11 guidelines for minimal design

Minimal design – design reduced to its bare minimum. What sounds easy, at first, can actually be very complicated. How do you decide which elements in your design are important and which ones aren’t? How can you achieve this light, simple and clean feel? And how to avoid taking away too much?

What is minimal design?

Minimalism has created such hype that we can find it everywhere today. It has taken over all aspects of our lives. From capsule wardrobes to tiny houses everything has been minimalized.

But minimalism has been around for some time already with its origins in the art world. This movement arose in the late 60s when artists started to put their focus on simplicity. Stepping away from expressionism which they found to be too overloaded and pack with unnecessary details. Minimalism quickly became popular spreading into architecture, design, and fashion.

The line between aesthetically pleasing and bland is thin. This is the biggest problem when it comes to minimal design. Of course, there's this well-known phrase coined by Mies van der Rohe “Less is more”. But how do we get to “less” without losing meaning or functionality? Find out more | thatistheday.com #minimaldesign #graphicdesign #graphicdesigntips
Minimal design - design reduced to its bare minimum. What sounds easy, at first, can actually be very complicated. How do you decide which elements in your design are important and which ones aren’t? How can you achieve this light, simple and clean feel? Find out more | thatistheday.com #minimaldesign #graphicdesign #graphicdesigntips

The minimal design challenge

The line between aesthetically pleasing and bland is thin. This is the biggest problem when it comes to minimal design. Of course, there’s this well-known phrase coined by Mies van der Rohe “Less is more”. But how do we get to “less” without losing meaning or functionality? Where is the line between “just right” and “too much”? The following guidelines will help you to create a minimal design and avoid the little traps. I use the word guidelines here because there are no must-follow rules. It all depends on the purpose of your design and your own aesthetic.

11 guidelines for minimal design

Simplify

From the number of design elements to color choice, everything gets simplified and stripped down to its base. Minimal design calls for less. No distractions are allowed which would take away the regard from the essential. A simple guideline to follow is no more than 3 colors, two fonts, and 5 elements in total in your design. But at times you can even reduce more. But make sure you don’t take anything away which makes your whole design lose its sense.

Purpose

Which brings us to the next point. Every element needs to serve a purpose. If it doesn’t it has no right to be there. Minimal design is clear and functional. You only add elements which are necessary to understand and use your design.

Design elements which serve only as accessories are rare. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t pay attention to the details though. Details are very important and they often serve several purposes. Fonts aren’t only functional but also decorative.

White space

You can’t create a minimal design without the use of white space. These two are inseparable. The reason why minimal design looks so light and pleasing is that there’s space. Space to let the elements breathe and stand out. In a design with too many details, where everything is crammed together, you often can’t make out what’s important. White space creates the balance between background and foreground, between image and text. The absence of design elements or information puts emphasis on what’s important and what you decide needs to stay in your design.

Neutrals

The colors used in minimal design aren’t stealing the show from your main elements. You’ll mostly find neutral and light colors like gray, white, and beige. If you want to use a bolder color stick to one and only use it to set accents.

Visual hierarchy

So how do you make clear what’s important in your design? How to make something stand out? With soft and muted colors it might seem hard to do so.

In general, you create visual hierarchy through contrast. That’s where the minimalist’s favorite color comes into play: black. It’s true, in minimal design you see a lot of black. The trick is to use neutrals to balance it off.

Related post: 6 colors to use instead of black

But you can also use other very simple style techniques to make something stand out. One technique is to use white space as you’ve already read above. Another is using size to create hierarchy.

Related post: How to create visual hierarchy

Natural

Minimal design is generally inspired by nature. Designers use raw and authentic materials like wood or stone to create textures and patterns.

Type

Typography plays a huge role in minimal design. It’s seen more like a design element than a simple form of putting text on something. The most important aspect is readability. So you’ll often find classic sans serif fonts.

To create contrast designers make use of different styles. Mixing very bold and very thin hairline styles helps you to make text stand out. Headlines are often oversized in relation to body copy.

Related post: 10 classic fonts you should know

Flat

Flat doesn’t mean boring. It’s a very basic form of design without frills. You can see this trend in logo design. Many brands have stripped down their logos over the last years e.g. Google.

Icons are flat now too. No unnecessary shadows or gradients. No 3-dimensional elements like we created in the 80s and 90s. Keeping it simple makes it easier to understand. A button doesn’t need a drop shadow to show us that it’s clickable.

Photos

Photos make use of the same guideline. This means they aren’t overly edited. In minimal design, you use filters and overlays carefully. The image should speak for itself.

If photos are used they usually take up a lot of space. They can even serve as a background if the object inside is simple (lots of white space).

Forms and shapes

Geometrical shapes and simple lines lead the eye of the beholder. They give us an orientation and are design elements at the same time. Their simple form doesn’t distract and is universally understood. A line can separate or indicate direction.

Alignment

No design is complete without arranging the elements in a visually pleasing way. The main goal is clarity and functionality. You can achieve this by putting a grid over your design. This is possible with almost every design software. It helps you to align your elements, as you would do with text, left, right or centered. Keep enough space between the elements to create balance.


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