Minimalist Graphic Design


A few days ago, Steven Allen, a student at UAL, London College of Communication came to us with questions about a subject very dear to us: The minimalist graphic design. We felt that it would be interesting to also share our thoughts through a new article.

Thus, you can read our Q&A below.


1) How would you define minimalist graphic design in a few words or sentence?

Simple, radical, light, clear, obvious, modest, honest, confident.

As well as you can’t hide in an empty room, a minimalist graphic design is not hesitant or elusive, nor does it intend to impress or dupe with some trickeries. Accordingly, to be efficient, the form has to be as clear as the content.

In a way, a minimalist design says “That’s my message. That’s all.”


2) At what point do you believe a piece of graphic design starts to become minimalist?

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said:

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

A graphic design becomes minimalist when
you have removed all the superfluous and irrelevant material.

A graphic design becomes minimalist when
there is no visual clutter, no frills, no noise or redundancy.

A graphic design becomes minimalist when
you feel it without even notice it. It has to be obvious without imagining it simpler, clearer or more beautiful.

By the way, John Gruber gives us a tip:

“If your UI [design] even vaguely resembles an airplane cockpit, you’re doing it wrong.”

3) How simple or complex would you say your own approach is to determine what the core elements are to include within a design?

Making something minimalist is complex.

The first step is to determine clearly the message to convey. That sounds obvious, but if we are not able to formulate it simply in few words, we will not be able to formulate it simply with our graphic design.

Once it is done, we focus on it during the whole creative process.
When a solution seems to be valid, it is time to proceed to a methodical reduction.

As Jonathan Ive said:

“It’s all about removing the unnecessary.”

which means everything that is redundant, anecdotal or expendable.

John Maeda also said:

“Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”

whereas for the design agency Heydays it’s about:

“Removing noise to add value.”

We always keep that in mind as mantras. It helps us to determine what to keep and what to cut.

Like Milton Glaser, we don’t think necessarily that “less is more” but rather that “just enough is more”. The nuance seems to be slight but it suggests to not fall into an extreme that would become meaningless.

Influenced by the Japanese traditional design, Minimalism is first and foremost to cultivate the beauty of emptiness.

Emptiness, space, blank, white, light are the same notion.

Adrian Frutiger explained:

“When I put my pen to a blank sheet, black isn’t added but rather the white sheet is deprived of light […] Thus I also grasped that empty spaces are the the most important aspect of a typeface.”

In a way, our role as designers is to safeguard this light.

To borrow again the words of John Maeda:

“The opportunity lost by increasing the amount of blank space is gained back with enhanced attention on what remains. More white space means that less information is presented. In turn, proportionately more attention shall be paid to that which is made less available. When there is less, we appreciate everything much more.”

Thus, emptiness is a powerful tool for establishing clear design arrangements.


4) What would you define as the key minimalist graphic design fundamentals?

A simple design for a simple idea
The message has to be clear, simple and strong. A minimalist design is only achieved through an effective message. Inversely, if the message is lame or obscure, a minimalist design will not help. The result will be confused, poor, even worthless. Through a minimalist design, it is a simple idea that becomes obvious.

Remove, remove, remove… but not everything
A minimalist design has to be simple but not simplistic. A minimalist design does not occur to the detriment of the message that it supports. Facilitating the reading and giving meaning is what minimalist design is all about.

Emptiness not nothingness
Minimalism embraces the concept of emptiness.
Emptiness is not nothing, laziness or a space that is wasted. It is a powerful something that permits to highlight a limited number of elements that are necessary and sufficient.

Minimalism is a commitment
In order to make minimalist design, a calm, considered, organized work is necessary. But it is something you can practice everyday and not just in design application. It is an attitude. Whatever you do, try to make it simple, without hysteria.


We encourage you to give your opinion by commenting this article to enrich the collective debate and the work of Steven Allen.
Spread the word. Thank you for reading.

Adrien & Clotilde
— Brother, Sister, both designers


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