On Good and Bad Minimalist Design in branding

Everything has been done before – so has minimalist design. But why do a lot of companies still use it in building their brands despite it being such a common genre in visual design?

In truth, there’s no problem with keeping up with the trend. As we walk you through the history and principles of minimalism, you’ll see that there are ways to stand out with this design concept even with its increasing popularity.

A Brief History of Minimalism

The origin of minimalism has spanned across different cultures, but the ones at the forefront of it all are the Japanese and the Germans. Its seeds were planted around the 1970s among the Japanese as a lifestyle – mainly seen through the interior design of their homes and outdoor spaces (i.e. Zen gardens). The Japanese aesthetic is founded on minimalism because (aside from their religious and spiritual significance) they want to make their spaces livable – a place where they can breathe easily. Because it’s something that’s valuable and delicate to their culture, it’s not something that others can easily appropriate just for the sake of “aesthetic”.

It wasn’t until years later that Ludwig van der Rohe started the Bauhaus movement. It’s because of him that Germans were able to take credit of these classic lines to consider in art and design: “Less is more” and “form follows function.” Like the Japanese, their form of minimalism is mainly used in architecture for the similar purpose of creating more spaces between home furniture. The difference lies in the intention of their minimalism, which, in the case of the Bauhaus, was to rebel against design conventions brought about by rising consumerism. That eventually led modern times to adopt minimalism into other fields of visual design – particularly in branding.

When “Less is More” in Branding

Now that most modern companies have rebranded towards minimalism, there’s still this underlying question: is it right for ALL brands in 2021 and beyond?

Its origin and history brings us to our first point: minimalism works when the theories behind it are well-implemented. In a nutshell, minimalism is founded on two basic principles: space and simplicity. It’s a process that makes use of the bare essentials in art and design to communicate an idea, message, or story without compromising its overall impact. It’s done either through eliminating unnecessary positive space, or slowly and carefully building up on negative space.

When opting for a minimalist approach in logo design (for one), you have to consider the actual, physical space it’s going to be placed in. Consider these classic examples: Nike and Adidas. Their logo designs are simple, but not basic. Here’s why: it’s a shoe product. And it’s going to be placed on an actual shoe. A simple, minimalist logo works to give more breathing space on the shoe itself.

Minimalism works when it lessens confusion.

Website design is another medium that often takes a more minimalist approach. This works best for more modern websites in creative industries primarily because they aim to highlight the works themselves. Most companies in the industry opt for minimalist websites because it also reduces the amount of time needed for coding. This, in turn, creates a more responsive and functional website without any unnecessary codes and elements in the way.

We wanted to keep that in mind when we designed the website for Rockwell Atletica, for instance. They wanted us to simply highlight their offerings, services, and other amenities without having to go for bold graphics. Otherwise, it would detract from Rockwell Atletica’s already established image – the clean and sleek aesthetic.

Minimalism works when the content itself (along with the context) is strong.

Study your content first before deciding what design style to use. For companies whose mission and vision lean more towards having a social responsibility, it’s been said that incorporating a minimalist look works best.

Product packaging is another important aspect to plan in branding because of how it affects customers’ purchasing decisions. Minimalism is often the approach most companies use – mainly because of the need for sustainability amidst growing environmental issues. The very material you use can already communicate your brand’s key message without the need for flamboyant designs.

Muji, a Japanese retail brand that banks on its strong sense of minimalism and sustainability, is a great example. In their product packaging designs, not only do they remove unnecessary design elements, but they also don’t stamp their brand into it. It still manages to leave a mark because they want to communicate the message that their products should be accessible without having to force their brand into their customers’ throats. This, in turn, gives their customers more breathing space to appreciate the work – as how minimalist design should be.

When “Less is NOT Enough” in Branding

In the early 20th century, companies built their brand by simply creating their logos using a font that was popular during that time. A century later, companies still make that same mistake but in a different form: due to technological advancements and evolving software, there has been a rise in the number of automatic logo makers.

The influx of such rendering software is perhaps one of the contributing factors to poorly executed minimalism. There isn’t much thought and heart that goes into the design, which leads to another problem: lack of engaging content and overall brand narrative.

Your branding, even though it’s minimalistic, should not compromise your overall narrative as well as your engaging content.