My mother gave me some good fashion advice once when I was an overdecorated punk rock teenager. She delivered it kind of indirectly, me being a boy and all, telling me that “For generations, mothers have been telling their daughters to always take off one piece of jewelry or one accessory before leaving the house.”
The reason, of course, is that in our enthusiasm to look good and show off our cool things we often go just a little too far. Usually this sort of overdressing is subtle and hard to detect, which is why it’s so dangerous. Just taking off one thing, however, can make the difference between balanced and gaudy, between looking like a princess and looking like a tramp.
I bring up this advice often when critiquing my colleagues’ designs. Sometimes you have to just look at all of the features, widgets, rounded corners, dotted lines, gradients, photos, and whatever else contitutes your design, and just choose to take just one thing out.
A great analogous example of this in music is Prince’s classic “When Doves Cry“. According to legend, during the final production and mix of the song the very last thing Prince did was strip out the bass line entirely. Listen to the song again and you’ll see — there is no bass at all. For a musician so steeped in funk music, removing the bass line must have felt like a pretty radical step. But the song nonetheless achieves a raw, crisp, and emotional sound — not despite the missing bassline but because of it.