Less is More or The Art of Simplicity

Simplicity is one of the hardest things to achieve. If you do a search for simplicity, you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of quotes from famous people who were known for their sophistication – From Steve Jobs, to Richard Branson, to Albert Einstein, to Confucius, all lived a live striving for simplicity. Although many of these people are known for philosophies or products, they are all talking about the same exact thing.

We are born simple. Children’s drawings are usually on target extracting the essence of what is important in what they are trying to depict. They don’t need anymore. A stick figure defines their thoughts. Why then does humanity become so complicated?

As designers, we should all be striving to find that essence in everything we do. Go directly to it and bypass all the extra noise that we don’t need.

“Just because you have the space, it doesn’t mean that you have to fill it.”

In freelancing this is one of the hardest things to do. Clients come to you with a 4 x 4 magazine ad. They want a logo, a title, about 800 lines of text, photos, telephones, URL, address, email, map, and who knows what else. Well, they paid for a 4×4 and they have to fit it all into their real estate. My college teacher called this fitting a bible into a pin head.

It is simplicity that will get the reader’s attention in a magazine, billboard, anywhere. There is so much visual stimulation saturating everyone, every day, that people welcome that split second of an empty billboard with just a phone number on it and the words “Rent Me.” The most effective advertising out there. Or a simple ad in a sea of color and graphics in a magazine or newspaper. Or the Website that is clean, simple to navigate, and organized so that the client can land, find what they are looking for in a fast, uncomplicated way. A site that is complicated to navigate is totally ineffective and a waste of money.

Here are some guidelines for having successful projects:

1. Think about what the main purpose of your project is. Is this an ad in a magazine, a billboard, website?

2. Who is your audience? Figure out who you are trying to reach and what you want them to do: call, email, got to your site and buy something.

3. What is your message? Just one message, not two. ONE! Don’t confuse your audience. Give them one message per ad. You can change the ad every week, every month, depending on the publication, but, keep it to one message.

4.Don’t fill it up. Just because you have the space doesn’t mean you have to fill it up. The less crap you have on the page, the more legible and less confusing the project will read.

5.Don’t use a lot of different fonts. Just because you have them doesn’t mean you have to use them. Choose a sans serif and a serif font that go compliment each other and stick to those ONLY.

6. CLIENTS: DO NOT DO IT YOURSELF! Just because you have a computer, it doesn’t make you a designer. I have been doing this all my life, and I am still constantly learning and challenging myself to do better. There are thousands of tricks of the trade, rules of the game, etc. that you must know in order to do this. Buying a computer doesn’t automatically make you a designer.

7. If you insist in doing it yourself, at least read enough to know some of the following important tips:

  • Microsoft Word is not a design software. The industry standards are Adobe InDesign and Illustrator.
  • Most projects you send to print are CMYK (4 color printing process).
  • They need to be 300 dpi (high resolution printing).
  • The best format to send your project to print is PDF.
  • Most projects will need crop marks.
  • Just because you find photos and graphics in the Internet, doesn’t mean you can just download them and use them. They belong to someone and you must pay to for the copyright permission to use them. Also, if they came from the Web, they are 99% for sure low resolution and won’t work anyhow.
  • Every printer, magazine, newspaper, tradeshow vendor, etc. has a specific way that they like everything set up for them. This is called SPECS. You must follow their guidelines in order for them to accept your project. So, before you begin, talk to the printer and ask them for their SPECS.