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The Power of

Many years ago, I was sitting in an office with a tattooed art director dressed in Hell's Angel denim, leather, and chrome long before it was fashionable. Despite his intimidating appearance, he was fiercely soft-spoken about his work.

Later that day, still dressed in his best Easy Rider regalia, he presented a beautiful advertising campaign to a less-than-sophisticated client. The ads featured stunning photographs of the client's products surrounded by a great field of empty white.

The client glanced at the work briefly before explaining to my office mate everything they could put in that white space, from a map of their locations, to phone numbers and addresses, to a great big banner announcing, “Se Habla Español.”

As the client explained, “I'm paying for all that $ $%@ empty ad space anyway. You might as well fill it with something useful.”

The art director listened for a long, noisy minute before interrupting the client's rant.

“That space is not empty,” he said quietly. “It's occupied. It provides a buffer to protect your beautiful products from the big bad world.”

The client was dumbfounded.

The ads ran the way they were presented.

Artist-architect-philosopher Ludwig said: “Less is more.”

said: “Simple can be harder than complex.”

And French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

Simplicity has been an essential subject for designers and communicators both before and after my lesson in that ad agency office all those years ago.

The dictionary offers three different insights into the meaning of the word simplicity that also point to why designers find it such a compelling concept:


  1. The quality or condition of being easy to understand or do.
  2. The quality or condition of being plain or natural.
  3. A thing that is plain, natural, or easy to understand.

Being easy to understand helps accomplish of because nothing extraneous stands in the way of comprehension and subsequent action.

But wait, there's more.

Simplicity in design also helps create a sense of calm, aids in comprehension, and provides an attractive focal point for attention.

Simplicity allows viewers to concentrate and appreciate what matters most while helping them disregard what doesn't.

Simplicity separates the wheat from the chaff, the critical from the superfluous, the important from the less so.

The Power of Simplicity

Simplicity also demands responsibility. Architect said: “Less is more only when more is too much.” A minimalist aesthetic demands that what is included be critical to comprehension and appreciation.

Simplicity is a technique, a direction, and a goal.

Simplicity is simple but never simplistic.

wrote: “Our life is frittered away by detail… , simplify.”

Thoreau believed simplicity was important enough to say twice, employing an ironic juxtaposition to make his simple point as simple as possible.

Simplify, simplify.

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