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Visual Design: Things you need to know. Told in Helvetica and Dingbats.

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In this excerpt from Visual Design: Ninety-five things you need to know. Told in Helvetica and Dingbats, Jim Krause offers advice on aspects of visual design, including graphic simplication, building with shapes, thematic imagery, effects, representational art, photography, cropping and containment, and objects as windows.
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26 Graphic Simplification

It doesn’t take much to convey the idea of a star. Or a flower. Or a cat or a car. A few lines—straight and/or curved—could be all that’s needed. Or maybe just a simple combination of basic shapes. You could always do more if you wanted, but when you get right down to it, it doesn’t take much simply to communicate the visual essence of a person, place, or thing.

Simplified depictions of subjects are often used as elements within logos or informational graphics. Depending on how they’re crafted, basic renderings of this sort might come across as utilitarian, fanciful, childish, crude, or elegant.

Apply everything you know about composition every time you work on a graphic image of this sort. Consider visual hierarchy, balance, flow, symmetry, asymmetry, color, and style. And, by all means, spend an adequate amount of time in the thumbnail stage when coming up with graphically simplified visuals—there’s rarely a good reason to turn on the computer before you’ve penciled at least a page or two of ideas worthy of digital attention.

Try this when developing the look of a simplified icon or graphic: Go too far. Oversimplify. And once you’ve gone too far and oversimplified your subject’s form to the point where it’s becoming difficult to identify, begin adding the details or embellishments that are needed to convey the look and the stylistic feel of whatever it is you’re depicting.

The ability to produce quality graphics of this kind is expected of most professional designers. If you do not yet consider yourself talented in this area, practice. On your own and for fun. That way, when you’re asked to come up with a graphic simplification in a potentially stressful on-the-job situation, you’ll be able to work with a good measure of confidence and with a few tricks already up your sleeve.

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