Less is More: Refocusing on Clarity

Ray van Hilst Avatar

Thank you Georgia O’Keeffe, Roy Lichtenstein, Edward Hopper. You reminded me of an important tenet I need to embrace more often.

I regularly tell clients that if you remove clutter, you make it easier for web users to make a decision and know where to go on their sites. It’s a principle that is even in the DNA at Google with their three design principles of focus, elasticity and effortlessness.

Yet every day we feel compelled to add more. This presentation needs one more slide.  If I throw one more fact into this email my boss will approve my idea. Can we make room in the layout and add just one more product? If I only had more money/clothes/shoes/things my life would be happy.

Fortunately, a quick post-work visit to the Chicago Art Institute brought me back to reality.  3 artists. 3 different styles.  Yet, each removed clutter to focus on the most important parts of the scene. Their art was just as much knowing what not to paint.

I’ll keep this in mind as I move forward. With an emphasis on focus, clarity – and less clutter.

If you want some inspiration and to know the specific paintings that inspired this post here you go:

Roy Lichtenstein – Whaam

While this seems like a detailed painting. Think again. It is part of the artist’s comic book style and each halftone dot (or “pixel” in modern terms) was painted by hand. But notice that he only used 4 colors and “details” such as clouds are not in the painting.

Georgia O’Keeffe – Spring 1924

Right next to this painting in the museum is a photo of the same building taken during the winter. In comparing the two you notice that she removed details such as the chimney and siding so the image could focus on the flowers in the background (which is what makes it spring).

Edward Hopper – Nighthawks

Have you ever been in a diner this clean? And yet we wonder why these three people are sitting at a counter in the middle of the night. What is their story? We don’t know. But we can imagine. By eliminating the clutter and knick-knacks that would inevitably be in the diner, we focus on the unwritten saga unfolding in the middle of the night.

(Note: This is also my wife’s favorite painting so I had to make sure I made a side trip to visit it.)

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