Most designers are familiar with Dieter Rams’ principle “Good design is as little design as possible.”
Quote “it’s plain and simple” is a common phrase, but what does that actually mean?
In fact, many designers strive to create things with a “simple” design or even ones that are seemingly “unadorned”.
When designing a product, simple isn’t necessarily synonymous with plain, so what exactly is the difference between plain and simple?
Plain has more connotations with negative feelings as it can sometimes indicate ‘boring’ while simple is positive as it is most often associated with minimalistic modern design.
Simple is about functionality and means that a product is easy to use, and sometimes “simple” can be much more engaging than you’d expect.
Good design is simple but not plain — strive for simple without settling for plain.
A simple design takes away unnecessary functions, including text, CTA’s, images etc. The user should still achieve their goals but not be bombarded by visual and written content.
The goal of design is to make it straightforward and engaging without making it dull.
With that being said, it would be best if you kept that in mind while following the above steps to create simple and not plain designs.
1. Less is more (especially with negative space):
Letting items breathe on a page is a must when designing minimalist designs. Apple is an excellent example of the quote “less is more” and showcases that their design is the product itself, not the website. They have confidence in their product to let it speak for itself, a very successful strategy.
2. Putting information in layers:
Cognitive load is the amount of information our working memory can hold at any time. An overload of information can drive users away instead of drawing them in. Not everything has to be laid out on the landing page of a website; that is why menus exist. The information stays hidden unless and until the user chooses to interact with it.
This way of progressively disclosing information to the user helps minimize the visual clutter and make the product simple to use.
3. Limiting the number of choices for the user:
Choice can be overwhelming for everyone. As mentioned earlier, when speaking about cognitive load, the amount of information our working memory can hold is limited. Hicks Law states that the more stimuli (or choices) users face, the longer it will take them to make a decision. Make it easier for your user and limit the choice.
4. Being creative and adding life to the empty states:
Illustrations and animations in empty areas can entirely enhance designs and make them much more enjoyable. We crave visuals, and hence animations are much more entertaining. These are great to make monotonous screens more interesting.
Telling your user about notifications? Add a bell animation.
It’s a skill to tell your user information with a few words. So instead of writing paragraphs of text, include engaging visuals.
Here’s an interesting use of user interaction of Chrome’s no wifi T-Rex game. The chrome browser allows users to play a T-Rex game when wifi is not available. Instead of a simple note saying “wifi is currently unavailable,” they entertain the user by allowing them to play a simple, fun game.
5. Establishing visual hierarchy with typography and colour psychology:
Using more than two typefaces can make design in-cohesive and messy. Instead, add different weights (light, regular, bold) and sizes of the same font to make it more attractive.
Beyond that, play around with the layout, fill the negative space with text and images.
Accent colours are always helpful to draw attention to certain areas, CTA’s or menu bars/functions.
Keeping the background neutral with small pops of colour can enhance designs while maintaining simplicity. Images or simple visuals are also a great way to add colour.
6. Lightly coloured backgrounds can make everything pop:
Using a lightly coloured background that complements your accent colours can make everything pop.
Understanding colour theory has its benefits. For instance, instead of using white as a background, using a light tint of orange can make your other accents of orange pop.
Using light tints of colours can create depth in your designs and as discussed earlier, layers are interesting to the eye.
A great design should have a solid concept, a well-structured hierarchy, and a seamless flow. It should answer the question of how it is going to work, and the user should get a feeling of confidence while using it.
Simple design is still filled with personality however is not overpowering or overwhelming.