Contrary to what the designers of Facebook seem to think, simple is cool. Simple means everyone can join in, something is easy to learn and it’s effective in getting a message across. As the famous graphic designer Abram Grames so aptly put it, “maximum meaning, minimum means”.
In that exact context, Grames meant his posters were designed to convey the most meaning in the most economical way, but economical isn’t far from simple. If you are economical with the truth, you are holding something back. Economical happens to mean sparing, not wasteful or extravagant; the power of a simple message prevailing against a wall of waffle.
In terms of my work, I try to approach with a similar mindset. I could use long words to satisfy my ego and look more intelligent than I actually am. But keeping it simple makes a great deal more sense because it means more people can read and understand what I write and, more often than not, less is actually more. A ‘Stop!’ sign, for instance, is more effective than one that suggests you ‘come to a halt at the designated line’.
That’s why the License to Quill website is relatively simple and minimal. It has big pictures to look at and each one can be clicked if they are of interest. At the top, there are only a few options to choose from so you can get to what you want to know with what I hope is the least effort.
This is not because I think everyone is incredibly lazy but because the best design is something you shouldn’t notice. When I eat with a knife and fork, I’m not reminded how incredibly well designed each item of apparatus is. I don’t marvel at my oven every time something comes out cooked, although it’s a small miracle if the item of food in question isn’t black. These items get the job done so well that you take them for granted, making you forget about them.
License to Quill isn’t the epitome of simplicity, I’m well aware of that and would not be so stupid as to suggest it, but the point is this: whatever you do, try and keep it simple. A common bit of business advice is that you should be able to explain what you do in once sentence. If you can’t, something is amiss. Simple sticks in the mind and that means whoever you are talking to, be it a potential customer or friend, will listen and hopefully remember your message. The result is more business for less effort, taking us back to Grames’ ethos.
This is why the redesigned new MySpace, which is clearly inspired by Microsoft’s elegant Windows 8 and Zune desktop software, could do to Facebook what Facebook did to it. Facebook was once a simple, useful and enjoyable website to use. But while it’s still useful, frustration is the sort of thing that drives people away and that’s how it makes me feel, frustrated.
It might seem silly, given the huge number of users Facebook has amassed, but once the leaders of the internet masses decide MySpace is once again cool, Facebook may find itself given a healthy dose of its own medicine. And, as they say, getting to the top is much harder than falling from it.
While your business might not be the next Facebook, or even on par with MySpace, the mantra is still useful. Keep it simple and your customers will thank you.