The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.
- Walt Whitman
Somewhere in the back of our brains is this idea that simplicity is something good; something worth striving for. But have you ever asked yourself why? Simplicity literally means freedom from complexity or intricacy. But then why is that good? Donald Norman asserts that simplicity is indeed overrated, however I do not buy that. I support, what I like to call, the “Simplicity” school of thought for design.
Let’s start with the functional benefits of design simplicity. A simple design lends itself naturally to usability. With a lack of clutter, the user can easily understand the web site’s navigational structure. Furthermore, a simple design does not feature an overwhelming number of distractions (in the form of too much advertisement, or too many graphics, etc.), so the user can absorb content purely and fully.
This, in turn, leads to a user spending his or her time more optimally. We are all familiar with the adage, time is money. Well, this can be true to a certain degree and if that is the case, a user spending less time getting lost in a design is “spending less” on your content (this idea was articulated by Gerry McGovern). This is actually appealing and will most likely cause that user to spend more of their time on various content offerings within your website.
The first, and most obvious benefit to simple design is that it is aesthetically pleasing. Some of the most appealing web designs are extremely simple. Granted, there may be a few blogs that feature heavy graphical interfaces, but you should take note of one thing. Namely, the best online companies feature simple designs (because they are functional and beautiful, but we will get back to that in a second). Either way, a simple design is elegant and smooth. They tend to be symmetrical and allow the user’s eye to move easily from one element to the next. Here are a few of my favorite examples of simple design:
As you can see, simplicity is accessible and appealing to everyone. And a further benefit is that simple design lends itself to good typography. I consider this a design benefit, because typography can really make or break a web page’s design feel. Of course, there is a functional aspect as well, but I favor it’s designing characteristics.
The Essence of Great Design: Balance And Simplicity
This brings me to my conclusion. Simplicity strikes a perfect balance of design and functionality. It is practical and beautiful. But to be honest, while I am a great proponent of simplicity, I do not always consider the simplicity aspect enough in some of my own designs; and sometimes I just fail to strike a good balance. However, more experience seems to be resolving this issue. I would love to hear your thoughts on simplicity, so leave them in the comments!