Breaking Graphic Design Myth: Think More, Design Less

by Mike Jansen

Similar to other forms of art, our understanding of graphic design is entirely different and subjective. 

Well, that goes for most of the concepts: evolution, for instance; not everyone believes in evolution and has their fair share of misconceptions or doubts about it. Graphic design is no different. 

As graphic design has changed and evolved over the recent past, there are a lot of misconceptions about it. Amongst many graphic design myths, there is this one myth: ‘think more, design less,’ that has got most graphic designers as confused as the sound of roaring waves.

The Origin of Phrase ‘Think More and Do Less’

From interior decor and a healthy diet to graphics and designing preferences, we all have come across the phrase ‘less is more.’ 

First mentioned in Robert Browning’s poem in 1855, the phrase ‘less is more’ was associated with the design and popularized by a German architect named Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe. In the 20th century, as he brought modern architecture to the surface of the architectural world, the approach of doing less and thinking more became as common as colors. 

A lesser-known fact: Though the phrase ‘less is more’ was brought to the forefront by Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, it was first coined by Van Der Rohe’s mentor and a known pioneer in industrial design, Peter Behrens, who got his inspiration from Robert Browning’s poem. 

The Current Meaning of ‘Think More, Do less’

Similar to every piece of literature, the phrase ‘less is more’ can be perceived differently by all. 

Initially, the approach suggested that designers should root out what is inessential and focus only on the necessary. Moving on, to emphasize that understanding what is inessential and what is required is a crucial factor here, the phrase evolved from ‘less is more’ to ‘think more, do less.’ 

However, today this phrase has been leading to different meanings – for good and for worse. 

It has definitely been helpful – and even necessary at times – to transform something outdated and unrefined into something updated, on-point, and slick. At the same time, with growing businesses and the overall rising pace of living, the ‘do less’ approach does not always work.

Related: Less Thinking, More Doing: Develop The Action Habit Today

While newer approaches such as minimalist design and decluttering have sprouted out of the ‘think more, design less’ phrase, there are some potential dangers that come with it. 

This calls for reassessing the effectiveness of ‘think more, do less’ in terms of design. 

The Use and Abuse of the ‘Think More, Design Less’ Approach 

Consciously or subconsciously, we designers have been in a quality v/s quantity battle regarding our designs. With growing competition, it is as crucial to get the job done as it is to stand apart from the crowd. 

The key is to create a balance between how much intensity the quality requires and how the priority (in terms of completing the design) looks. To do so, let us understand both sides of this approach: 

Pros of ‘Think More, Design Less’

Though the applicability of this approach is not quite versatile, it is safe to say that it is a rather famous approach in the visual and graphic design world. Even as a myth (for most), there are a few aspects of ‘thinking more, designing less’ that we, as graphic designers, can turn into our strengths. 

It works wonders for branding design 

With increasing competition amongst brands, it has become difficult for customers to note every brand they come across; this has consequently led to the need for brands to take better steps in standing apart from the crowd – not simply via the quality of their products or services, but by visual communication too. 

To make this brand communication memorable and appealing (by means of logo design, newsletter design, etc.), it is important to focus on every detailed aspect of the brand, which leads to a smooth designing process that does not require redesigns. 

It is appreciated by the growing number of minimalists

Emerged in the late 1950s, today minimalism is adapted in most aspects – from lifestyle to designs and art. 

In their purest form, minimalist designs are supposedly reduced to their truest form. However, some designers challenge minimalist designs as nothing more than the object itself – with everything else (a designer’s emotions and a brand’s message) stripped away. 

On the other hand, some designers accept when minimalists suggest that they seek only truth in designs. Though it is not always easy to create minified designs, the power of minimalist design is now known to most. 

Thus, increasingly, designers and brands are accepting and benefiting from the ‘less is more’ approach. For instance, Apple’s website is nothing more than its products and elements, it is one of the most informative websites nonetheless. 

The pros of thinking more and designing less are surely widespread. Be that as it may, does the ‘design less, think more’ approach get the design done effectively and efficiently? Let us weigh some cons as well to get a clearer picture. 

Cons of ‘Think More, Design Less’

Though there are certain pros of this approach, we can be sure of its applicability in the design industry only when we are cautious of what ‘design less’ can lead to. A number of times, I have argued that the elements which are left out from the final design serve their purposes in their own way, and can do more harm than good when excluded from design in the name of minimalism or ‘thinking more, designing less.’

It is not always convenient 

With the gig economy consisting mostly of graphic designers working as freelance designers, I have seen the need for quantity-based design projects very closely. Not every client prioritizes the message that a well-thought design conveys, or some clients could want a powerful design but not at a time-consuming cost (which is sometimes inevitable when we think more and do less) – either way, sometimes all you need to do is get it done, make the design. 

Limitations of creative space do not only come to a freelance designer, but also to an in-house designer. When factors such as deadlines, multiple clients, your team’s reliability on your designs, and your credibility come into play, trying to minimize designs can lead to unexpected negative consequences: 

  • Making users feel lost due to a lack of information or elements in the design. 
  • Skipping crucial pieces of design while trying to keep it at a bare minimum. 
  • Throwing viewers a bit off as minimalist designs can be clear but not very influential. 

It is not suitable for product design

There is no comparison between the types of designs. However, product design is directly associated with the usage of the product and holds quite a prominent place in most businesses. 

When using the ‘think more, design less’ approach while designing a product, one of the things we would do is decluttering; here, prioritizing the product’s elements becomes a challenging task – one where you cannot afford to go wrong. 

Instead of focusing on keeping elements and design at a minimum, I prefer focusing on including elements that would serve my users and customers better. In an attempt to declutter, are you ensuring that your user will have a smooth and vivid experience with the product? 

Here, if less is less, then adding a bit more design elements can work wonderfully well. 

Conclusion: A Balanced Way Around ‘Think More, Design Less’

The purpose of this blog is not to say that this approach is bogus or to give a solution regarding the types of design approaches for any designer. It is more about bringing your attention to your designs from a designer’s perspective but by prioritizing end users. 

Certainly, concepts such as design thinking and conceptual design have served us and brought structure to our design process. However, it is okay to bring structure without eliminating design elements in the name of making it look minimalist and trendy. 

Nonetheless, if you prefer exploring this approach of thinking more and doing less, I would suggest strengthening your designs by grouping information in a way that is accessible to your users but not on the face if not required. The same goes for other elements that you use to create a design. 

At the end of the day, your design should bring value to your clients’ and users’ lives; by giving thought to grouping information or elements, you can increase readability and convenience while making it look neat and on-point.

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