About 3 weeks ago, I was getting a package together to send off and I decided to forego a manufactured, albeit wonderfully designed card from Papyrus or Hallmark or whatever else is out there. Instead, I opted for a blank sheet of paper.
As I was writing, I thought about how simplistically beautiful it is to just write on a blank sheet of paper. The absence of design didn’t make it any less attractive, it actually made it less distracting. Instead of something that came pre-made, I was the one who was making the letter with my words.
That got me thinking about how much we crave simplicity and yet, we oversimplify (I’m not using this word to mean simplifying too much, but rather over simplifying, basically complicating things, which I see I am doing by using this word). So I took a look through some style blogs I follow and noticed how I focused on pieces that were simple. Pieces that honed in on craft. What I hear all the time in advertising school is, “simple always wins.” Plain and simple. But simple, is also hard.
I think we as consumers like things to be simplistic, but we as creators love to oversimplify. It’s not too shocking considering the self-centered mindset humanity tends to have. But let’s think about it.
The iPhone. When it first came out, everyone’s eyes started salivating. It was clean, chic, modern, and simple. They got rid of all the buttons and the extra step of having to flip your phone open. It was beautiful. Now, the latest innovations are all about the bigger screens. Yes, the main reason people find a bigger screen so enticing is because well, there’s just some innate desire for large screens. Just think about your t.v.’s. But I think there’s another reason. When we bought our new iPhones, we started crowding it with apps and data. There were little squares all over the place, which visually signifies oversimplification. Hence, a larger screen with more space for our little squares, visually signifies simplification.
Now, as creators we are just dying to get everything out. I’ll use the example of writing because it’s something I can personally relate to. When I write, I want to convey all my thoughts no matter how small or large. You may have noticed that when reading my posts. Even when I write for school, I want to make sure I am capturing the voice, the tone, and absolutely the message. I have a hard time letting some words go because I have this feeling that saying “I wouldn’t regret a single thing” is enormously different than “I wouldn’t regret a thing.” Now, one can of course argue that it is mightily different, but for the sake of communicating in the advertising world the difference is miniscule. And yet, it kills me to have to cross that one word out. I feel like I’m being cheated out of my art and my work. In my mind, I’m a worse writer for having to leave out the word “single.” And it’s funny because as I have previously stated, I think we as consumers want things to be simple. So you would think that being in an industry where it’s really about getting into the minds of the consumer, I would of course want to be as simple as I can possibly be.
But I think what makes that task so hard is our fear of emptiness. That particular fear can manifest into different things depending on the situation: The fear of the blank page. The fear of negative space. The fear of silence. I think we’re afraid of exposing ourselves when we choose to be simple. When we choose to become simpler, whether in lifestyle or in our work, there leaves much more room for someone to think, see, hear, and taste. A simple sentence without a bunch of fluff constructing it will lead the reader to the end of it much faster and clearer, which means they have time to really digest what you have just stated. And that can be extremely frightening. A chef who doesn’t over complicate his dishes is much more likely to be critiqued on his fundamental skills and talents. I think people who create simple work are willing to be vulnerable. They’ve stripped down anything and everything that’s unnecessary and are exposing the bare bones of something to the world. It makes sense why so many things are oversimplified. It’s not just because it’s easier, but it’s safer.
So what I’ll leave to you is something you’ll never hear in a sex ed session: Don’t be safe.
Be bold. Be daring. Be vulnerable. Don’t add anything whose sole purpose is to provide your work with a shield of distraction. Your work should be able to stand alone. And above all, be simple.