The Myth of Minimalism as the Easy Option

It’s an increasingly touted notion that many digital products look alike. Despite a handful of short-lived visual trends like Maximalism, Neomorphism, and Brutalism, Minimalism is still the dominant visual approach for most digital products. It’s become so ubiquitous that it’s almost not even considered a unique visual approach; instead, it’s just seen as the de facto approach.

So why is Minimalism, somewhat ironically, everywhere? And are we at a point where implementing it is just an easy choice that stifles creativity? I can’t be the only one who has thought, ‘How reductive can my designs be before I’m just being lazy?’

Firstly, it’s worth noting that the creeping minimalistic homogenisation extends beyond tech: Airbnbs, cars, and corporate logos. Nowhere seems safe from Minimalism’s sleek conformity. While this can, in part, be attributed to wider globalisation and lazy algorithms serving us all the same muses and inspirations, the reality is that for product design, Minimalism offers tangible real-world benefits that are too good to ignore. It enables us to create scalable products, allows for swift engineering implementation, and has a low barrier for entry for designers of all skill sets. Additionally, it allows us to make clear design decisions under time pressure, all while removing distractions from the end user’s experience.

Does minimalistic homogenisation deprive us of uniqueness?

Minimal Effort

Minimalism is often criticised for being soulless, formulaic, and, worst of all, easy. Personally, I would take particular exception to this last point. Minimalism done well is certainly not easy. To paraphrase Dolly Parton, ‘It takes a lot of effort to look this simple.’ Injecting the right amount of white space and splashes of colour is never as easy as it looks — it only seems apparent after you’ve gone over the edge. I would argue that criticisms of Minimalism being anonymous and boring are more symptomatic of poor Minimalism, which is an unfortunate side effect of its prevalence. When done correctly, Minimalism allows us to present information in a clear, scalable, and inclusive way.

Wisdom paraphrased from Dolly Parton.

The Product Designer’s Paradox

With all that said, as product designers, we can become hindered by what I’d call the ‘Product Designer’s Paradox’ — we want to create unique and innovative products, but we also want these products to be intuitive and accessible. So, does excessive Minimalism risk product design becoming predictable, and is this a problem? As designers, our job is to find solutions to problems within clearly defined parameters. Certain design aspects become assumed as best practices, and it’s our responsibility to discover new and innovative methods to build upon these, all while retaining a degree of familiarity.

A Stark Future?

So, will Minimalism become an all-consuming force within product design, strangling the life out of new ideas? Well, it’s hard to be sure. As we continue to live through a period of new technological advancements, Minimalism will likely keep prevailing. Demonstrating clear value is essential for the adoption of emerging technologies. Minimalist interfaces streamline experiences, reducing the likelihood of confusion.

Conversely, the inevitable rise of cookie-cutter AI-driven websites may result in pushback. As users become more digitally literate, maybe we’ll collectively feel more comfortable with more experimental approaches.

Personally, I believe Minimalism will never completely disappear. However, like all trends and beliefs, new generations may reject what came before as ‘old’ and ‘conformist.’ We might look back in 20+ years and reminisce about Minimalism with the same quaint nostalgia that we currently associate with the Clipart aesthetic of the early 2000s internet. However, I have my doubts; as with all great concepts, it’s so simple that it’s brilliant.

The Myth of Minimalism as the Easy Option
was originally published in YLD Blog on Medium.
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