24 September 2015

Keep it simple, stupid: why complexity is the KISS of death for great design

Our creative manager Zoe Grimes tells us why great design is all about keeping it simple.

When I tell people I’m a graphic designer the usual response is along the lines of “Wow, that’s exciting. What kind of things do you design?”


“Ermmm, what’s that? Can you narrow it down?” In fact, I still don’t think my mum really knows what I do all day.


Graphic design can encompass so much stuff, that it’s hard to pin down. Every day, every project, every brief and every solution is different. That’s why I love my job.


Ultimately though, we’re solving problems. And no matter what that problem is, there is one principle that guides me. Simplicity.


The KISS principle


KISS is an acronym for “Keep it simple, stupid” and can be traced back to the 1960s, where Kelly Johnson, an aircraft engineer for the U.S Navy, coined it.


He might have been talking about spy planes, but for me that one principle can be applied to any area of design from illustration to advertising and product design to digital.


Why is it important?


When you meet someone, it takes less than seven seconds to make a first impression. And we all know it’s first impressions that count right? Well, with design it’s been cited to take just 50 milliseconds.


Add that to the fact that we see up to 5,000 advertisement messages a day, and it starts to become clear why simplicity is so important. Less is more people, less is more!

How to put KISS into practice:


  • Research: Great design is based on great insight. Gather anything you can to help understand what makes your audience tick and what will drive them to act
  • Question the brief: Clients have some great ideas. But sometimes they have some not-so-great ideas. Have faith in your convictions and never be afraid to push back and suggest alternatives
  • Focus on one area: Colours, fonts, illustration, photography, iconography, animation, shape, space, texture…there are so many elements of design for us to play with. Pick one and let it shine
  • Test: Once you’ve got your designs, put them to the test and get feedback from as many places as possible. There’s no point having something beautiful if it doesn’t work

Doing it right


One of my favourite illustrators is Malika Favre (example top left). She creates playful art that leaves space for the imagination. She tells a story in a picture, using as few colours as possible with simple, perfectly-formed shapes to create incredible images. A true inspiration and advocate for the KISS principle.


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