Minimalism is the art of saying and doing more with less. When you apply minimalism to your brand design, it becomes a philosophy that cuts across all elements of your brand – both tangible and intangible.
The tangible elements of your brand include its logo, products, website, and visual merchandising in its stores, while the intangible elements include your brand’s cultural values, vision, mission, and customer service. Maintaining a consistent philosophy across all your brand elements gives your customers a coherent experience at every point of interaction with your brand. Minimalism is no exception to this rule.
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Design trends: What is minimalism?
At its core, minimalism is design in its most basic form. It’s stripped of all superfluous elements, such as excessive use of colors, shapes, and textures. Its purpose is to make the content or product stand out as the focal point of attention. At a visual and psychological level, minimalism is supposed to calm the mind and let the viewer concentrate on just one thing: the brand itself.
Google’s branding is a great example of minimalist design in action:
Minimalism sprung from traditional Japanese design and architecture and emerged as a trend in 1960s America. It was a reaction to the excesses of Abstract Expressionism and the chaos of urban life. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe followed the motto “less is more,” and sought to create architectural elements that served more than one visual or functional purpose.
Today, minimalism exists in a wide range of domains, including art, design, architecture, fashion, lifestyle, and even website themes. Like all design trends, minimalism has had its ups and downs. Today’s minimalistic trend owes a lot to millennials rediscovering it.
Core elements of minimalism
Minimalism, as a philosophy, is both timeless and classic. It is all about simplicity and consistency. Simplicity captures the viewer’s attention, and consistency keeps that attention.
Four basic elements form the foundation of minimalism:
- Less is more
- Managing negative space
- Visual harmony
- Colors and contrast
Let’s take a quick look at each element.
1. Less is more
If we could define minimalism in one rule, it would be to keep what is essential and discard the rest. This cuts across all brand elements, including logo, product design, website, and mission statement. Reducing the parts of each element makes them more impactful.
However, minimalism is not just emptiness and scarcity. We can think of it as stripping away what’s not needed to highlight what is really relevant. It’s not something you just slap on to your marketing material – it has to be ingrained into your brand, starting from your business proposal ideas and feeding into every aspect of how you do business.
Let’s compare the two websites below:
We have two sites: Lustone, an Australian leather bag brand, and Michael Kors, a well-known accessories brand. While both of them claim to be “luxury” brands, someone who knows little about fashion and accessories is likely to think Lustone’s (top) brand design is more luxurious. Why? Because of the website – it looks clean, sparse, and doesn’t overwhelm you with images.
In contrast, while Michael Kors clutch bags are actually more expensive than Lustone’s, there’s a lot going on in their product site. It might be very convenient to use, but it doesn’t look quite as “luxurious,” possibly because of all the options on the left side of the screen.
2. Managing negative space
A defining element of minimalism is really the lack of elements, or what designers call “negative space.” It’s what gives minimalism its power. One of the key rules of design is that the more negative space you have around an object, the more the eye will be drawn to that object.
The Leen Heyne homepage below is a good example of a minimalist web design theme. The web designer used a monochrome color scheme for the company name and logo, and the two jewelry pieces are surrounded by an expanse of negative space. You can bet that the viewer’s eye will be drawn straight to those two central objects.
You can also use negative space creatively to highlight the spatial relations of your design. It adds a touch of elegance and exclusivity to the object of focus and is the preferred brand design format for many premium brands.
3. Visual harmony
Visual harmony is all about symmetry. The balance between and among elements breathes life into a minimalistic design by providing it with visual structure.
Let’s look at how this applies to web page design. Many web designers start by dividing their visual space with an invisible grid.
The grid creates a basic structure for organizing the elements and objects that designers place in it. From there, designers have multiple options for the layout. The easiest (and most common) way is to center the elements. However, if you have 3-4 elements that you want to display, it can quickly lead to a center crunch.
You can also use halved symmetry, where you divide the screen in half (usually horizontally and occasionally vertically). Each half has an equal number of elements, thereby maintaining the overall symmetry.
The third option is radial symmetry, where elements are placed in a near-circular pattern starting from the center. Finally, you have asymmetry, where the elements are arranged at random in the grid. This is the toughest to pull off because it can get chaotic very quickly if you’re not extremely careful about where you place your elements.
4. Colors, contrast, and textures
Minimalism is more than just black and white and shades of grey. You can also use colors in a minimalist design. However, you need to be critical about your choice of colors. Avoid using loud and high-contrast colors. Instead, go for tonal gradients and matching colors. The cheat sheet below will help you get started:
Many minimalist designers limit their selection to two or three colors, mostly supplementary. The ones indicated by the triangle and straight line above are supplementary high-contrast colors. On the other hand, they also use complementary colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel or colors with low saturation.
You can promote contrast in your design by playing with color, size, shape, and location. For example, you may set a dark-colored object against a white background, or caption a large object with a smaller font.
The last element is texture. While you may use the same color throughout your brand design, you may use texture to set apart the element you want your viewers to focus on.
Japanese sand gardens consist of nothing but sand. However, a clever sand gardener can use a broom or a rake to create delicate patterns in the sand, such as circles or lines, following the concept of yohaku-no-bi, which means “the beauty of blank space.”
Fun fact: creating a sand garden was part of a Zen monk’s daily practice as it took a lot of focus and concentration to get the patterns right.
5. Future trends
While there are still many designers who use minimalist concepts, future trends point towards a less minimalistic version. It retains the core simplicity of the philosophy while allowing for more diversity in the elements being used. For example, many designers are now emphasizing background textures to make the negative space stand out.
Designers are also moving away from monochrome color schemes and towards more colors. While we’re not going back to ’80s or ’90s trends of splashing colors at random, designers are exploring ways to incorporate more color into their work while still maintaining its core simplicity.
We are also seeing more designers creating minimalist content using animation and video marketing tools as audiences demand more video content. The increasing importance of video will likely influence the direction of minimalism or, at least, the way designers approach minimalistic projects.
Companies using minimalist brand design
Minimalism as a design philosophy isn’t confined to luxury brand design. Two household names, whose products and services we use every day, are also champions of minimalism. While they are in many ways competitors, there is at least one thing that binds them: a love of simplicity, both in design and in usage.
Steve Jobs didn’t just claim to be minimalist. He lived the lifestyle. He was a firm believer in Zen Buddhism, which is the origin of modern minimalism, and he wore virtually the same outfit each time he appeared in public. It is not surprising that Apple, the company he founded, stated in its first marketing brochure that “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and has followed that belief in both its product design and marketing strategy.
Starting with Mac and continuing with iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Apple’s products have always been influenced by minimalism. Their lines are clean and sleek, and iOS products only have a few moving parts.
Apple’s products are designed around two basic shapes: circles and straight lines. With a few variations, iOS devices always feature some variation on the two shapes. The iOS UI is so simple and easy to learn that even small children can easily use it.
When search engine giants like Yahoo and AltaVista tried to cram a lot of elements into their respective home pages, Google went the other way and came up with a minimalist design. Many search engines may have come and gone, but Google is still alive and thriving – and its minimalistic user interface has a lot to do with that.
Unlike other search engines, which curated websites and pages into neat categories, Google understood that human users are naturally curious. The company put a lot of work into improving its search engine, with the user experience always front and center.
Google’s search function is also minimalist by design. By putting the search bar at the center of the page, Google draws the eye straight towards the reason users are on the site: its ability to find information.
Minimalism also influences all other aspects of Google’s products. Its logo uses just the three primary colors and one secondary color. There are also just two navigation options: Google Search and I’m Feeling Lucky. Finally, Google Mail, Google Ads, and Google Maps all have simple and intuitive controls placed on the left side of the screen.
Pros and cons of minimalist design
Like all design philosophies, minimalism has its pros and cons. Minimalism has the highest “signal to noise” ratio among all design themes, yet it may not be suitable for all businesses. The limits of minimalism need to be evaluated carefully before you jump on this bandwagon. Let’s start by looking at the advantages of using a minimalist design.
Minimalism is timeless and classic
Minimalism isn’t new. In fact, some cultures have been practicing minimalist design for centuries. We can think of minimalist designs as being similar to classic pieces in your wardrobe. Everyone probably has a little black dress or an Oxford shirt that they can wear at any time without looking out of style.
People don’t want to buy something that doesn’t age well. Fortunately, minimalist designs age gracefully and stand the test of time.
Minimalism showcases your product and brand
A brand that has minimalism coded into its DNA will create brand elements with a high recall value. All elements are geared towards showcasing the product and brand at its best, with all other distractions stripped away.
Minimalism offers better UX
Hick’s law states that the fewer stimuli you present to your users, the faster they process information and make decisions. Using a minimalist design cuts through clutter, improves your site’s navigability, and gives your users a better overall experience (UX). It gives your brand a more professional image, which also adds to your credibility.
Now, let’s now take a look at the disadvantages.
It’s not for everyone
Let’s say you’re running a SaaS business and you want to promote it with a website that shows a lot of graphs, videos, and text. A minimalist design won’t let you do that easily. You’d struggle to fit everything in, meaning minimalism might not be for you.
While businesses such as fashion brands or design agencies can benefit from a minimalist web design, it is not suitable for all businesses in all contexts.
Some people may not like it
Generations of kids grew up watching the TV channel Nickelodeon. For many, the “splat” logo was synonymous with the brand. So, when Nickelodeon did away with the splat in its logo redesign, it was the end of an era.
Many viewers dislike the new Nickelodeon logo. It feels too generic and doesn’t seem kid-friendly at all. This is a situation where minimalism doesn’t necessarily work well for the target audience.
Too much white space
There is such a thing as too much white space. When you don’t use it properly, it can make your design look bare-bones and tacky, instead of classic and elegant. And, because white space draws a lot of attention to the object you want to focus on, it magnifies even the smallest flaws in your design.
Striking a balance between your object and the white space will draw people’s attention to the object and keep them coming back for more.
Minimalism as a design philosophy is not just a passing trend. It’s timeless and classy and allows you to do away with clutter and focus on what is truly important. Minimalist design is marked by two key features: simplicity and consistency.
For a brand to use minimal design successfully, it has to be part of its brand DNA. Minimalism is not just about simplicity for the sake of being simple. Brands need to consider whether their customers will benefit from a simple product, interface, or style of design.
Companies like Google and Apple have been consistently minimalist since the beginning, and the philosophy has played a key role in their consistent business performance for years. You must decide whether it’s right for you. Before you go minimalist, you need to evaluate your brand and your customers’ needs first.
If you do decide to go ahead, good luck with your minimalist transformation!
What do you think of minimalism? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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