The Art of Simplification

July 22, 2021

Recorded history began when the bipedal hominids of Africa gained self-awareness and, immediately compelled, began to document time and the world around them. For the first time in its 14 billion year life, the universe now had an in-house observational historian, humanity. 

The earliest links we have to our intelligent ancestors are found in the art they left behind for us. Before modern conventions of sound recording, visual recordings were the only way for ones message to transcend vast stretches of time. Far beyond the limitations of the spoken word, visual language is the great communicator of our evolutionary story. 

The complexity of our communication is an essential ingredient to what makes humans human. Some of humanities greatest cultural artefacts are seminal exercises in the capabilities of our deeply expressive nature. 

Michelangelo’s painting of the Sistine Chapel ceiling is regarded widely as one of humanities most important artefacts. In astonishing detail span across a single vast expanse, its purpose, to detail every reputable quality of the Italian empire in the 16th century. It serves as an insight into how they lived, their values, beliefs and perceptions of themselves and their achievements. 

While its awe-inspiring nature is irrefutable, the reality of masterworks such as these is that they tell no easily pinpoint-able or concise story. The vastness of their message is so grand, no single conclusion can be discerned from its message.  

Centuries later, the greatest intelligible communicators today are said to be those that can express themselves in forms digestible to all audiences. Often, the most impactful messages are those concise in nature, but vast in meaning and implication. In a world awash with advertising and screen communication, how does one convey a grand message, in a tangible amount of time and space? 

Brands, the empires of the modern world, attempt to harness the essence of their mission and purpose in a single campaign or logo. Only those able to capture their brand's character and personality can truly tell a story as detailed as masterworks of old.

Enter: The art of simplification. 

What is it about Nike’s swoosh that emanates an aura of quality, cunning and human achievement? Is it simply the inherent dynamism of a shape, seemingly captured in motion, that evokes these thoughts? Why don’t other logos quite capture the grandeur that Nike’s swoosh does? Because not all works of art and design are created equal. 

Simplification is all about compressing a great deal of information, into a visual asset that stands to graphically represent a brand, movement or idea. Nike’s athletes and its vision stand united under the banner of its logo. Everything it exists to achieve as a brand and movement is personified by the motion and aggression of its simple logo. 

Nike’s Swoosh and other powerful logos, for this reason, will be our generations artefacts that transcend time and go on to garner far greater historical significance. Simplifications of vast ideas through clever branding, are truly, in my mind, the masterworks of our time. 

Don’t be shy.

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