Add To Your Layout By Taking Something Away

I wanted to share some thoughts on my recently completed TV remote project. I ran into a few difficulties that I thought were worth sharing.

There comes a point in my projects where I start to squint and tilt my head from side to side. It’s missing something, but I’m not sure what. Iteration is an important part of the process. We need to experiment, and fail, to find out what works, and what doesn’t.

This is where I add “stuff”.

We all have a tendency to add stuff—just like packing for a trip, or adding chart junk to a PowerPoint presentation. Before we know it, we have a serious case of project bloat.

Writing and design is meant to deliver a message. Lettering and illustration is no different. Anything that gets in the way reduces that message. I get uneasy when I start to add too many elements. When my actual layout starts to drift away from what i see in my head, it creates tension. I have to ask myself: Does all this extra stuff help the message?

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I like my illustrations be be efficient, and not necessarily simple. Efficient means getting the most from the least. It doesn’t mean I always work in an efficient way (because, distractions), but the presentation of graphics, lettering and colour is done in an efficient manner.

For the TV remote, I had a pretty good handle on how I wanted the final to look. In the examples that follow, you can see where I started adding things like borders and drop shadows. The thing that tipped it over the edge was the test pattern. When I got that idea I thought that would be so cool. In the end, it became a bit of a mess. Too many elements. Too many colours. I wasn’t sure just where to look.


Yeah. I need me some of them drop shadows.


Ok. Let’s remove some of the drop shadows, but add some borders.


It can be a fine line. Sometimes I’m uncertain if an element is helping or hurting the layout. In this case, I take it out. If it isn’t obviously assisting the layout, then it’s gone.

Just like stale milk: “If in doubt, throw it out”.

It was when I started removing all the extra cruft that it started to feel right. That uneasy feeling went away, and I knew I made the right decision.

Much of this can be subjective. Maybe you feel that my earlier versions weren’t too busy, and in fact better. However, the exercise here (and in every project) is to get my final product looking as close as possible to what I see in my head.


Here’s the final.


The next time something feels off in your project, rather than adding something, try taking something away.