How to simplify your designs


Design is not just about what to include in your message… but what not to include. Simplicity is key. Simple designs help reduce viewer confusion while strengthening a company’s intended message.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when simplifying and improving your designs:

1. Focus on essential elements

When you work on a project ask yourself, “What elements need to be the focus?” Research the industry to completely understand what will make the company stand out from its competitors while effectively communicating its mission to the target audience.

When designing a website, make the information as straight forward and user-friendly as possible. You don’t want a confused viewer clicking off the site because the design was too distracting.

If you are working on a logo icon, focus on simplifying the image so it’s readable when scaled down. There is a process some designers go through to simplify icon designs. If you are like me, you will start by searching for inspiration. It’s good to look at different images and not base your design off one.

Chick Photo

Being inspired by others is okay, but never copy other’s work. If you can produce your own photo or create an image from solely your mind. That is even better!

After researching a few images, I have created a chick. First, I drew the chick in its complete form:

Chick 1

2. Take out unnecessary elements

When you have a solid design, don’t keep adding to it – decide what unnecessary elements to take out. What lines can we take out that will still make the chick a recognizable object? I have taken out the details like its hair and decided it can still be recognizable with one eye. Break your image down to its bare essentials:

Chick 2

From there I am going to create unique lines that make the chick look interesting. You don’t have to connect every line or even keep them realistic:

Simple Chick Step 3

Have fun and play with line weight to give your icon an original abstraction. Build on your lines by really pushing the line weights and adding basic shapes:

Simple Chick Step 4

Sometimes people hear “simple” and think this means boring or minimal but simplifying your design can result in an unique icon:

Vectorized Chick

Learn how to bring your designs from sketches to vector art.

3. Reduce color and typefaces

The colors and typefaces you chose can be distracting even if your design is simple. Colors need to compliment your beautiful chick, not distract it.

Try to include as few colors as possible by limiting your design to 2 or 3. A lot of designers use shades of the same color when designing. For example, in a website design you can use dark blue in the background and light blue in the foreground.

Check out these 50 effective examples of monochromatic websites.

Monochromatic Websites

Typefaces are similar to color – you should only use a few. To learn more about typography, check out these 5 basic rules.

4. Hierarchy of scale

Hierarchy of scale is also important when simplifying your design because it helps a viewer’s eye easily move from element to element. When a designer uses hierarchy of scale, they manipulate the size and space of each element based on how important it is.

Designers differentiate design elements through scaling, color, spacing, and weight. These different techniques help signal a change from one level of importance to another.


Hierarchy of Scale


If the company’s name is the first thing you want the viewer to notice then it needs to be big, bold and closest to the audience. Placing a graphic in the center is also a good way to get it noticed first.

In this monochromatic website example, I have numbered the design elements in order of what a viewer would notice at first glance. The first thing a viewer might notice is the huge font. The illustration directly under the title would draw attention because of its huge size and accents of red.


Website Example

Learn more about Hierarchy of Scale in website design.

Keeping designs simple does not mean they can’t be creative or intriguing. It means they must be clean, recognizable and to the point. Simple, conceptual designs effectively communicate a client’s mission and that’s what designing is all about.


Based in San Francisco, Allison (Alli) Stuart works as Head of Community Marketing at 99designs. When she's not writing articles and communicating with designers, she is working on her Children's Book. She also enjoys extreme sports, like sky diving and traveling to new places. Alli has a Fine Arts Degree with a concentration in Graphic Design from Louisiana State University, her home. Geaux Tigers!