Harnish Shah
Guest Article

Is minimalism overrated?

Is the ubiquitous trend of minimalism in design diluting brand distinctiveness? Our guest author shares insights on the impact of homogenisation.

Take a look at the logos of Apple, Amazon, and Google. The wordmarks of Facebook, Spotify, and LinkedIn. Notice a trend?

The minimalist aesthetic has become ubiquitous across global brands.

As someone deeply immersed in the world of design, I can't help but reflect on the pervasive trend of minimalism, and it makes me ponder the words of the great American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who once said, 'Less is only more where more is no good.'

In this design-centric era, it seems that 'less is more' has evolved into an almost dogmatic principle, and it's time we consider whether we've taken this minimalist ethos to an extreme that might be doing more harm than good.

Minimalism has become the dominant aesthetic across many areas of design. Brands embrace minimalist logos, websites highlight empty spaces, and products aim for clean, uncluttered looks.

Is minimalism overrated?

While this might seem 'cool' and 'being with the trend' right now, I believe that the "minimalistic" concept is taking us closer to homogenization in design.

From my perspective, minimalism is the design ethos of our time, embraced by global brands, tech giants, and creative industries alike. It has undoubtedly brought a sense of order and clarity to our visual landscape, but at what cost?

The truth is that minimalism is becoming a double-edged sword, setting us on a path toward design homogenization. When everything starts to look the same – be it logos, websites, or brand identities – it's a signal that we may be losing the very essence of what makes each brand unique.

To explain in simple terms:

  • Homogenization of design is when all the things - be it a brand logo, website, or brand identity, start looking one and the same

  • Minimalism brought order and improved usability. But it has also homogenised branding at the expense of personality

  • It's high time that we stop chasing minimalism and rethink our design processes

Now, don't get me wrong, I, myself, love minimalistic designs. But when you reach a point where you can't really distinguish between two brands – I believe it's a strong indication to change.

Growing up, I always loved the logos designs of Starbucks, Pepsi, and Adidas because they had those unique elements in them.

Over time, fancy shapes and funky fonts took a backseat to clean lines, San Serif font, and easy reading.

Three major reasons that drive this change are:

  1. Increase in the use of standardised templates to start off with -  be it for website building or logo designing. The over-reliance on templates trains designers to think inside the box rather than push boundaries.

  2. Influence of industry players like Google, Amazon, and Apple - Their stripped-down, minimalist aesthetic influences design expectations across the web and device ecosystems. This has resulted in a sea of Apple-inspired branding and sites that replicate Google's hyper-minimalist look. In this, the personality and imperfection that come from hand-crafted design is lost.

  3. We have now figured out what works best online from a user experience perspective. Through rigorous testing and sharing of best practices, the industry is converging on interfaces and branding that are highly usable and consistent - and that is minimalistic for now.

Because minimalism has become the safe choice from the maker's lens, here's how the consumer thinking cycle then moves forward with this:

  1. During the initial phases, they embrace the product because it seems a friendly choice and one that is 'going with the trend.'

  2. Over a period of time, they start demanding a distinctive personality from the brand, no matter through which medium - brand tone, brand principles, visuals, or style.

  3. They are intended to move to yet another brand to find that newness they are subconsciously wanting.

What if you did not see:

  • Amul girl, with her charm, wit, and polka-dotted dress on Amul's packaging? It just wouldn't feel like the same approachable brand that's been part of Indian households for generations

  • The stylized kingfisher bird prominently featured on the Kingfisher beer logo? The brand would lose its regal, aspirational edge

  • Frooti's refreshing mango element and the bubbly typography that defines its unique packaging?

  • Or, in another way, think about why you remember Bournvita with the tagline - Tayyari jeet ki, why do you remember Nirma with its jingle?

Because all these distinctive brand elements are so deeply rooted in consumers' memories.

Sweeping them away in favour of minimalist homogeneity would make the brands feel detached from their own rich histories and the culture they represent.

Their individuality is key to lasting relevance for decades.

I guess brands should take this as a signal and hear the indirect voices of customers who say - Take some risks! Surprise us! Make us feel something!

  • Bring back elements that tell stories

  • Vivid colours that make consumers feel something

  • Natural textures that create warmth

  • Irregular details that provoke delight

Minimalism brought order but took things too far. The future belongs to designs that balance simplicity with personality. A new humanistic minimalism. One that speaks to both our heads and our hearts.

There's nothing wrong in wanting your theme to be minimalistic and universal enough to appeal to the broader audience; it's just that we shouldn't restrict ourselves from experimenting.

If we do, it would be difficult to spot the difference between Google, Pepsi, Spotify, Facebook, and all others.

Do you think minimalism is overrated? 

(Our guest author is Harnish Shah, Founder and CEO of 3 Minds Digital)

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