“Minimalist” design has been popular with artists for a long time. Consider the very earliest cave drawings, which were little more than lines, curves, and the occasional squiggle, and yet expressed some important ideas to the primitive minds of that period. Hunting, dangers of the area, and even simple tribal and social ideas, could all be expressed in forms that were very much what we think of when we consider the drawings of children. There’s no denying that they get the point across, though.
Minimalism is more than just cave drawings, though. It’s all about expressing an idea without any extra baggage. Whether that’s the clean lines and borders that you see on a business card or restaurant menu that’s got an upper class flare, or it’s in the very simple typographical choices that you see on a poster that’s meant to shock or intrigue a viewer, minimalism’s value lies in its strong framing of a concept with nothing to get in the way. With minimalism in graphical design, you will find that there are the very same goals.
Simple, but Strong
An aspect of minimalism that is perhaps the most important is the idea of “negative space.” When you’re looking at text on a page, such as this very article, you may be considering exactly what’s being written. There’s nothing to get in the way of that experience. If there was a loud background image that this text was imposed over, however, you would have difficulty concentrating on this, or any, sentence. That’s just common sense, and yet it’s surprising to see so many graphic designers make that exact mistake when deciding how to compose an image.
You can use the advantages of negative space without necessarily making an image fully minimalistic, of course. Images that copy the “picture frame” aesthetic, for example, often use a white background, surrounded by a frame, and then an image or text placed on that field of negative space. You could say that the negative space that exists between the image and the frame is just as important as the image itself, because it provides symmetry, reference, dimension, and perspective.
Here are other ways to apply the ideas of minimalism:
- In photography. A simple black and white photo of a subject on a white or black field can be very striking, especially when using high resolution images.
- In typography. Bold font choices on a plain field with complimentary images and composition are key in typography, and they’re very much in line with the ideas of minimalism in many ways. Spaces between letters, and even the thickness of a font’s stroke, also uphold the value of negative space in font choice.
- In user interfaces. When you’re designing graphics to be used for links and menus, minimalism’s value can mean a UI that’s easy and quick to understand. Recent trends like “Ghost Buttons” actually follow this train of thought for very visually appealing results.