experience design to product design, and of course, even as a graphic designer, you can opt for a design process that follows minimalist design principles.

If you think about simple graphic design, one logo usually comes to mind. Did everyone think of the Apple logo? Apple opted for a 2D, flat, simple, monochromatic design that was beautiful 20 years ago and it's still beautiful today. It's no surprise that they developed this logo in 1998, experimented with a few other options in the early 2000s, but came back to it in 2014.

Source: The Graphic Mac

So let's see exactly what elements define simple design, and why it is so compelling.

Focusing On Essentials

In design, minimalism retains only the essential elements. For each element in your design, ask yourself a few key questions about each element of your design when following this philosophy:

  • Is this necessary?
  • Does it serve a purpose?
  • Is this the most basic way to communicate this idea?
  • Can I break it down into simpler elements?

Answering these questions will help you identify how well your design conveys this principle.

What works here is that viewers quickly understand what they're looking at because it's plain and simple. There is no need to over-analyze; it's straightforward.

All they need to know is right there in front of them, in its most basic form.

It's important to note that even the simplest designs need powerful software. When you can focus only on the essentials, you can create better quality outputs with laptops for graphic designers. Never confuse simple with easy. Using laptops especially made for graphic designers will ensure that you create professional-grade designs.

One Concept Per Page

More often than not, we need to communicate a large amount of information in a small amount of space. When this is the case, a good rule to follow is focusing on one concept per page.

If you're designing as a minimalist, you won't want to clutter a page with too many elements. As previously mentioned, you'll want to accentuate only what's important.

Elements on a page can stay if they convey cohesiveness and work together towards a single goal. Keep the elements to a minimum though, or it will get messy fast.

Just like in math, the shortest path between two points is a straight line. And the same is true in design. But just like math, simple design is hard to solve.

What’s the secret sauce here? What’s that magic dust that makes design simple, or beautiful, or preferably both? It might sound like a paradox, but cluttered design is easier to achieve, as it’s harder to remove design elements that are not needed, than to add them.

Instead of having six visual elements that accomplish one desired outcome, accomplish it with only one element whenever possible. After all, the user satisfaction journey will be much more streamlined when they are able to perceive your message in a straightforward way.

simplicity-in-design
Image from freepik.com

Using Negative Space Strategically

In art and design, negative space is the space between, within, and surrounding the subject in a graphic. Often, this space is used to form another image or symbol. While the positive space is the object itself. 

Negative space scares many designers. They feel that without a lot of activity happening in the space, it will be uninteresting to others. They're afraid of boring their viewers. But in actuality, simplicity in design isn't boring at all.

Negative space helps direct the viewer's attention. If there's nothing else to look at, their gaze will naturally lock onto the subject of your piece. So it draws attention to your subject immediately. 

Negative space helps your viewers breathe. A viewer can relax. There is nothing else to look at other than what they're supposed to see.

Another awesome use of negative space is giving viewers the room to use their imagination. Normally, space gives the impression of something missing. But smart designers know how to use negative space to complete their designs instead. Simple design guided by the smart use of negative space gives viewers the freedom to interpret your work in various, meaningful, and even surprising ways. This little trick always gets the viewers to go “oooh."

You can either learn this skill through years of experience or by taking expert training courses. For designers who have been in the industry for a while, coming up with designs that use negative space effectively has become second nature.

But for those of us who are just starting, we can learn a lot from those who know better. There's a lot of truly amazing designs out there that make use of negative space and which can fuel your inspiration.

Take this design below as an example, which uses negative space to create the shape of an opera house. Or did you know that the hidden arrow in the FedEx logo is also an example of ingenious negative space use?

simplicity design
Joseph Muller Brockman. Image from graphiene

Guiding with Colors

Color also plays a big role in directing your viewer's attention.

Most designs that use the principle of simplistic design play with neutral colors. You'll see lots of greys and whites in these pieces.

A lot of designs also use earth tones that are easy on the eyes.

In terms of user interface design, muted colors make it easy for visitors to keep looking at your web page, due to the comfortable low-saturation tones. It can also give a more natural and elegant feel. The best part is that all these characteristics of minimal design are very trendy this year. If you follow these principles of design, your layouts will not only look good, but they will feel fresh as well.

The smart thing about the use of these neutral tones is that designers like to use striking colors to highlight their point. In a background that is full of neutral tones, the eyes will naturally navigate towards the more vivid colors.

Using these basic elements of color design, designers can achieve their goal of directing viewers' attention exactly where they want it.

design simplicity
Image from society6 

Communicating Through Fonts

Typography is an underrated element of design and rarely receives the attention it deserves.

But experienced designers know to never underestimate the power of typography. Typography sets the tone of your design. It gives life and personality to the information you're presenting to your viewers. Subconsciously, it even establishes the value and tone of a brand.

A common pattern of typography used in minimalistic designs uses clean lines, sharp edges, and soft curves; conveying a clean and simple feel to the reader. This style typically uses sans-serif or slab fonts.

Decorative fonts can be visually stimulating, but unfortunately, if used too often, they'll give a cluttered and overwhelming feel. Most minimalistic designs stay away from serif fonts, and if they do use them, it's done sparingly.

The goal of minimalist typography is to give you enough space to read and to truly comprehend what you're reading.

There's also the option of designing only with text. In this case, you need to put those typography muscles to work and come up with some interesting hierarchy. It will help draw people in, and keep them engaged in the story you’re trying to tell.

fonts in a simplicity design
Wim Crouwel. Image from Het Geheugen

Calming You Down

Most of us live very hectic and active lifestyles. We always have deadlines to keep and things we needed to do yesterday. There's always something happening.

Simplicity in design allows viewers to rest.

Common elements of minimalism include neutral tones, negative space, symmetry, and balance. When used together correctly, they invoke a sense of calmness and serenity.

Keep in mind that people aren't always looking for stimulation - more often than not, they're already overstimulated!

People need a rest from all that stimuli. Minimalism gives them a break while effectively communicating a message.


design simplicity
Ikki Kobayashi. Image from Tokyo type directors club 

Easily Digestible

Of course, we've developed coping mechanisms to ward off stimulation overload. We have learned how to tune in to what we need at the moment and tune out and put aside information that we'll need later.

As awesome as this sounds, it also has a downside. People have developed much shorter attention spans. This presents a new challenge for designers - how to communicate meaning despite the short attention span of viewers. Minimalism makes achieving this goal easier.

Because minimalism focuses on breaking down all elements to their most basic form, it's easier for viewers to understand. Using neutral tones as the background and striking colors for emphasis makes it easier for viewers to focus. Using negative space directs the attention of the viewers to the subject of the design.

These elements work together to enable viewers to more quickly and easily digest the content and the message.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you overload your design with elements and features you might end up falling into the "feature creep" trap. It's a term most commonly used in product or UX/UI design, but it can be extended to any type of design as well. Feature creep is the bane of our existence as creators. Simply put, it’s when you or your clients start adding more features or ideations to a proof of concept that has already been defined. It's the fallacy that design is better when it expresses a myriad of things instead of having one clear message.

Simple design can facilitate clarity, and when done right, it will stray you away from feature creep.
bold simplicity design
Shigeo Fukuda, Image from AGI

Key Takeaway

Many people underestimate the simplistic design philosophy. They think that just because something looks simple, it must have been easy to create.

But as we've detailed above, it's quite the opposite.

Designers need to communicate a lot of information with only a few elements. It takes a purposeful and strategic focus to create minimalistic designs, since every element counts and speaks volumes. It takes skill and talent to be able to help people understand a concept at a single glance. Despite the complexity of the process, the outputs can be powerful.

And we're not talking just about aesthetics here. Simple design can lead to better user experience, faster loading webpages, better lead collection funnel, and a better product. As a web, app, or UI designer, these factors play a major role in how successful your projects will be.

Because of the simplicity of the forms, simple designs can be executed in vectors, which come with a host of benefits to boot. The fact that they are endlessly editable, perfect for print mediums, high quality no matter the resolution, and - despite all that - they are also lightweight. Perfect for all the applications we just mentioned. 

If you are looking for a simple but powerful vector graphic design platform to start your experiments with minimal design, look no further. Give Vectornator a try today!

Simple design means beauty, but simple design means optimization too.

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