Principles of Good Design: Visual Economy

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simplicity in artVisual Economy in art, also known as simplicity, is the omitting of all non-essential or unimportant elements and details which don’t really contribute to the essence of the overall composition in order to emphasize what is important. Simplicity suggests that a good composition is the most simple solution to the design problem. Much of the beauty and skill in good design focuses on what is left out, rather than trying to include everything you can. The secret to a great composition is in knowing when to stop; when to put the brush down, stand back and say “that’s just about right”.

Keeping it Simple is a Key to Good Design

Good design means as little design as possible. It involves a paring down to only the essential elements required to achieve the desired effect. Restraint and simplicity are key in the creation of good design. There are no rules for using economy, if an element works in the composition with respect to the whole design, it should be kept. If it distracts from the desired effect, it should be re-evaluated for its purpose. Never use anything for its own sake, always consider and justify its inclusion for the contribution it makes to achieve the overall design effect.

Examples of the effective use of Simplicity

visual economy

Simplicity is suggested in the painting of the cowboy by zooming in thus eliminating the extra surrounding elements that would otherwise detract from the main focus of the painting.

There is simplicity in the design of the buildings in the painting right. Detail has been left out to call your attention to the unique architecture.

In the painting of Egypt detail has been deliberately left out so the shapes rather than the features become the areas of interest.

minimal design

In the painting on the right the background and clothing are done in a very simplistic manner so that the viewer’s attention is drawn to the face of Mary and that of baby Jesus. More detail would have been a distraction.


  1.  Why is visual economy in art so important to a great composition?
  2. In what situations would an artist want to use this principle of good design?

Your Next Art Lesson

If you enjoyed this lesson, be sure to check out another one in this series.

Good Design Principle: An Introduction

Good Design Principle: Balance

Good Design Principle: Contrast

Good Design Principle: Emphasis

Good Design Principle: Movement

Good Design Principle: Proportion

Good Design Principle: Space

Good Design Principle: Visual Economy

Good Design Principle: Unity

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