Design simplicity is an important hallmark of effective visual communication but achieving it can be challenging. According to Inc.com, “…Americans are subject to some 3,000 essentially random pitches per day. Two-thirds of people surveyed in a Yankelovich Partners study said they feel “constantly bombarded” by ads. 59% said the ads they see have little or no relevance to them.” It’s clear we’re subjected to far more marketing messages than we can possibly absorb. Considering all we see on the web, social media, advertising, magazines, apps, videos, and retail displays, it’s hard to take it all in. In fact, if a reader isn’t engaged within a second or two it’s likely they’ll move on.
All of this clutter has forced us to be lazy readers. So one of the best ways to get your message across is to present it so simply that little work is required on the part of the reader. But simplicity is complicated and achieving it can be a challenge. Here are a few tips.
Prioritize Your Messages
The secret to design simplicity is editing and prioritizing messages. If you had to pick the 3 or 4 most importing things your customer should know, what would they be? Your product has a lot of great features, but which matter most to them? You may be able to eliminate some entirely and present them later. Instead of a shotgun blast of points, try prioritizing them, with the most important point featured most prominently. Remember, you only have a few seconds to make an impression. Take a look at the two packaging examples below. Which has the most appeal? The package on the left contains a lot of information, but would you really take the time to read it in its entirety unless you were already interested?
Design and Information Path
From a design perspective, there are some tricks you can use to lead the viewer along a visual path. This makes it easier for them to take in information in a specific order.
- Create a visual hierarchy by making your most important information larger.
- Make the secondary points smaller.
- Larger and bolder elements and brighter colors tend to be noticed first.
- People tend to take in information from the top of the page first and then move down, so place what you want to emphasize most toward the top.
- Using symbols or icons as a kind of shorthand can be useful to communicate ideas more immediately.
Note the two web page examples below. The site on the left is cluttered and there is no clear hierarchy to the information. Your eye is confused as to where to go first. Contrast it with the page on the right. It also has a fair amount of information but the key message is included in the large graphic at the top of the page. Secondary points are lower on the page and employ the use of graphics to make the point quickly. Notice how your eye is attracted to the 8-10 prominent points on the page and how it encourages browsing.
Use Words Economically
Finally, try to say a lot with as few words as possible and emphasize what is truly important. Don’t say “Our product offers a simplified setup procedure” when you could simply say “One-step setup”. Use bullet points instead of sentences where possible. When talking about your product’s features, try to hit the customer’s “hot buttons” by emphasizing how they will benefit them. For example, your product may be faster or simpler than your competitors, but how do those features make the customer’s experience better? The example below shows how SanDisk was able to say a lot with very few words on its packaging.
When thinking about design simplicity it’s important to remember that you don’t need to say everything. Some things are obvious. You don’t need to say, for example, that your product is reliable—it’s assumed. If you don’t make quality products you won’t be in business for long. What’s important is to emphasize the features that make your product unique and provide an exceptional experience for the user.
Perhaps John Maeda said it best in his book The Laws of Simplicity, “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”