3 Important Key Impacts of
Minimalism In Branding

15/02/2024



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Is it a trend? is it a strategy? Why would a brand go from something so full of life to something so drab? We will be exploring the impact of using minimalist values in the context of a brand’s identity, the production processes and generally how seeing branding through this lens affect the end goal of a new brand identity. We can really get to the root of the minimalism in branding conversation and start analyzing minimalist designs and the way minimalist style is used in relation to your beloved brand.

The Most Basic Form

Example of Suprematism, a minimalist art style of russian origin from the early 1900s.

Lets start with the idea of reduction in the arts, above is a painting from the era of suprematism, an art style of Russian origin composed of lots of different geographic objects and consistent use of primary colors. The name is in reference to “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling” rather than a visual depiction that shows us what the image is. This art style is really interesting because it’s meant to illicit pure artistic feeling, and this idea is from artists that were also architects which feels like 2 different points of view in the art world.

With this idea of reduction entering design spaces, lets start thinking about modern brands with this context in mind. Consider a few logos that have stood the test of time in a really significant way – National Geographic (its a hollow rectangle), Nike (its a swoosh), Apple.

From Fruit to Fame: The Evolution of the Apple Logo …

Minimalist Designs For Brands

While these logos have undergone pretty heavy evolutions from inception to now, its still very evident what had to happen for these classic pieces to achieve the test of time, these beloved brands are very simple. While the idea of minimalism might be seen as a plague on modern branding by some, the evidence that this process creates a logo with immense staying power and timelessness stays true, and given a well done branding job, the sleek aspect minimalist logos create is a good example too.

Cummins Diesel still uses their logo by the late Paul Rand to this very day, it was created in 1973 (look at apple’s 1976 logo! Paul rand was ahead of the game by a long shot).

Cummins logo, 1976 Created by paul rand to keep a focus on the Cummins name.

Functionality In Brand Design

The Man Who Harmonized Form, Function, and Friendliness in Corporate Design, Paul Rand. Using minimalism in branding.

A really important aspect of this minimalistic designs conversation is whether or not we’re getting a wave of minimalism style in this moment or if its something that will stick around in the world of branding. Let’s tie this idea to a real life use case example; like when a client wants a logo to be bigger.

Why would a non-designer make such a call? It would certainly be a case by case analysis, however it isn’t a stretch to say that generally the client wants the logo to be clearer, more legible, easy on the eyes. If a logo is too intricate, at a small size you start losing a lot of detail that would be much clearer at an increased size. So as decades pass, the logo game evolves around this back-and-forth between clients and designers “Please, make the logo bigger!” – mid 1900’s designer scratches his head as to whats wrong with the size due to the layout being so strong.

Of course, if a logo is rooted well enough in the fundamentals of today can generally exist at a size that doesn’t overpower a layout but still be crystal clear to the audience.

Versace Logo etched into what most wouldn't consider a sustainable materials

Let’s quickly touch on the financial aspect of working with a minimalistic logo: can the logo be printed on eco friendly materials if a client wants more ethical practices? how does it do on packaging? These questions need to be asked due to the modern state of logo use.

A logo that has a hard time being printed tends to create a lot of packaging waste, whether its because a print run fails a contrast test or theres a weird material like recycled polyester, where the design might have a hard time showing up. The fact of the matter is that the smoother a logo goes through a vendor process, the less waste there is and the opportunity to save money increases in the product design space.

In general, as drab as some of the results of todays logo and brand fundamentals can be (entirely dependent on the designer) the utility provided by the minimalism in branding is indisputable and the logos turn out to be versatile pieces that positively affect the brand.

Is negative Space Boring?

While We are advocating for these design philosophies, lets stop for a second and consider whether or not the audience finds these modern designs boring, a great minimalistic log starts on a white background, in black and white. Usually the process involves using negative space creatively, going for a versatile logo all of which aim to capture the viewer’s eye with this reductionist process.

The result of this can be hit or miss depending on the designer but given a good process and fundamentals it will yield high quality pieces. During the initial rush of companies ‘converting’ to a more minimalist design, the public really seemed to call into question the quality of some of these logos, are they good? are they bad? What they didn’t stop to consider (this is where us designers come in) is if it’s good now, and if it will be bad in the future.

"Instagram's New Logo Is a Travesty. Can We Change It Back? Please?" - Adweek in 2016

Let’s delve into that idea, with this instagram logo update in mind. From a fully illustrated logo icon, with shading, several colors (over 12 if you count the shading) with text unreadable at the app icon size, down to an abstracted line drawing with a gradient background that has about 3 colors in the gradient pool, not counting the color interactions. The initial feedback from this was immense backlash, hate, and confusion at what was ‘wrong’ with the original camera logo, there were journalists both in and out of the world of design trashing the logo update for being ‘over simplified’, ‘lazy’ and an assortment of other perceptions regarding the minimalistic approach.

Today; the public looks back at the camera logo and sees how it was dated, even back then. 2 Years after the logo update Instagram hits one billion unique users.

In 2018, 2 years after the highly critiqued logo update, Instagram hit a user base of 1 billion.

What caused this flip in perception? Why do we look back at the previous instagram logo and not see a timeless, long lasting brand design that should’ve stuck around? The answer is very simple; a minimalist logo might not be the most exciting thing to look at for the general public, but it is many other things; easy to remember, there is a strong focus on the logo mark and not so much its illustrative qualities so its very quick to read.

With these things in mind, its easy to see how the public would have outcry when such a dramatic shift happens, and then years later we ‘get it’ just like how the public was not privy to a ‘font’ until computers became a common household item and there was a stark shift in how we discussed typography as a society. The more the public learns about design, we start to see more and more understanding why the design landscape evolves the way it does.

The Future of Minimalism in Branding

Taco bell Logo Evolution, What's next?

While its really easy to dismiss minimalism in branding as a part of the growing logo trends, its important to realize that trends usually have a period of time where the modern consumer loves it or hates it, and then we usually have a consensus as a society as to whether or not we keep our attention on it. On tiktok this can range from one week to one month.

Minimalist aesthetic in brand design has been a conversation for coming up on a decade and a half now, but the concept of a minimal logo has been around since the 70s. One of the first examples of a major logo change has been the starbucks logo. While the change is not extreme, its fair to call it a big leap into the minimalist design side of things. That change happened in 2011.

Evolution of starbucks logo, with the most recent change being minimalistic design

The conversation on modern minimalism when it comes to a brand has hit a really important point in its development; the minimalist lifestyle is here to stay and we will continue to see minimalist design affect the world of moderns designs as noted by the age and staying power of an original logo in the minimalist style. So what’s next? Often designers forget that history is repeated in many different ways, the everyday wear of a few decades ago becomes the fashion forward of today, accessories go in and out of style, a minimalist wardrobe turns into a maximalist one, minimalist fashion lets up for a bit, even design trends resurface over and over every few years.

Showing off the evolution of painting from perfection to abstraction

In Summary

Lets stop and consider the evolution of painting, for hundreds of years humans aim to effectively create a perfect image, the greeks learn how to make the human perfect form in the round and on the canvas, what happens after? Surrealism, expressionism, and then given a little while longer, we start to evolve these reductionistic concepts, the expressionists start a wave of art that we still experience to this day with modern takes on abstract expressionism in the digital age.

There will likely be a new focus in minimalism in branding, however that doesn’t mean that minimalist branding will be affected negatively or will go away, it will go on to tell other stories. We will soon see a breakaway from minimalist branding, time will pass and modern consumers will ultimately see the next evolution of this reductionist mindset for a new target audience.

Keep Reading With J.O. Agency

J.O. has more in the blog archives on design and branding. Learn about building brand consistency, the techniques graphic designer use for what makes a good logo, and go more in depth with establishing a brand color palette here.

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