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Less Is More: How I learned to be a design ascetic and you can too


Brand Insights - Thought Leadership | Paid Program

Michelle Leung
Senior Art Director
The Agency at MJH Life Sciences

Michelle Leung
Senior Art Director
The Agency at MJH Life Sciences

Good design can be subjective, but most designers agree that less gets you way more. This idea originated with modern architectural design but has since been adopted by various creative disciplines.

But for me, it’s always been about hating clutter and embracing minimalism in both my life and work. When you reduce or remove non-essential elements, your design, concept, or approach becomes clearer, more refined, and more powerful.

To get you started, here are five easy techniques that’ll keep your design lean, mean, and ready to beam:

Keep minimalism in mind

Before you even begin designing, think. Do you have a clear objective? What is the core message and what do you want to communicate?

Once you have your answers, keep them at the forefront of your design. By focusing on what’s not needed, you enhance the necessary—all of which will positively impact your design, idea, and the viewer’s experience.

The French author Antoine de Saint-Expuery said it best: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Remove the unessential

Complexity complicates the mind and makes it wander. Reflect back on your purpose and ask if everything is really needed. If not, clean it up.

Strip away:

  • Unnecessary embellishments and colors
  • Visual clutter
  • Excess copy
  • Extraneous features

One single powerful element is more impactful than multiple ones that can distract your audience. All remaining visuals should enhance the primary message—creating a straightforward and memorable design that allows the viewer to concentrate more on what you’re intending.

Create a path for the eye to follow

Now that you know what to focus on, really grab the viewer’s attention. But be quick. You only have a small window to do this, so it’s no easy feat. Use these three principles to lead your viewer’s eye:

  • Prioritize essential information and make it stand out (bold fonts, pops of colors, icons, etc).
  • Determine a clear visual hierarchy with one or two font families, confirm the font sizes, and select colors that will catch the eye.
  • Assign each to a specific part of the layout to organize it.

Taken together, these steps will guide your viewer toward the most important information first, the secondary elements after, and on and on.

Bring out the beauty

Negative, or empty, space is a positive thing. Embrace and use it purposefully to balance your layout. This creates clean lines and allows the piece to breathe, while enhancing readability with the separation between all elements.

Within that layout, think about effectively using color, imagery, and typography.

  • Be strategic with your color palette.
  • Limit the number and select ones that complement and work harmoniously together. It will create a calm and cohesive visual impact and reduce distractions.
  • Use images sparingly and ensure they do not take away or overpower from the essential information.
  • Choose legible, simplistic typography to give the layout a modern touch and increase legibility.

When all these elements are considered, the end result will have a sense of sophistication and elegance. This adds polish to the design and draws the user in.

Don’t chase the trends

Although it’s essential to stay up to date with current design and color trends, it’s also important not to rely too heavily on them. Trends come and go. When you design solely based on them, it can lock you in on a design period that becomes dated in time.

Instead, think about aiming for a design that has a timeless appeal and can transcend these fads. Focus on balance, proportion, harmony, and hierarchy. Some elements never go out of style and will maintain their beauty over time.

With simplicity defined, you’ll unleash your brilliance

It might seem that not adding a lot to your design would be an easy task. When in fact, creating a design that focuses on “less is more” requires intentional decision-making and restraint.

Applying these techniques will remove ambiguity, advocate for the power of simplicity with complex information, and present a visually coherent and organized final layout.

In my opinion, the French author Antoine de Saint-Expuery said it best: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”