Simplicity in Whiteboard Video

Simplicity in Whiteboard Video

For ages, thinkers around the world have marveled at the paradox of making simple, straightforward content. Steve Jobs once opined that “Simple can be harder than the complex”. And Blaise Pascal famously opened a letter with “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one”.

In whiteboard video, simplicity is a cornerstone of good design. Simplicity and its role in whiteboard video are key to high-quality whiteboard content creation and continued success.

Simplicity is Informed by Design Thinking

By definition, designing simply dovetails with the practice of design thinking, a creative approach that centers itself on user experience.  Designing for simplicity does just that: it’s an approach that keeps the “user’s key goals in mind”. It focuses on “helping your users achieve their goals faster and more efficiently, all while enjoying a great user experience”.

Simplicity, argues Euphemia Wong, is what allowed Google to beat Yahoo in the early 2000’s. Google was easy to use and focused purely on searching. Yahoo’s design was crowded, complex, and multifaceted to the point of confusion. Clarity, says Wong, was the deciding factor here; Google’s design was clear and to the point, while Yahoo’s was murky.

Simplicity Helps the Viewer Absorb Information Quickly

High-impact whiteboard designs are simple because they’re meant to be clear and quickly comprehensible. They’re a conscious effort to avoid what Isaac Campbell calls “degradation by ornamentation,” or loss of impact/meaning through the addition of unnecessary complexity. Visual flourishes that exist for their own sake tend to distract the audience. They draw attention away from the message of a whiteboard video.  Simple designs complement the message instead of distinguishing themselves from it.

Simplicity Makes Whiteboard Video Broadly Understood

There is a universality possible in simple design, too, that drives its use in whiteboard video. Especially with complex or difficult subject matter, images must resonate with the entire audience—not just a select few.  Straightforward, simple images can overcome numerous boundaries to understanding: cultural, experiential, social, and more. For this reason, simplicity is a friend to localization efforts. It is always safer to go with a universally understood visual than gamble on a complex when communicating with new or non-native markets.

Simplicity = Timeless

Another reason to use simple designs is their tendency to be timeless.  At least, they’ve got a far better chance at standing the test of time than complex designs; even in 1908, Austrian architect Adolf Loos claimed that “ornamentalists,” or those who favored unnecessary complexity, would hate their own work in no more than three years.

Think of early computer graphics imagery (CGI) work in film. Are you able to return to early 2000’s/late 1990’s movies and watch ancient CGI wobble through the frame? For most of us, the answer is no, unless we’re there to laugh.

Just as bad special effects seem worse as time goes on, overly complicated design does overall. Simplicity doesn’t go out of style, though. People will always want a straightforward path to understanding, or achieving their goals.

Clearly State a Singular Message

While designers tend to find it harder to take away than to add, design should “try and get across one strong idea instead of incorporating many.”  Simple designs are great for single-idea messaging, and in whiteboard video, that’s their purpose. Each of the artist’s drawings is created to underscore one word, phrase, or idea in the script—and then the hand moves on, drawing new images to underscore new points of the video’s message. Highly ornamental designs slow down message intake, while design simplicity means that the ‘one strong idea’ behind each image is clearly and quickly understood.

Simplicity Is Not Minimalism

It’s important not to mistake simplicity for minimalism, however. While the two philosophies often produce results that look similar, the ethos behind minimalism is different. Minimalism “seeks to convey the essence” of the objects it depicts, while simplicity “means an absence of unnecessary elements.”  

Minimalism is also not particularly concerned with its audience, while simplicity hinges on user experience and needs. Reducing a form to its essence does not require that viewers understand that essence, or that newly reduced form. Removing all unnecessary elements, though, is an effort to make users’ experience of the design easier. Whiteboard visual design isn’t minimalist because its purpose is to strip away all that which would distract from the message—not to cut down to the ‘essence’ of each image.  

The Goal of a Whiteboard Video is to Share a Message

Steven Bradley wrote that two central tenets of simple design were to “Understand what’s at the core of the experience,” and to never “disrupt the core of the experience.”  In whiteboard video, the core of the experience is the video’s message. Simple visual design allows for that core to be easily accessed and understood. Simple design also guards against disruption of that core by never becoming garish or overwhelming enough to overshadow the message.  

Focusing on simplicity in design requires focusing on user needs and expectations. From these empathetic origins, designers create simply so that users understand quickly, and receive the desired message without distractions. Unlike minimalism, which appears simple due to its concerns with essentializing, simplicity in design requires a focus on only the necessary.

Charles Mingus once said that “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” The famed jazz bassist had it right: simplicity is a unique form of creativity, and it is far from commonplace.

In whiteboard video, simple design allows your video’s core—that all-important message—to reach your audience without disruption.