The rise of minimalism in branding: Is less really more?

Many brand logos have recently switched to a minimalist style, opting for simpler designs rather than elaborate detail. For example, the Burger King logo lost its blue swoop and angled text, while the Pringles logo mascot, Mr.P, lost more intricate features, including his hair.

Are these changes beneficial? Is minimalist design always the way to go? Keep reading to learn more about minimalism and the viability of this design style.

What is minimalism?

According to an article published by Themeisle, four main elements make up the foundation of minimalist design: less is more, negative space, visual harmony and colours.

The “less is more” ideology is most commonly associated with minimalism. The idea is to remove unnecessary elements and keep only what is essential. This does not always mean having the simplest design possible. Within branding, minimalism usually means stripping away what is not essential to the design’s core.

Negative space refers to empty areas or spots where design has been purposely left out. Negative space is particularly powerful in minimalism. A lack of design elements draws a viewer’s focus to where design elements are used, giving the desired design more attention.

Achieving visual harmony requires symmetry, a balance of elements across a design where nothing feels too crowded or sparse. Even asymmetry can produce harmony if done correctly. However, designers must be careful not to make an asymmetrical design look too chaotic or favour part of the design too much.

In line with the “less is more” ideology, minimalist designers tend to stick to two or three colours. These colours often have enough contrast to be attention-grabbing while also not having too much that they clash.

Is minimalism always good?

Although minimalism has been growing in popularity, it has its critics. One criticism is that the recent rise in minimalism has caused logos to look the same.

A study by Distinctive BAT showed 750 UK consumers a series of logos with the brand names removed and asked them to identify the correct brand. Brands that changed significant parts of their logo in their attempt at minimalism saw lower brand recognition than their original logos. For example, the new Warner Brothers logo, which significantly simplified its monogram, saw at least a 40 per cent drop in brand recognition compared to its old logo.

However, some brands, like Burger King and Toyota, saw little decrease in brand recognition despite switching to minimalist logos. The study suggests this is because while these logos dropped certain design elements, they retained the core elements that made the logo distinctive. For example, while Burger King dropped the blue swoosh, the new logo still kept the red text and yellow burger bun design.  

Recognizability plays a key role in how successful a minimalist logo will be. Fashion brand Burberry removed its knight design and switched to a sans-serif typeface in 2018. However, it recently changed the logo again after recognizing that it had removed a central portion of the logo. Sticking to its roots, Burberry brought back the iconic knight with a more subtle serif typeface. The redesign saw positive public reception, showing that a logo does not have to be minimalist in order to be well-liked.  

While minimalist design is not always a bad choice, it must be used carefully to avoid sacrificing distinctiveness for simplicity. Consider the elements of your current branding or logo that make these designs recognizable. What about these designs helps customers associate the logo with your brand? Knowing which parts of a design are most important can help you decide what to keep if you choose the minimalist route – just don’t lose your brand identity in the process. 

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