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Strangely, one of the most misunderstood of the 10 principles of design is simplicity. I suspect after years of teaching that the reason for this difficulty is that the idea of simplicity is somewhat open to interpretation. Well, I'm sure you may have had the thought, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a thought that glorifies the subjective. There is some truth to objective beauty, or objective value in both art and design. Let's begin our exploration of simplicity by looking at its definition.
Simplicity or visual economy, as some people call it, means only showing what is essential in a design. In other words, simplicity deals with the elimination of any non-essential elements or details to reveal the essence of a form. How can you tell what is essential versus non-essential in a design? As much as you might want that answer to be simple and concrete, in most cases people have a hard time determining what should stay in a design and what can go.
Here is an example of a layout that's, quote, all over the place, with regard to images, text, spacing, and alignment. Can you tell which parts of this design are essential versus non-essential? Surprisingly, however, if you were to ask a group of people to tell you which of two designs they find more attractive, invariably, they would choose the design with the greatest degree of simplicity. This is not to say that less is always more. On the contrary, a design with many elements can still have a high degree of simplicity.
Rather, what makes a design have a sense of simplicity is the fact that everything in the layout is needed, and there is nothing extra that shouldn't be there. When a client provides you with the content for a web mock-up, there's an assumption that all the elements are equally important. This simply is not true. It's your job as the designer to create structure and order, to set a hierarchy for the different sections. To lead the viewer through the layout, as they scroll the page from top to bottom.
When you're creating the design, it's often helpful to ask yourself repeatedly if each design element is essential or nonessential. Then, at the end of the design process, you can ask yourself two very important questions. First, is there anything missing in the layout? Did you forget some copy, a photograph, social media icons? Were you supposed to include a search bar, or some other user interface feature? Second, ask if there's anything you can remove? Get rid of anything that doesn't fit and anything that isn't assisting you in conveying the intended meaning behind the design and the content.
Is that shape really helping the design? Are these decorative elements really necessary? Do these columns look most separate with or without vertical dividers? When you're finished with your design, set it aside for a day or two before you look at it again with fresh eyes. Remember, simplicity deals with the elimination of any nonessential elements or details to reveal the essence of a form. If you've applied simplicity to your layout effectively. Your revised design should look more polished than your earlier version.
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