“Flat writing fills in all of the blanks. Engaging writing leaves breathing space.” —Lori Tian Sailiata, on Twitter

And as much could be said for graphic design.

Here’s the menu of Cafe 71, a convenient little corner stop selling hearty sandwiches, tempting pastries, and hot beverages.

Cafe71

You’ll see, under the cup image, that they believe “Simplicity is Elegance.” I’m confused about whether they designed the menu with this message in mind.

At a glance, to me the focal point isn’t clear here. I’m not sure if I should first look at the word “cafe,” the numbers “71” in a decorative face meant to resemble steam, or the saucer. And all of the colors, strokes, and shadows of the cup and saucer don’t create a look of simplicity.

What’s more, the rest of the text is spread out in rectangles, as if each chunk had equal importance. The eye must roam to take in each piece of information separately. If you’re in a hurry (and is there a New Yorker who isn’t?), this layout could be redone to be more helpful—the online ordering information could be placed closer to the café contact info, for instance. In this use case, the cover is more like an ad, and designing it with that specifically in mind might make it more effective.

I briefly considered creating a quick makeover of this, but the prospect of tackling the entire menu looked like it’d take the better half of a day…

Cafe71inside

For the very casual vibe of this café, the menu shouldn’t have too much white space, which would make it look inappropriately fancy. But the opposite, having too little white space, or “filling in all the blanks,” does indeed create a flat design—one that isn’t as engaging and easy to use as it could be.

Adding strokes, shadows, rectangles, and vibrant colors aren’t the answer here. Engaging design leaves breathing space.