Most of us have heard of the ‘Minimalist Design’ name. Even though some of us know exactly what it is but do we all know exactly what really it is? When and how it was started?
Minimalist graphic design is a philosophy of creating something where every element serves a purpose. It is simple, clean and beautiful. It is highly usable. These designs are easy for users to understand and engage with. We’ll take a look at minimalist graphic design with ten tips for doing it well, plus examples of those principles in action.
History of Minimalism
Minimalist started in the early 20th century with architecture, roughly around the 1920s. Post-World War I architect Van der Rohe was one of the first prominent architects who used principles in his designs that came to exemplify minimalist design. The reason minimalist architecture started taking off was the availability of modern materials: glass, concrete, steel. Also, standardized ways of building were forming, which helped to more effectively design and build minimalist buildings. The trend continued through the mid-20th century, with notable designer and architect Buckminster Fuller (more on him below) designing domes using simple geometric shapes that still stand and look modern today.
The focus on simplicity spilled over into painting, interior design, fashion, and music. That’s how the following were formed and are now commonplace: minimal painting, minimal music, the minimalism school of composing, and so forth. Painter Frank Stella was quoted as saying, “What you see is what you see”. Minimal art in particular especially grew in the 1960s in America. Similar to De Stijl, painters reacted against the abstract-expressionism art and used only the rudimentary geometric shapes in their works and didn’t add decorations or any other elements.
Naturally, the focus on simplicity also spilled over into consumer products, with designer Dieter Rams (also more on him below) using minimalist design in products for Braun. Ikea, the Swedish furniture company, is another example of minimalist designed consumer products. The furniture is so simple that it’s designed for everyday people to be able to assemble with ease, often without even needing instructions due to it being self-explanatory.
And of course, minimalist design carried over naturally into the digital realm, with visual and web designers applying minimalism principles into their own designs and designs for clients.
Minimalist design was influenced by certain things that came before it.
Specifically, what influenced minimalist design was:
1. The De Stijl Art Movement
(Image by Tom Rolfe)
De Stijl was an artistic movement in the Netherlands that started in 1917 and lasted till roughly the early 1930s. “De Stijl” is Dutch for “The Style”. The movement included painters, sculptors, architects, and designers.
De Stijl pushed for simplicity and abstraction by reducing designs only to its essential form and color, sticking to only:
- Horizontal and vertical lines
- Rectangular forms
- Primary values white, black, and grey
- Primary colors blue, red, and yellow
In addition to that, many of the elements or layers don’t intersect, letting each of them to be independent and not covered or interfered by other elements.
It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to figure out how De Stijl influenced minimalist design.
2. Architects like Van Der Rohe
(Image by seier+seier)
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was a German architect who’s considered a pioneer of modern architecture, and his architectural style during post-World War I laid the groundwork for minimalist design. He has designed many landmark buildings, including Chicago’s Crown Hall and New York’s Seagram Building.
Van der Rohe strived for simplicity and clarity in his architectural designs by:
- Using modern materials like steel and plates of glass
- Having a minimal structural framework
- Including lots of open space
He is the one who popularized the term “less is more”, which as mentioned earlier, is one of the unofficial mission statements for minimalist design.
Like with De Stijl, the connection between Van Der Rohe and minimalist design is clear.
3. Traditional Japanese Design
(Image by Tanaka Juuyoh)
Adding only what’s needed and removing the rest has always been a focus in traditional Japanese design. If you look at old Japanese architecture and interior design, you’ll see that there were very few flourishes, simple color and design choices, and clean lines and forms.
There is a connection between Japanese design and Japanese culture. Japanese culture is infused with Zen and simplicity. Everything from how food is prepared, to how it’s presented, to how it’s ate, to things like tea ceremonies and stone gardens – all place a focus on simplicity and focus to the activity at hand. Anything that isn’t essential to the activity is not included. Even traditional Japanese clothing like the kimono exude simplicity. There are practically no flourishes and decorations. Every element of the garment is designed with essential functionality in mind: freedom of movement, natural cooling, comfort, durability, and ease of putting on and off.
Naturally, minimalist designers would be influenced by traditional Japanese design; usually more so than much of traditional Western design such as Gothic or Victorian.
What is Minimalist Design?
Minimalist design can be identified by a framework that is simple in nature. Only necessary elements for functionality are included in the design.
Elements such as color and typography are also used with an emphasis on simplicity with extremely pared down palettes that may include only one hue or typeface. Details and space are design factors that really rule the aesthetic. Because there are not a lot of elements to work with, every design divot is on display.
Here are some of the most basic yet essential tips for mastering minimalist design:
1. Use Plenty of White Space
White space is an essential element when it comes to minimalism. Using plenty of space helps create a sense of peace and creates a visual focal point in the design. But you can’t pack the remaining space with clutter. Opt for a distinct visual, little bit of messaging and single visual focus.
The best minimalist websites only utilize elements that are essential for the web design. This includes doing away with needless graphical elements that may distract the viewer and affect both usability and readability. By keeping things simple, you are better able to direct the visitor’s attention to the main element or idea that the site is meant to convey.
The less elements there are to bombard the viewer, the more likely they are to focus on the product or idea being showcased. This means using limited layouts and color palettes while still making available only the most useful tools, such as intuitive and easy-to-find navigational elements.
2. Keep Things Balanced
One of the challenges of creating a minimalist design, especially a web page, is making sure everything harmonizes visually. Since you’re using fewer elements to begin with, it becomes much more obvious when a particular element causes an imbalance. This is especially true when your design uses a lot of white space to draw more attention to certain elements. For this reason, a lot of graphic designers use a grid system. Organizing your website design into a grid layout can help keep things visually balanced and evenly distributed. Using a grid alignment allows you to be creative with your design while making sure all the vital elements line up in a pattern that’s satisfying to the human eyes.
3. Implement a Flat Design
Flat design schemes are a perfect starter for minimal projects. Both design concepts emphasize a lack of additional ornamentation and when you think flat, you’ll almost come to a minimal concept naturally. Look for elements that are simple in nature – icons and color. Avoid too much layering when it comes to elements and effects. Strip away any unnecessary hover actions for website designs and keep animation direct and simple.
4. Plan for Consistency
When planning a minimal graphic design, make sure the elements of that minimalism carry through the project. A minimal homepage with cluttered interior pages can be visually confusing. While some pages must have more content than others, make sure the minimal theme is obvious. Whether it is space (most common) or another element, a consistent design is innately easy and feels simple to users.
5. Create Balance Without Symmetry
Not every minimal design needs to be perfectly symmetrical. It can actually be more engaging if the design isn’t split down the middle. Use space to create the balance between contrasting elements. In the pop-up ad on the Visme website, a distinct visual on the left leads the eye to text on the right. There’s plenty of white (yellow) space and a clear directional pull. The full-screen image is simple and effective.
6. Simplify Color Choices
While a design with high-color images can fit a minimal style, more often streamlined color palettes are the norm. Black and white is popular, although that isn’t the only option. When thinking about color and minimalism stick to the most ridged of palettes. Pick a color (maybe two) and use them exclusively throughout the design. Titled Chair uses a classic black and white outline for its minimal design with a bright red accent. Thought the entire design, red is the only color used. This single color adds emphasis where it is used and contributes to the overall feeling of simplicity in the design.
7. Use Simple Yet Impacting Typography
The heart of every minimalist graphic design is a font that’s clean, simple, and easy for people to read. Instead of using bizarre fonts and colors, stick with a direct typography that’s minimal but aesthetically pleasing. Of course, there’s still room for creativity in how you present your text. Many great minimalist designs use big typography instead of images to capture the viewer’s attention. In websites, you’ll often find larger typography for the header in order to make important information both obvious and memorable. Using a mix of different font sizes is a great way to keep a page with little content from becoming boring. The different sizes help take up some space and add visual interest without creating the same clutter that using images might.
8. Make Everything Intentional
When you aren’t working with a lot of design elements, everything must serve a purpose. Place, design and create interaction with intent in minimal designs. If an element doesn’t contribute to the overall goals of the project, then why is it there?
9. Break a Rule
When planning a minimal design, consider breaking one design rule. With a design pattern that is super simple and streamlined, rule-breaking can actually help add visual interest and make the overall impact greater. But choose wisely. Break a rule that doesn’t get in the way of users actually understanding and interacting with the design. Break a rule that will help create more engagement and generate user interest. And make sure your rule breaking fits the rest of the design. Something too elaborate in a minimal scheme can have the opposite of the intended effect.
10. Go For Less But Meaningful
The best minimalist websites only utilize elements that are essential for the web design. This includes doing away with needless graphical elements that may distract the viewer and affect both usability and readability. By keeping things simple, you are better able to direct the visitor’s attention to the main element or idea that the site is meant to convey. The less elements there are to bombard the viewer, the more likely they are to focus on the product or idea being showcased. This means using limited layouts and color palettes while still making available only the most useful tools, such as intuitive and easy-to-find navigational elements.
Here are some samples of Minimalist Designs for your inspiration:
One of the great things about minimalist graphic design concepts is that they can be the foundation for a project or just a key element in the design. The great thing about minimalism in general is it makes the designer think about what is important in the design, and causes them to really focus on it. This way of thinking about projects, from website design to poster to packaging – can help create designs that are easy to understand and use.
DO NOT FORGET THAT LESS IS MORE WHEN IT COMES TO MINIMAL GRAPHIC DESIGN!
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