The Power of Simple

By reading Molly Bang’s book, Picture This: How Pictures Work, my appreciation for minimalist art grew considerably. I am thankful that the illustrations were such simple shapes because it makes all the more clear how important and powerful the principles of shape and color are. What can be taken from a red triangle or a purple blob is more than I expected. The reasoning behind every small, small choice that went into a picture so simple was thought out much further than the common reason of “I like that” or “this looks good.”

Taken from Uceda. "Art Appreciation Final Project Rationale." Bronx Science 2012.
Molly Bang illustration from “Picture This: How Pictures Work”

Now let me look at this triangle as Little Red Riding Hood. The shape and color, of course, represent her clothes, but can I apply the feelings I have about her as a red triangle to her as a person? Yes: the figure suggests a character who is alert, warm, strong, balanced, vital, and with perhaps some sense of danger (Bang, Picture This, 8).

We see the world in shapes and colors. The world is much more beautifully detailed than  three-lined triangle, but everything has a shape, and every shape has an association that may differ from person to person. There is shape association, color association, word association, placement association – everything can remind us of something else. This was another element I discovered in Bang’s book that I had not realized to such an extent. At least, I did not realize how association could be used so well to make someone feel a certain way when looking at a triangle that is supposed to represent a child and a blob that is supposed to represent a mother.

What are some simple designs that are so clear to us every day?

"Unisex Bathroom Design Printable." Modern Interior Decorating Designs 2016
Typical Restroom Signs

Restroom signs are simple. Despite any “politically correct” argument one may wish to have, we know what the shapes stand for – they are the traditional depiction of a man and woman.

"Creative Restroom Signs - Business Man." Naag tag.
A More Detailed Man Restroom Sign
"Creative Restroom Signs - Business Woman." Naag tag.
A More Detailed Woman Restroom Sign


We don’t need these signs to figure it out. Yes, this woman is getting more with the times with a job and pants, but we don’t need her…or the man.

What is depicted in this screenshot from Pivot Dublin’s animated MakeShapeChanges  campaign video called “Shape”?

"Shape." MakeShapeChanges. Vimeo.
Still from “Shape,” a film by Pivot Dublin

Kids are going to school – little square boys and little triangle girls. That’s all the information that is needed for the purpose of this scene.

[If you would like to watch the video made to inspire young people to think about design as it relates to city planning, you can do so here.]


So I have learned to love the simplest simple. Don’t misunderstand, I’m always going to be a huge fan of Baroque and Neoclassical paintings, however, I may be looking at art from more recent periods, like cubism and abstract, with a different perspective now. I want to focus on what I associate and how the artistic elements make me feel. Design is art, and both want to invoke a certain something from an audience. Art is not just a hobby – there is theory behind everything.

Strip away the details and dig deeper.


3 thoughts on “The Power of Simple

Add yours

  1. It is weird to think of stripping away the details in order to dig deeper, but, like you, I got that advice from Molly Bang. The idea that what we subconsciously feel when looking at something was intentional to the designers, or the artists, behind what we’re looking at is such a wild concept. Keeping things simple doesn’t make the ideas behind the design simple nor does it make the thoughts gained from the design simple ideas. I definitely see where you are coming from in this post, and you have awesome examples too!


  2. This blog made me think about the “Less is more” saying. You did an excellent job finding perfect examples. I am always blown away by simple designs because I think that it is harder to create something simple that tells you everything you need to know than having some very detailed creation.


  3. Your connection to the restroom signs is fascinating. I have a project outside my office that a student created in a visual argument about gender equality. I can’t tell you how many times students have walked towards my office, thinking it was a restroom! This more modern restroom image is striking, esp in the attempts to create a sense of equality (i.e. pants suit for woman), yet there are still gendered symbols (e.g., heels, purse). Have you ever looked at the range of gender neutral signs used in some restrooms? That can be a fascinating search!


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