You might have noticed a general shift in recent years toward simplicity in brand communications, from visual design to narrative voice to packaging. This push for simplicity extends beyond websites, logos and graphics—but we can learn a lot from it as designers.
A 2012 study by Google found users consistently rated complex websites less beautiful than streamlined designs. Removing the excess makes websites more accessible to users, who judge websites in less than a second according to that same Google study.
But why does simplicity hold so much appeal?
It’s actually pretty simple: With a world full of complexity and innumerable choices, we crave simplicity and accessibility above all things. And that’s not just a theory—there’s actual proof in the idea of cognitive fluency, or the feelings people experience during the decision-making process. As it turns out, most people prefer an easy decision-making process to a difficult one.
And that fits into design, because removing unnecessarily complicated features and choices improves user experience by doing exactly that—simplifying the decision-making process. Simplicity also gives the brain less to interpret upon first glance, and again, the Google study tells us that’s how quickly users judge your website or design.
So how do you incorporate simplicity into design without losing the message?
Simplifying is actually a fantastic design tool. Stripping down a concept to its most basic level is the best way to understand the message you’re trying to send. You’re not aiming to remove the most important aspects of your design, but you do want to remove all the unnecessary add-ons.
There’s a saying in creative writing that carries over into almost all art, and it’s this: Sometimes you have to “kill your darlings.” You can love an aspect of your design, but if it doesn’t add to the overall spirit of the work, it needs to go.
To quote Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the writer and illustrator behind the masterful book The Little Prince, “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
On the flipside of that, you don’t to want remove parts of it just to remove them. There are also other tricks for websites—like grouping items together or having hidden drop-down menus that are easily accessible when users want them. This way, you still achieve simplicity without losing those necessary features.
Ultimately, you want to find that perfect balance, where everything is said and nothing more is said after that. Economy in design is the key.
Once you achieve that, you can build brand communications with value and mass appeal. By listening to customers’ call for simplicity while also catering to yours and your client’s artistic intentions for the work, you’ll create a design that’s as beautiful as it is accessible.