Sparks Studio

Simplify, well

Most of us are bombarded with noise.
And most of us probably do some bombarding.

You want to influence a customer to buy, a colleague to act, or a supporter to donate.
And so, it seems, does the rest of the world.

Emails, texts, phone calls, tweets. Adverts on Facebook, in the paper, on the TV.

A flyer pressed into your hand as you rush for the train. A pile of post on the mat when you unlock the front door.

Earplugs, please

How can you engage people who are already inundated?

One option is to keep going as you always have, wondering why you’re not getting the impact you seek.

Another is just to turn up the volume. Imagine we renamed this piece.

Wow! Have you seen this?


The striking visual blog post you should check out right now.

This shouting might work, for a while. It might drive some traffic and get us some new contacts.

But it doesn’t respect our audience, or their intelligence. For most organisations, just turning up the volume damages the brand.

Try simplicity

A much better response to information overload is to simplify, well.

Think of the ‘eat five a day’ campaign. There are no vitamin levels to calculate, or percentages to work out. Just a memorable concept that nudges us all to eat more fruit and veg.

Or consider Dropbox. They could have described themselves as a file hosting service that automatically synchronises documents across a user’s computers and devices.

But instead they invested the time to simplify well. The essence of Dropbox?

Your stuff, anywhere.

These simple propositions and campaigns are most powerful when they are also reflected in the design and visual communication of an organisation.

Think of the logos for London Underground, insurers MORE TH>N, and the mental health charity Mind – their work is varied and complex, but they have all managed to achieve a powerful visual simplicity.

at the top

Carlos Brito knows the difference simplifying well can make when communicating inside a business.

As CEO of one of the world’s largest brewers, he’s responsible for leading over 70,000 sales reps.

These reps don’t have time to study in-depth competitor analysis, evaluate the latest statistics, or keep track of every development in the market.

So a central part of his job as a leader is to simplify well. Or, as he puts it, “to understand the world out there — which is very complicated — and then translate that into two, three, maybe five actions that everybody can do.”

Doing this well

Einstein said that any fool can make something bigger and more complex.

We would add that any fool can simplify badly, failing to capture the essence of an organisation or service.

It’s also easy to talk about simplicity, without really doing anything better. Consider this contrast within financial services.

In the US, there is an online bank called Simple that lives up to its name. It has pioneered new approaches to banking and the use of technology, delighting its customers (at least until some recent technical bugs).

Simple's design and visual identity is fresh, clear and direct. The coloured bands in the icon do just enough to hint at the illustrations found on most bank notes.

Compare that with Aberdeen Asset Management. It promises simply asset management, praises brilliant simplicity, and claims to have embedded simplicity in its philosophy and attitude.

But go to the Aberdeen website as a private investor and what do you see? A page of clutter and impenetrable jargon. You’re hit with OEICS, KIIDs, confirmation of GIINs and an announcement about the acquisition of SWIP.

When browsing the private investor page on a smartphone, all you can see easily is a picture of an orange.

A Simple

In your use of words and design, simplifying well won’t be easy, but it will be worthwhile.

If you want to be heard through the din, try being clearer, not louder.


Michael Gough is a founding director of Sparks, a branding agency for free thinkers and independent minds.

We’re writing visual stories about branding.
Here is the collection so far:

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