Super Simple

Is it enough?

Super Simple

Less is more. A common enough expression, right? We hear the phrase, “I’m simple” more often than you’d think. Most folks believe themselves to have simpler needs than their competitors or other markets. In fact, simplicity is the most sought after design element since the Caves of Lascaux. If a story or message can be aptly conveyed in less words, it is intrinsically more powerful. If an image can be evoked with the least amount of communication, it will feel more personal and therefore have a greater effect on the observer than a complex design. However, the volume of words or complexity of design inherent in modern cultures and languages exist to ensure a clarity of communication.

A mono-chromatic stylized image of a common piece of fruit might represent the ultimate in simplistic marketing and underscore the ease of use, approachability and compatibility, but without an accompanying message how does the viewer differentiate between popular technological devices and delicious opal-colored late winter apples?

The truth is, to create a simple design that carries a comprehensive message is one of the most difficult efforts a designer can face. This is as true for email marketing or website design as it is for billboard advertising or print ads. In all the various forms of marketing, the goal of the marketer is similar: increase awareness, create interest, define offerings. In some cases we’re just looking to let our customers know about a new product, a special price or availability. In other situations, we want to get the word out about a new brand or capability. Sometimes we’re just looking to remind people about our brand at the right time. It’s often tempting to describe or explain exactly what it is we are looking to accomplish, but we also know that marketing should have a more organic feel to it, especially at the top of the funnel, where brand awareness and interest building campaigns thrive.

A complex ad with great timing beats an inappropriately placed simple ad any day.

Ideally, the message should be simple enough to feel approachable, but still get the entire message across. We want a minimum of words but leave nothing to doubt. We want a comfortable amount of negative space but we need to leverage the real estate available. When marketers and designers succeed in such efforts, the results are often hard to notice and usually mistaken for a very easy effort. Consider some of the most iconic brands in the world and their most popular taglines or their simplest messages. The design is so super simple it’s easy to believe that any one of us could have come up with it. In fact, most of these required countless hours of design, submission after submission and tremendous budgets.

The very best designs are often so simple that they subtly tell their stories without reminding you that they are designs at all. Many of the most successful ones rely on ads, messaging and imagery that has come before. If you compile all of the marketing and imagery that Apple has released, that you’ve seen, before a simple white fruit icon on a silver field conveys a message about advanced, user-friendly and creative technology, you might be staggered. The actual story took years of design, careful placement and timing and some very clever product placement to achieve. Consequently, when we set out to achieve such simplicity in smaller campaigns or one-off-ads, we have to remember that we’re not building on decades of story-telling and that we can’t assume that our target audience knows any other parts of our story.

Small to mid-size businesses can put together marketing that is simple in appearance as well as the big boys can, but like the large companies, the effort is anything but simple. One of the most important techniques in any marketing campaign is to get your audience to empathize with your message. Most audiences today want you to value their time and they want to be delighted. If you do only that, you might have a great ad, but haven’t accomplished your goal. If you tell them all about your product or service, you might lose them as they grow bored or find something more interesting to look at. Simple but effective means finding a balance between engaging your audience and sharing your message. Some products or services seem to have it easier than others, but it all comes down to timing. A simple ad about a feature you’d like right now is far easier to understand than any sort of marketing about something you’re not looking for. However, a complex ad with great timing beats an inappropriately placed simple ad any day.

Apples to apples, simple marketing will certainly resonate better with modern audiences. However, before you set your expectations, consider what it takes to make something super simple.

Rich Harris
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