Sep. 22, 2016 | InBrief

Design advice from Da Vinci: Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication

Design advice from Da Vinci: Simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication

The word “minimalism” has been applied to a variety of contexts throughout history. To define the concept broadly, “Minimalism derives its name from the minimum of operating means … the subject being … itself.” *In the 1960s, artists in New York adopted minimalism as a guiding principle, sparking an entire movement around non-referential, objective artwork. The movement spread broadly, influencing painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and design. More recently, with the rise of digital technologies, programmers have adopted minimalism to guide user interface design, showing users only the functionality they are most likely to use.** 

As consultants, we can apply principles of minimalism to our slide decks to promote client engagement and understanding. Here are four minimalism-inspired tenets to follow:

  • Less is More Simplicity promotes accessibility. Identify the ‘must-have’ idea, and be sure any additional details you include do not distract your audience. For a presentation, take advantage of the opportunity to speak to those additional details. For a stand-alone deck, more details are appropriate. The key is to remove as much content as possible without jeopardizing the clarity of your ‘must-have’ idea. 

  • Reuse and Repeat Think like a factory. Don’t feel the need to create something unique on each slide, because familiar content helps your audience follow along. Create a path of numbers, letters, icons, colors, or other visual patterns to help your audience follow the connections across your slides. Using consistent terminology is also key in preventing your audience from becoming lost as they step through your deck. Caution: More is less. Keep the number of distinct repeated elements to a minimum, otherwise they’ll backfire. Your audience won’t be able to keep track of the meaning associated with each, and they’ll be distracted from your ‘must-have’ idea.

  • Surprise your audience When you have an especially significant idea to highlight, get creative! Break your established visual pattern, jump outside your color scheme, or insert a high-quality image to grab your audience’s attention. Keep the surprises to a minimum, though. As is the case with #2 (Reuse and Repeat), more is less. Every time a surprise element appears, its ability to grab your audience’s attention diminishes.

  • Know your audience If you have to explain a visual, it’s not working. Consider what your audience has been told about your project, and what background knowledge they have that influences their perspective. This will help you determine which information to include vs. exclude. Unsure about your audience? Lucky for you we have an entire team of Customer Experience experts who can help you get some insight.

Take your design to the next level in our upcoming installment on “The Slide Deck Deliverable”.   *Provided by Ukrainian author David Burlyuk in 1929 **For advice on how to avoid overwhelming users with all the possible functions available to them, I recommend Robert Hoekman’s Designing the Obvious Sources: ² ³

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