Keeping it Simple: Why Simplicity is Best in Design

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There’s no escaping that we as a species love Apple products. Everyone has succumbed to the cult of Apple, and believe me, if you’ve ever met anyone who’s worked at Apple, it is a cult. At the heart – or core – of the most successful company in the world are the principles of simple, functional design.

Apple completely changed the way technology works. Bye bye buttons on buttons on buttons and hello simple, seamless swiping. When it comes to visual communication design we need to apply the same principles.

Data visualisation is all about making the complex seem simple. If you can’t do that, then you simply haven’t done a very good job.

But simplicity is complicated. There’s a fine line between minimalism and emptiness. As designers we have to work hard everyday to find that line and work with it (and make it look best looking line possible at the same time).

Rookie designers love to use unnecessary design. By unnecessary design I mean 3D charts, shadow effects and fancy illustration or type. While they might look good in certain contexts, usually they’re more gimmicky than anything.

We can all fall foul of fancy decoration and overload whatever kind of data visualisation we’re making. When I need to keep things simple I go back to basics and ask myself five questions:

  1. Is the important bit of information clear, or does the viewer have to search for it?
  2. Have I presented everything in small chunks of information, or overloaded it?
  3. Is the text easy to read and free of jargon that people won’t understand?
  4. Have I really thought about the aim of the data visualisation and is it presented clearly?
  5. Can a fresh set of eyes understand it?

If I fall short on any of these I’m putting out a complicated infographic, and that, simply put, is an oxymoron too far.