A Not so Minimal Article on minimalism
Niyati Shah /
How often have you been inspired by a beautiful minimalistic design that you saw on Instagram or Pinterest? Have you ever succumbed to the dribble effect? The answer to that my friends is YES! If I got a penny for every time, I put these references on my mood boards at the start of a design project, I’d become a billionaire!
We often chase the elegance and sophistication that comes with minimal design to the point that it has become the norm in life. Aesthetically, minimalism is cool but have you ever wondered about the true value of minimal design? On the flip side, what happens when we incorporate minimal design for the sake of it? I’ve wondered whether it’s just a trend we chase rather than a conscious design decision.
What is Minimal Design?
To set a little context, minimalism is an artistic and design movement that emphasizes simplicity by using minimal number of elements. Elements such as shapes, colors and materials dance together and form the minimal aesthetic. Pioneered by artists like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Donald Judd, minimalism was initially associated with the fields of abstract art and architecture, but very soon caught up with other fields making it one of the most important and universally adopted art and design movements in the world.
Minimalism has a strong influence on design. Its manifestation can be seen in graphic design, product design and interior design equally so. Minimalism is the pulse of the 21st Centaury. A gamut of notable inventions & masterpieces of the 21st centaury are Apple products, the uber app, the Kanchenjunga apartments by Charles Correa and the Nike logo also imbibe minimalism. We see minimalism everywhere, yet it’s so muted and so seamless.
“Good design is as little design as possible. Less, but better.” – Dieter Rams, German industrial designer and retired academic
What is the less is more philosophy?
Minimal design at its best is an endeavour towards balancing functionality with simplicity. In its essence minimal design can be described by the phrase “Less is More”. Coined by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe the phrase signifies a bold and clean approach where every element in a design contributes towards a deeper function and purpose. But when does this phrase turn into “less is less”?
When is minimalism too minimal?
On one hand we praise minimalism for its simplicity, harmony and balance and on the other hand we also criticize it for looking bland, not interesting enough or dull. So why do we see such a stark contrast in opinions? What’s the difference between minimal design that is compelling and a design that is bland?
The first thing you should know is that design is like an individual, just like every person out there it has its own characteristics and personality that make them unique. The point is to stand as your own entity with designs that resonate with your brand and audience. You need to gauge a brand’s values and purpose and imbibe them in your designs. To better understand this concept, let’s examine some examples where a minimal approach may not fit best.
1. Amazon: And you’re never done
Amazon is a well-known brand that is renowned for its extensive selection and vast product range. To effectively promote its vast catalogue to its audience, it’s important for Amazon’s designs to showcase abundance and variety in their products. This is where a maximalist approach must be leveraged. By presenting a lot of information upfront, Amazon’s design speaks to the idea that the more a customer can see, the more options they will have. This approach creates a more visually engaging and dynamic user experience that aligns with the consumer mindset of wanting variety and abundance.
2. Nickelodeon: Nick was kids, now it’s just uncreative adults!
Nickelodeon is one of the popular Children’s brands that decided to simplify their look at the expense of losing their personality. Not only did they lose their iconic “Splat”, their new identity now, looks like that of a random tech blog. To make matters worse it was not just their identity that got a makeover it was their studio as well. From a vibrant colorful building to a simple white and blue office. Making it look like any and every other building on the block.
3. Brands got Monday Blues too!
Disclaimer: This is by no means an attack on blue, rather it is an attack on the thoughtless use of colors and flattening of forms.
While you may think that it works great with the larger trends out there you could end up with blanding instead of branding. A few brands that fell into this trap include animal planet, Warner Bros., Weight watchers and Tropicana.
What are the pitfalls of being too minimal?
Minimalism is a design strategy that heavily influences decisions about content and information architecture. As a result, has a definite impact on several aspects of the usability of the designs that adopt it.
One of the trends that we find in minimal design is the use of a reduced or hidden global navigation without account for the critical tasks that a user wants to perform. This can lead to poor discoverability and increase cognitive load.
Minimal design perpetuates the use of a limited number of necessary elements and often relies on subtle cues as indicators. As a result, the hierarchy may not be immediately apparent to users and could adversely affect the design’s usability.
Ambiguity in minimal design refers the vague nature of elements or lack of context in design which can result in confusion and misinterpretation.
The risk of blending in:
The increase of minimalism has shown a tendency to decrease the impact of a design/ experience while increasing the risk of losing its individuality in a sea of similar looking content
How might we strike the perfect Balance?
When it comes to minimal design, striking the right balance is crucial to having a design that not only looks great but is also effective and user friendly. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding whether minimalism is the right design strategy for you:
- The purpose of your Design
What is the design’s purpose, and what message or experience do you want to convey to your target audience? Minimalism lends itself well to designs that seek to simplify complex information, prioritize functionality, or convey a sense of sophistication and elegance.
- Your Target Audience
Who is the design’s intended audience, and what are their preferences and expectations? Your understanding of the individual wants, and requirements of your target audience ensures that you create designs that are relevant, effective and have the desired impact on the user.
- The Medium you work with
What medium will you use to create the design, and how does it help or hinder a minimalistic aesthetic? The degree of interactivity in various media affects how a design is perceived. For example, some mediums such as print materials and digital interfaces may be well suited to minimalism while mediums such as animation may require more visual interest.
- The personality of your design
Minimalism can be employed in wide range of fields including graphic design, fashion, interiors, architecture and digital media, among others. However, you need to know how the design will fit into the overall personality of your brand. Minimalism could be appropriate when simplicity and elegance are the goals but may not be appropriate for design that are playful or whimsical.
- The context of your designs
The context in which minimal design is used is crucial because of its impact on a design’s reception and overall effectiveness. Minimalism can be a successful design strategy in instances where the objective is to create a clean, simple and impactful design that emphasizes the content and functionality and when the desired aesthetic is one of sophistication, elegance and clarity.
In conclusion, I believe minimalism is a balance between functionality and aesthetics. The snag is when you tip the scales. It’s useless when minimalism becomes a purely aesthetic or purely functional choice. Emphasizing one contributing factor while ignoring the other can make designs lose their recall. That’s where designs falter. The outcome of this switch can be a design that screams “less is less” instead of “less is more”.