A Less is More Approach to Design

With thousands of images competing for our attention every day, a minimalist, less is more approach can help you create a design that stands out from the crowd and captures the viewer’s attention. In fact, a closely cropped, somewhat ambiguous, or abstracted image can actually pique the viewer’s interest more than a more obvious image.

Why would this be?

Suggesting an image, rather than fully depicting it, changes the interaction from a passive event to an active event. The viewer must interact with, and mentally complete, the image in order to understand it. And because we have an innate desire to understand our world, the impulse is irresistible. This reductive approach to design is a powerful technique because it not only engages the viewer, it also has the subtle power of investment. If I invested the time and mental energy to figure out what I’m seeing, I’m more likely to have a feeling of shared ownership in the image and this feeling strengthens my emotional connection.

All images have what I call an active component, that is, an essential visual element that defines the image and that, without which, the image’s identity is lost. This concept is rooted in Minimalism, an artistic movement that sought to expose the essential identity of a subject through eliminating all non-essential forms, features or concepts. Architect Mies van der Rohe adopted the motto “Less is More” to describe this aesthetic in his work but the concept applies to all forms of design.

In the ad shown above, the airplane is reduced to its essential visual elements. In fact, the plane isn’t even depicted; the active components, the windows and fuselage stripes, rendered in flat positive and negative shapes, give the viewer all the information needed to complete the implied image. It also makes generous use of the concept of White Space to direct your attention. Read the related article, How To Cure Horror Vacui, or, White Space Is Your Friend.

It can be argued that this image has more visual impact than a photographic depiction of an actual plane, although the typography could be vastly improved. The strength of the design comes from its simplicity. Simplicity tends to emphasize a design’s intent more powerfully than complexity. Read the related article on the Ligne Claire style of cartooning.

One of the graphic designer’s greatest tools is to ask themselves what is essential and what can be eliminated, how much less can actually be more.

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