Keeping it Simple

Keeping it Simple

A piece of visual branding is only as effective as the speed with which an audience can understand it. Which means getting the message across as simply and quickly as possible, helping people to find what they are looking for.

Most intended purchases are decided in advance and it is important to understand how this determines shopper behaviour. In any given category 69% of shoppers buy the same brand they purchased last time and 45% buy the very same product*, which is why being able to identify products on shelf quickly is so crucial.

Clearly, as designers we want to help brands to attract and retain consumers, in which case some form of disruption is necessary to get people to reappraise their purchasing intentions. The idea of disruption sounds great in theory – but if the majority of consumers are hell-bent on finding what they already want, then the longer it takes them to do so, the less time they have to be ‘open to persuasion’ to buy other things. In fact, TNS’s research shows a correlation between speed of selection and number of items purchased – meaning the longer it takes them to find what they are looking for, the less they buy*.

When shoppers are in ‘search mode’ they tend not to notice anything other than the cues they are looking for. And searching isn’t fun. The harder it is for the ‘decided shopper’ to find what they are looking for the less positive their shopping experience will be as a whole. This is important for category planning – grouping products together with similar features – but it is equally important at an individual product level to ensure that the information and features that consumers are most interested in are clearly communicated.

If speed is of the essence, then simplicity is key. Focus on the information that is most important to the target audience as well as the way in which those messages are put across. Adopt or adapt the design conventions relevant to the product category. Creatively this means being very focused on what the design needs to communicate and to do it in a way that establishes a strong affinity with the brand. In other words getting the message across clearly and in a way that engages, captivates and is likeable to its audience.

This is not to say that effective design shouldn’t communicate more than one message: there is always more than one thing to say but not all are equally important. The main challenge in any piece of visual communication is to decide what is the single most important message that needs to be conveyed. Other pieces of information can then be prioritised and given ‘airspace’ in so far as they don’t get in the way of the main message.

For swimwear brand Speedo the priority was to express the features and benefits of a large range of products, enabling the consumer to quickly select what was right for them. So instead of the PVC pouches they were in before, which tended to obscure the product, we used photography to simply showcase the goggles themselves. The simplicity of the design not only aids navigation through the range but also supports Speedo’s credentials for product quality and design excellence.

Once the hierarchy of messaging has been decided it’s down to the designer to capture the single most important message in a captivating and engaging manner. This is the creative magic – coming up with simple visual metaphors that effectively sum up the proposition and the brand. And this always needs to take account of established cues and ‘search patterns’ for any given category. Understanding the design language of the category and harnessing conventions appropriately allows attention to be focused on the main message. For the launch of Knorr’s wet sauces we concentrated on the core elements of the proposition and created a design that summed up freshness and the ready to serve nature of the product. A simple visual device helps to distill the proposition in a distinctive and memorable way.

A lot of energy tends to go into communicating the brand and all it’s unique attributes, such as its values and personality.But there is a risk of neglecting what is at least as important – saying what the product is and what it does. Of course it’s vital to identify the brand and the values it bestows, but a balance needs to be struck between this and the product itself.

Quite apart from the practical advantages of findability and clear communication, there is a real joy to be had in simplicity. A design that manages to capture an idea with elegant simplicity is inherently more pleasing and memorable. This can be through the sheer delight of recognising the message within a piece of communication – the joy at having ‘got it’ – especially if there is an element of wit or humour in the communication.

Our identity for the Eyeko makeup brand does this by reflecting the benefits of the various products in the range through the visual style of typography as well as literally in the product descriptors. Every element of the design works hard to single-mindedly convey the ‘just for eyes’ proposition.

Our design for little me portrays the nurturing values of the brand with an innocent and endearing design and imagery that is associated with children’s storybooks.

A classic example of a ‘less is more’ approach is epitomised in our 2007 Design for the Selfridges foods range. Stripped back to bare essentials with coloured type on a black background, the design makes an arrestingly bold statement and speaks confidently of the brand’s unquestionable superiority and iconic status.

For design communication to be effective, it really shouldn’t try too hard. But effortless simplicity requires immense creative ingenuity.

In simplicity there is nowhere for unclear thinking to hide.

* Finding faster growth – new customers: Stop interrupting shoppers’ authored by Pat McCann (Global Director, TNS Retail & Shopper) and published on