How to Avoid the Temptation to Over-Design


“Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better.”

--Dieter Rams, 10 Principles of Good Design 

Have you ever been sucked into the vortex of Twitter?

Individual tweets are forceful because Twitter forces people to say things succinctly: anyone who writes a tweet has to do it in 140 characters. That’s not a lot of space! And, as any practiced writer knows, it’s not easy to distill a message to its essential core.

Just like writing, concise designs create a profound impact. And while everyone loves some bells and whistles, there is such a thing as over-designing. This usually occurs when you set out without a distinct direction or a focused design solution. While it is easy (and even fun) to overdo things, ultimately this confuses the viewer and produces a muddled result.

Want to keep your concepts as sharp as possible? These tips will help.

4 Tips for Creating More with Less

1. Know What Your Design is Trying to Achieve

Over-designing is often a way to compensate for a lack of concept.

If you feel like you have to keep adding more to a design, you should stop and ask why. No amount of randomly applied bevels, embosses, patterns, or lens flares will get you closer to solving the problem.

2. Design with Constraint

Just because a design seems simple doesn’t mean it was easy to achieve.

Efficient designs use fewer visuals and create room for viewers to bring their own understanding or interpretations to the work. By limiting the number of components in your design, you leave space for active viewers to engage deeply and experience authentic emotions.

3. Simplify Complexities

What do you picture when you think of a bird?

Maybe flying, nests, or freedom? If you are trying to simplify your designs, brainstorm symbols that best convey your idea's meaning. Instead of showing a bird in its entirety, you could sketch a feather, nest, or wingspan. Each viewpoint communicates a different sentiment, so choose symbols carefully and layer the background or colors to add emotional depth. Try footprints instead of a sneaker, smoke instead of a fire, or a steaming teacup instead of a cafe.


4. Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over

One of the hardest things to do with your design is to admit it’s not working.

It takes bravery to disconnect from your work and be honest about its effectiveness. Though it’s hard to give up on a concept, remember that by starting over, you’re not returning to square one. By scrapping a prototype, you’re just looking at your work from a different perspective. The work you’ve already done is still part of your journey to the final solution. Your time was not wasted – it was just part of the process!

Powered by Design: An Introduction to Problem Solving with Graphic Design

by Renée Stevens

In Powered by Design, educator, designer, and public speaker Renee Stevens brings a truly up to date and thoughtful approach to an introduction to graphic design. As Assistant Professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Communication at Syracuse University, Stevens created this book to be at home equally in academia and outside of the school setting. With a conversational and approachable tone, Stevens’ book is for anyone who wants to gain a more practical understanding of what graphic design is today, and the power and potential it has: from students to novice graphic designers to anyone who wants to build a solid foundation of design skills so that they can work more effectively with professional designers. Stevens covers topics such as:

• Choosing the right typeface
• Hierarchy and visual weight
• Creating design systems
• Balancing tension
• Visualizing data
• Understanding color and mood
• Defining a story structure
• User testing and critique
• Immersive design (designing for all the senses)
• Determining when a design is finished
• How to make a living with design

Woven throughout is the crucial idea that you must embrace empathy in everything you design in order to create work that is the most inclusive. Design has the power and potential to make real impact in our everyday lives, and this book will show you how to do that starting with your first design experience.