Simple isn’t simple
Great design doesn’t flaunt itself. Instead it fits seamlessly into its environment, seeming natural and intuitive. Sometimes a design works so well that it may seem ‘simple’ or ‘obvious’. But don’t be fooled. The seemingly simple result probably took more time and effort than a more complex solution would have. Think of the famous Nike swish.
Simple doesn’t mean easy
Coming up with a simple solution to a design challenge takes a lot of work. It’s like trying to solve a mind-bending puzzle. You’ll probably spend hours pondering over it and playing with options. When the answer clicks into place, though, it may seem quite simple or obvious because it’s ‘so right!’ But it only seems that way in retrospect, once you’ve got to the solution. When people come across a simple design they often don’t recognise the hard work and planning that went into getting it that way.
Simple doesn’t mean simplistic
When something is simplistic it is overly simplified. It’s too simple; lacking. That’s not what good design is. Keeping design simple is all about avoiding unnecessary complications, but not about stripping everything away. It’s about eliminating clutter so that what’s left is what’s essential, so it’s effective.
Why make design simple in the first place?
Because our brains like simple. And this is especially useful to know in terms of graphic and web design. Back in 2012 a study found that users judge whether a website is beautiful or not within 1/50th to 1/20th of a second. And that “visually complex” websites are consistently judged to be less beautiful than simpler ones. With the rate of pace, you can imagine how quickly a site is judged now.
And it makes sense. Let’s take a web page as an example. If there’s too much visual information or if the page is set up in an unfamiliar way, the brain has to expend energy on figuring out what’s going on. You’re going to like the experience less and, most important, you’re going to pay less attention to the content that is being communicated to you. Your working memory will be busy working out what the site is doing instead of concentrating on what the site is actually trying to say.
Instead, the design should communicate as much as possible using as few elements as possible. The design, which includes the functionality, should fade into the background so that the purpose of the website and information stand out. Then a user will be much more likely to engage with it. That’s the key to effective, simple design.
And so that’s why simpler is often harder and takes longer. It’s about finding the perfect balance, taking complexity and lots of information and finding a way to present it in the simplest, clearest way so that it can be truly effective.
And that is anything but simple!