Design, minimalism

Minimalism: Kondo-ing the visual clutter

While designing Instagram, the founders had one main objective — to keep the app as simple as possible with minimal elements and features – the quality that differentiated it from its rivals, and later led to the massive success of the photo sharing app that the king of internet, Mark Zuckerberg had to buy it for US$1 billion just to kill the competition.

Marie Kondo’s US$8 million net worth has solely been made on the de-cluttering business.

Anyone who doesn’t live in a cave must have heard this term a million time in the last few years. Minimalism has been constantly one of the most talked about trends in every art and design form.

In this post, we will explore minimalism in respect to the graphic design, its history, and how its fairing in the contemporary world.

What is minimalism?

New York Film Academy defines minimalist design as a design that only uses the most essential elements, including basic shapes and limited color palettes, to create something that’s very simple yet memorable.

Minimalism focuses is on stripping layouts down to the most important elements and not allowing anything else to get in the way. Everything is about emphasizing the clarity, from the colors to the typography. The design is minimalistic in the true sense when there is no element left to be removed.

History of minimalism

The roots of minimalism as a philosophy can be traced as far back as to the 18th century’s Zen philosophy values and principles. It found its footing as a design style in the early 20th century. With the onset of capitalism and communication taking the center stage, it was imperative to have a design philosophy which is more functional rather than decorative like the Victorian school – enters the Bauhaus movement – the avant-garde movement that transformed the modern art in its entirety.

The main motto of the Bauhaus movement is ’form follows function’ which means that they were focused on function over visuals, using a minimalist approach. This laid the foundation of the modern graphic design. Minimalism works on ’less is more’ philosophy — the phrase first coined in 1947, by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a designer and architect who was also associated with the Bauhaus movement.

While the Bauhaus movement took a hit during the second World War, minimalism resurfaced again in 1960s in the US.

Minimalism in the contemporary world

Minimalism has been criticized heavily by post-modernists, calling the style lazy. In the words of the famous architect Robert Venturi, “Less is bore.” But despite the criticism, the last decade has witnessed a profound interest in the minimalistic art. Looking at the graphic design landscape, the clean brand identities, elegant websites, classy Instagram feeds, simple and effective UI/UX interfaces – all echo the favorability of the ’less is more’ philosophy.

People don’t read, they scan. With the massive exposure to the content (combined with the goldfish effect and interrupted attention spans), no one wants to stop and decode the visual to understand the message or communication. Minimalistic design provides that edge over a heavily designed creative where message can be conveyed just by one look at it. It follows a sense of order and guides the viewers’ attention to the main message without many distractions or deviations.

Talking specifically about UI/UX, one important aspect of minimalism is that it shall not be interpreted as a mere visual strategy. The point here is to make then UI really simple. The best example here can be the Google search page – clean, simple and intuitive.

Tips for creating a minimalist design

Creating balance: Creating a visual harmony between then various elements of the design (shapes, colors, and negative spaces) distributed appropriately across the layout, with a well-defined hierarchy to let the viewers know which pieces of information to look at first, second, third, and so on.

Typography: Most of the viewers spend the majority of their time on smartphones, tablets, and laptops that are getting smaller and thinner with every update, readability is no longer a bonus — it is the absolute necessity. Use a clear font palette with only one or two font styles to demarcate the hierarchy. Font choice is critical here as then text is the hero here with no extra elements to compete with.

Colors: Keep a streamlined color palette (black and white as the primary colors and one tint of any bright color to act as a disruptor could be a great choice to keep the design subtle). Alternatively, vivid colors can also be used in order to draw attention to the elements that are of the highest importance.

White spaces: Negative space or white space forms the key element in a minimalistic design. To avoid clutter, all the elements on the creative shall have plenty of space around them so that concept is easily comprehensible.

De-clutter: Remove all the elements that aren’t serving any purpose to the message. Best example here can be the CRED’s billboard design.

There is only a little attention a viewer can afford to give to a billboard, CRED came up with the simplest billboard with just the Download message and logo.

While minimalism clearly works in today’s environment and is considered to be a design principle and not just a trend, the designers still face lot of criticism for the ‘lazy/boring’ designs. Due to the demand for ‘jazzy’ designs, the functionality takes the back seat. Well, it’s a slow road, just hang in there and create what you believe in (trying so hard to avoid the clichéd but true Steve Jobs’ quote here).

As the attention span is getting shorter year after year, minimalistic approach would be the only way to stand out. Now is the time to remove that extra line, tone down the creative, simplify those data visuals and seize the attention your message truly deserves.

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