Simple Design 101

By Lauren Beck, Graphic Designer

When we think of Nike, we associate it with a check sign. Target — the red bull’s-eye, and McDonald’s — the golden arches. Despite these being well-known companies, there is something about the simplicity of the brands that make us remember them. The beauty of simple design does not only hold true when designing logos, it can be applied in a variety of visual design.

According to the attractiveness bias theory, a good-looking design will draw more attention than a poor design. The first impression of something will be an ultimate factor in whether or not the viewer reads the content presented.

The power of simplicity in print design
Take advantage of white space or negative space. This refers to the space between elements in a composition. When used correctly it can turn a layout into something more appealing to the eye. 
In this example you can see how white space is used to improve the advertisement from looking cheap and cluttered to clean and sophisticated.

Improving Web design

Simplicity holds true not only to print, but to the online world as well. When browsing online, a well-designed website makes a world of difference.  This is an example of a well-designed website vs. a poorly-designed website. 

Example one is cluttered, uses lengthy paragraphs and feels overwhelming. While example two is clean, simple, easy to navigate and straight to the point.

Why would a viewer stay on a site where they can barley find the home button? We all are constantly browsing sites on the web, so making a first impression is crucial.

By using clean, simple design it allows the users to quickly identify the purpose of the site, find what they need, and increases the chance that they find the content on the site reliable.

Key factors for creating a design of your own:

1. Know your audience.

  • People don’t read online they scan. Information online should be easily identifiable. Use design elements such as: bolding the type, adjusting the size, color and contrast.

2. Use one or two fonts max.

  • Too many fonts can make a design look cluttered and will distract the overall design.
  • Be aware of serif vs. sans serif fonts. Pairing the right fonts together can be a challenge, so here are a few examples of sans serif and serif fonts that work nicely together.
  • Keep the headings, subheads and body fonts consistent.
  • Be aware of tracking, kerning and leading.

3. Avoid colors that clash or are too bright.

  • It can be distracting, harsh on the eyes and unattractive.
  • The wrong use of colors can even make a work impossible to read.
  • Using a color-wheel can help to make successful color choices.

An example of my own design:

The purpose of this USRentalListing postcard is to advertise website services to universities. I used color, type and whitespace to attempt to create a design that was clear, simple and straight to the point. 

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3 Replies to “Simple Design 101”

  1. Your advice for keeping websites low-key in regard to design is something more people should heed. In Susan Wiesinger’s ‘Intro to Online Journalism’ course, she repeated the phrase “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

    Web designers should use this as a mantra!

    Flashing lights, continuous music and copy without headings are likely to give the reader a migraine.

  2. Great post Lauren. In particular, I love your advice about typography. Sticking with a limited number of fonts and using those wisely is the key to having your content read. Too many designs have typemania, which destroys the reader’s ability to engage in your conversation.

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