Good Design Should Be As Simple As Possible

Making something simple seems easy. Let's take a website. Many websites want you to do something, ideally spending money. They want to sell something to you. To achieve that goal, they usually do a couple of things:

Seems simple, right? Once you dive deeper, though, and learn about the science behind marketing, selling, and people, it gets complicated. Do you want to sell something to somebody? You need to tell a story. Show them how the thing you sell changes their life. Build trust. Connect with them on an emotional level.

And then there's another layer of complexity: the medium. The website. It needs to work well on different screen sizes and devices. It needs to capture the attention of your visitors immediately. It needs to work as people nowadays expect a website to work.

Complexity Overload

Modern websites selling a product or service usually consist of multiple pages. Even if they sell simple things. Still, every feature needs to be shown and explained, often in great detail. And it's not only about the product itself, there are the people behind it, there's a knowledge base for the users and more.

Finally, there is the design itself. Animations, scroll effects, images, and videos. Interactive elements, forms, and buttons. Designing a sophisticated modern website gets complex fast.

What's the alternative?

Obviously, you can opt for the opposite. One simple page. A headline, a short paragraph of text, and a call-to-action element. That's all that is needed to sell something on the Internet. But does it work? And if it does, does it work better than the other way?

Less, But Better

One of the famous “ten principles of good design” by Dieter Rams is this one: Good design is as little design as possible.

Easier said than done, though. Use only the least amount of “design”. One of the hard things about that is once you try to do it, you have no other choice but to deal with these:

Dealing with those questions can be difficult, but also rewarding. Imagine you would focus on the absolute minimum, the essence of the thing you are designing and you would spend all your resources iterating on that? Wouldn't that lead to great results? I think it would.

But I also know, from first-hand experience, that it's easy to get distracted. Maybe you need a bit more text, one more image, and a short page that explains one more thing. Maybe you need certain things for legal reasons or because somebody else already spend money on it. It is very hard to keep a design “as little as possible” and it is very easy to add things to it instead.

Why Simple Leads To Good

While it is not guaranteed that a simple design will be a good one, there are certain aspects of simple design working in your favor:

A Very Simple Landing Page

I am currently working on a landing page for a side project of mine, a design document template. It's a PDF document and I thought it would be easy to design a simple landing page for it.

After a few iterations, I had a design I was happy with. It seemed short, simple, and clear to me. But I did not feel it. One of the problems with designing something simple is that for you (the designer), “simple” is different compared to somebody who sees the thing for the first time.

Draft of a landing page for a design document template

What I had created was plain obvious, easy to understand, and simple—to me. But for somebody who had no idea what a “design document” could be, it was not so simple. There was a lot of text and rather abstract visuals. I read through the text again and again and I noticed that it was tempting for me to think: “Oh, this is not clear yet, I should add one more sentence to explain it.”

When something is not clear, it is easy to add another thing to make that first thing clearer. It is difficult to rework the first thing to be clear on its own.

Before settling for “that's good enough, let's get it live and iterate later”, I started one more iteration and thought to myself: ”How could this landing page look like if it were the absolute essentials?”

A headline, one paragraph of text, and a call-to-action element. This is the direction I am going to continue with.

Simplified draft of a landing page for a design document template

Tweet-sized Landing Pages

While I was working on this article, I stumbled upon this great thread by Greg Isenberg: ”Tweet-sized Landing Pages”. That's a good way to approach simple design from the very beginning, be sure to give it a read.