Distinctive features in visual communication

Katja Belkina
Apr 13 · 6 min read

Do all startups for millennials look the same?

Every time I scroll my feed that question appears in my head.
I see so many DTC sponsored posts (like Glossier, Casper, Thinx, and other). They all seem to possess the same vibe. As a consumer (and as a millennial) I see it as a good thing because it sends me a signal that brand speaks my values.

As an art director, I really wonder what is so special about ‘millennial minimalism’. Is it a clone of the laconic tech style? Is it inspired by Swedish industrial design?

AIGA experts predict a soon end of this trend, but a small group of branding shops behind today’s top DTC brands keeps releasing successful projects.

I decided to explore this aesthetic and define its main visual principles. Here are my personal observations and conclusions.


Style of Photography — The new mundane look & feel

Usually, when the overall design approach is minimalistic, photography becomes the most important element of communication. Or the illustration if the brand decides to go that way. It becomes the core.

Couch brand Burrow

What’s working for millennials right now is something that I call ‘the new mundane’ style.

Basically, it’s ‘less artistic more natural’ compared to mainstream commercial content. It has that snapshot feeling and depicts recognizable life situations or characters.

Millennials don’t buy picture-perfect visuals. They gravitate towards something inspired by life.

Billie razors

‘The new mundane’ is insightful.
It’s still aesthetically pleasing.
And well-thought.
And shot by professionals.

Glossier

Highly produced photography looks fake.

Gillette Venus

Believability builds on the choice of the context and the characters. And technical aspects. But that is secondary.

More diversity, less staged act, real-life looking people, imperfect, snapshot aesthetics — all that matters a lot and creates that ‘new mundane’ look&feel.

But it would be too boring if we could just go with just one direction.
The raw realism spread very fast, that’s why we also have …

Style of Photography number 2 — Disruptive Metaphor

This direction is about disruptive and provocative metaphors.

Mainly it’s used for intimate care and services brands (like Thinx, HIMS, OkCupid) and that’s understandable.

The yolk and clear albumen of an oozing, cracked egg was used throughout the campaign as a metaphor for ovulation. And in an ode to Georgia O’Keeffe, hyper-detailed shots of a grapefruit became a tongue-in-cheek depiction of the female anatomy. -Alexis Avedisian

Developed by Wieden + Kennedy , our DTF campaign reminds daters of what they deserve: better. And to really bring this movement to life, we worked with famed duo Maurizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari to create arresting images that do just that. The creators of Toliet Paper Magazine, Cattelan and Ferrari’s work on DTF is colorful, provocative, inclusive, and beautiful. But don’t trust us — we’re not the only ones who think the images look like little works of art. — OkCupid


Product design — Instagrammable experience

Product’s package is designed to be an instagrammable experience.

A smart caption on the box, stickers, personalized package…These are the legitimate reasons to post pictures of the product on social media.

Captions on the box. This seems to be a must for DTC. It’s even annoying.
Glossier has stickers
Waldo and LOLA have stickers
Care/of has a personalized package

Layout structure — less is more

The layout structure is the minimalism in action.
As a millennial, I appreciate that messages are prioritized clearly. It’s a sign of respect for my time. Also, in this overcluttered environment, it gives so much needed rest to my eyes and brain.

To achieve that, the layout uses color blocking approach. It organizes information in a very consistent way. And Geometric grotesques is the most common choice of type. Like Helvetica, they don’t possess a strong character and can describe any sort of info without adding any extra feel.

As we can see the layouts are very decluttered and speak directly to the consumer.

In terms of color, we can see two directions here. Number one are muted low contrasty hues. Number two is very bright and clean color. But either way, it is lots of clean colors.


Conclusion

Millennial minimalism speaks directly to consumers without shouting for attention. And I personally love it. For me, that aesthetics has become the disruptive content in my feed. It’s not overstuffed with information and it’s a sign of respect to my time and my values.

Katja Belkina

Written by

I work as AD at BBDO Moscow. Here are my personal observations on visual communications in advertising and culture. https://www.instagram.com/artdirbelkina/

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