At its core, minimalist design (or minimalism) is functional. No extras, no waste. Every element—including shapes, color palette and typography—is necessary. A simple geometric shape or form is given the power to stand in for a more complex object or idea. Simplicity in form and composition is valued above all things.
Minimalism works because our eyes and brains only have a finite amount of attention to give to a design. By giving our eyes fewer items to consider, we devote more attention to the ones that are there. This makes minimalism very versatile: from apps to logos to packaging and printed products, there’s no design that can’t benefit from this trend.
The minimalist design trend
Minimalist design first arose in the 1950s and 60s as response to an increasingly noisy, technologically-advancing culture. Suddenly simplicity, clean lines, and oodles of white space began to appear more and more in visual art, architecture and graphic design.
The grungy, collage-driven styles of the 90’s were replaced by the bright colors of the early 2000’s, and by the 2010’s, minimalism was more than primed for a comeback. Only now are we seeing its power to grab attention in the ever-scrolling world of social media or mobile experience. From clean and airy websites to stylish Instagram feeds full of tasteful flat lay photography, brands across the spectrum are fully embracing the minimalist design trend.
Minimalist design is everywhere
Logo design is one of the places where minimalism is most ubiquitous. Why? Because when it comes to a logo, the canvas you’re working with couldn’t be smaller. Everyone wants a logo that stands out, that creates an instant reaction, and leaves a lasting impression of your brand’s values and ethos. The less cluttered this tiny space is, the more quickly and efficiently that message can be communicated.
There isn’t one way to do a minimalist logo design. Popular styles for logos include geometric designs, flat line designs and stark typographic designs. While some are cute and memorable, the truly excellent logos combine shape and type into a larger concept, like Andrey Karpov’s airplane logo, where the plane shape also forms an “A” and “P.”
Web and app design
Nowhere is the “less is more” approach needed more than in web and app design. We spend so much time scrolling through our crowded timelines, and we deserve a break from that noise.
The average person uses 30 apps a month and an average of nine per day. If an app is going into their rotation, they need to understand how to navigate it quickly. The new gold standard in both apps and websites has become far more minimalist—boosting the white space, limiting both the color palette and fonts, and hiding UI clutter like navigation bars and buttons.
Minimalism sells itself. Take any of these products and packages, for example.
If you placed them next to items with cluttered, old fashioned labels and asked the average consumer which one was more expensive, most shoppers instantly gravitate toward the minimalist designs. Much like how we expect expensive stores to not be jammed with merchandise, our brains see minimalism as luxurious, curated and selective.
Book cover design
Authors—especially those looking to self-publish— now recognize the importance of a de-cluttered cover that will work at a small, thumbnail size.
Sometimes the evolving marketplace causes a particular industry to embrace a trend. Case in point: every author knows the importance of selling books on Amazon. Unfortunately Amazon—unlike a traditional bookstore—displays book covers as thumbnail in a list. The last thing you want is a potential reader to have to squint through a jumbled mess of images to figure out what your book title is!
How to make minimalist design work for you
If you’re looking to make your designs more minimalist, the most important principle to take to heart is to be intentional. This means you need to select your elements (colors, shapes, fonts, etc.) with the utmost care.
While minimalism does involve a lot of whitespace, color plays a very important role. Designers today use wide range of colors across the spectrum but usually stick to only one or two colors at a time within a single composition. Across a larger work (like a branding suite or complex website), you might see multiple shades of one color used, which keeps the palette minimalist.
The same goes for fonts. Sans serif fonts will always be a popular choice but that doesn’t mean a refined serif is out of the question, as long as it has clean lines and simple strokes. Keep your fonts legible and your paragraphs short. Present them either at a very small size or very large—both methods draw the eye to the text and make it the center of attention.
With these details set, your design will evoke some key feelings of minimalist design: luxury, competency, uniqueness and confidence.
Using less definitely does more
While minimalism might seem “easy” to the untrained eye, designers know how much confidence and control it takes to craft a clean, uncluttered design. Minimalism is here to stay. Why? Because it works so well. If done right, users and consumers won’t give it a single thought—even though, ironically, the designer will have put a ton of time and effort into making it seem effortless!
If you study these examples and stay mindful about what to include and exclude from your compositions, your design will have a much better chance of capturing a little of the minimalist magic audiences have loved for over a half-century.