How to Eliminate Your Cluttered Design and Regain Control

Posted on March 8, 2018 | Updated on December 1, 2022

There are moments when you have so many fabulous ideas for a design that you want to incorporate them all. However, this amazing design idea can result in your cluttered design – it’s all over the place! When it comes to web design, simplifying things is even more important. A cluttered design not only confuses the user, but can also slow downloading speeds. Add input from the client and the multiple changes you’ve already made, and you may worry your design can’t be rescued.

When it comes to web design, about 50 percent of web users expect your site to load in under two seconds, and will bounce away if the site doesn’t load by three seconds. Eliminating unnecessary graphics and nonfunctional elements will help your site load more quickly and increase your retention rates. Simplicity wins in these cases and can keep visitors on your site and moving toward your purpose for them.

These concepts of simplicity can also apply to static designs. If you create marketing materials that are too busy, you risk losing your audience. Fortunately, there are some basic things you can do to eliminate the clutter and regain control of your design.

1. Hone Your Focus

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Humans are naturally complex creatures, trying to see the big picture and add in all the little details so the world around us makes more sense. We tend to look at things from a larger scale rather than a smaller one. However, when it comes to design, complexity can interfere with the message you’re trying to give.

  • First, take a step back and figure out what the exact purpose of the design is. What is the overall message you are trying to convey? What action do you want the user to take?
  • It can be difficult to remove design elements you’ve spent a lot of time creating. A second opinion can be invaluable to figuring out what needs to go. Ask someone who has a good design eye but doesn’t have ownership in the project what needs to be removed and what needs to stay.

Narrowing your focus forces you to include only the elements that serve a specific purpose. Anything that doesn’t match that purpose gets thrown out.

2. Include a Call to Action

Figuring out what your call to action (CTA) should be can help you further simplify your design. For example, if you are designing a webpage, what is the action that you want users to take? This is your call to action, and everything about your design should center on your CTA.

  • Figure out what your CTA is and make sure every element on the page directs the user toward taking some action, even if it is only to sign up for a newsletter.
  • Pay careful attention to how the CTA ties into the rest of the design. Does the text and button stand out enough to grab the user’s attention?

Once you’ve looked at these things, eliminate anything that doesn’t point to the CTA. This will help you naturally get rid of clutter within your design. The CTA ties into the overall function of the design. This applies to websites, print ads and any other design you can imagine. Everything has a purpose.

3. Choose a Color Palette

As you work on a design, you may add in various colors and features to try to draw attention to specific elements. However, straying outside the color palette can make your design look busy. Instead, choose a color palette and stick to it throughout the design.

  • Two or three color options should be all you need. White doesn’t count.
  • If you want a really simple design, stick with just one or two colors or different tones of a single color.

The use of color isn’t something you should be scared of, but you also don’t want your designs to look like a unicorn threw up a rainbow on them.

4. Keep Your Client in Check

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When you’re working on a project for a client, keeping the design simple may not be as easy as it sounds. Clients have their own ideas about what they want, and it doesn’t always mesh with good design basics. One way to regain control is to figure out how to give the client what he wants without abandoning good design.

  • Learn to really listen to what the client has to say. Ask questions. Take notes. If you understand the underlying concepts the client wants, it is easier to implement them in the best way possible.
  • Learn to communicate in a nonconfrontational way that explains to the client why the way you’ve laid out elements works better. Be ready with other examples, case studies and results from other campaigns.

If the thought of communicating with clients in this way gives you panic attacks, go ahead and take a Dale Carnegie course or some other type of business communication course so you are better equipped to handle these situations.

5. Start Over

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You’ve put hours into creating your design, but the problem is that it has become so cluttered that you have no idea how to rescue it. There are some situations where you just need to start over.

  • Ask for feedback on the design. Get opinions on what you should keep and what you should throw out.
  • Look at the elements above. What is functional for the purpose of the design?
  • Start over with only those elements that serve a purpose and nothing more and see where the design takes you.

By creating the design from a fresh perspective, you eliminate the original cluttered design. Because you learn as you go along with what the client wants, what works for the design and what works well together, your second attempt should be even better than the first.

Regain Control of Your Cluttered Design

By following these steps, you’ll quickly regain control over your cluttered design. Eliminating the unnecessary parts of your work will suddenly open everything up to a purpose. If the element doesn’t have a function, then it must go. With a little practice, your designs will be the definition of simplicity and you’ll create eye-catching pieces that draw the user in.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her exploring the outdoors with her husband and dog in their RV, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or curled up with a good book with her cats Gem and Cali.

You can find more of Eleanor's work at

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