When I work on a project, I try to cut anything that might possibly get in the way and make the end result confusing to its audience. Condense, combine, and simplify—these will greatly increase the power of your project.
My visual design philosophy works the same way. I design primarily only with the necessary elements, using plenty of white space and internal hierarchy to guide the viewer along without the aid of cluttering visuals.
With that being said, however, sometimes designers get a little trigger-happy with the "Less is More" philosophy, and strip all personality from projects entirely. This is not how I work. After all, the fix for a busy, cluttered, headache-inducing tie-dyed t-shirt is not to wear no shirt at all! The fix is to dress with better taste. I love the challenge of balancing simplicity and acessibility with personality.
This principle is related to the first one, but it's so important that I made it a stand-alone principle. The biggest difference between most professional and amateur designers is that professionals aren't afraid of white space. The reason they aren't afraid is that they know how to use it. Rather than empty space being a barrier to overcome, it's a tool in the kit. And the result is projects that don't feel cluttered and that can intentionally guide the audience through them.
Ignore the fact that this terrible analogy would mean that sinking the Titanic is our end goal. The point of this principle is that good design work requires more than just what is shown, just as an iceberg would be completely harmless if what is seen is the extent of it. Research, process, asking the right questions — I'm committed to putting in the time to make the end result truly effective and substantive.
Many famous designers from Sagmeister to Rams to Vignelli have created all-encompassing principles or philosophies of design. Some are rigid and inflexible, like Vignelli's. Some, such as Sagmeister's, are a bit more fluid. But all of them are based on years of experience, problem-solving, and experimentation. It's rather presumptuous, then, to launch knowingly into a design philosophy that by virtue of my youth and relative inexperience is likely far inferior to theirs. So instead of working from scratch, I'm borrowing heavily from those who know better than I.
Design must have some meaning. Meaningful design is a key difference between good design and poor design. Meaning in design consists of three things - thoughtfulness, communication, and clarity. Each part builds on the next.
Thoughtfulness is what most people think when they think of something that is meaningful. In design, this means a designer must consider the existing design problems and work through bad solutions to arrive at good ones. He must imbue meaning to the specific parts of design, whether colors, symbols, or imagery. Discovering these meanings requires time; implementing them requires even more.
But deep thought and symbolism are not all that is necessary to be meaningful. I've seen many self-published authors, for an example, stop with thoughtfulness. They design their own book covers, and often their covers are jam-packed with thought. Every color, symbol, phrase, or image relates directly to something about the book. The problem, though, is that all these things are thrown together into a jumble and sit meaninglessly on the front of their hard-earned tome. What is lacking is communication. Communication is a learned skill; it involves knowing how to relate elements to each other in a way that means something even to someone with no inside knowledge or experience. It's essentially an act of education.
Education, however, is useless without clarity. Clarity is what connects communication to thoughtfulness. Another word for clarity could be accuracy. A designer must ensure that what is communicated accurately reflects the original thought. Even good communication is useless if it's not the right communication. Clarity ensures that communication works.