Create crisp, clean minimalist graphic design using professional insights and real-world examples of memorable branding.
The minimalist design movement became popular in the 1960s with the work of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, and Carl Andre. However, its roots can be traced all the way back to the industry-defining work of the Bauhaus.
Then, in the late ’90s and early 2000s, it became the preserve of digital masters: Minimalism became the de facto aesthetic for technology companies, with Apple leading the charge in shepherding the advent of minimalism in user interface design.
Revered for its beauty, elegance, and purity, it’s often put on a pedestal as the pinnacle of human-centric design, and for good reason. That said, it’s devilishly hard to pull off.
Even Steve Jobs found it difficult:
It takes a lot of hard work to make something simple, to truly understand the underlying challenges and come up with elegant solutions. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
But fear not! Today, we will unpack the core tenets of minimalism, discuss its facets and aesthetics, understand its importance to marketing professionals and creators of all stripes, and look at relevant examples of the medium.
By the end of this article, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a master of minimalist graphic design.
Principles of Minimalist Graphic Design
Minimalism is a design approach that emphasizes simplicity and essential design elements—such as a limited color palette, negative space, typography, and layout—to create an aesthetically pleasing and functional design.
Its goal is to convey a clear, concise message to the viewer without extraneous or distracting design elements.
Ostensibly, there are few places to hide with minimalism. Nothing should be included that doesn’t have a purpose. Without any adornments, everything from the core message through to the (few) tools that you employ is essential in maintaining the overall design aesthetic.
Achieving the Best Minimalist Design Every Time
To achieve a minimalist design, start with a simple message. If your message is unnecessarily weighed down with flowery language, then it doesn’t matter how minimalist the design looks; it won’t be cohesive because it won’t work as a minimalist design.
Put another way, if your message is succinct, clear, and to the point, then visually supporting that message with minimalist techniques would follow. If that’s not the case, then a different or opposite design strategy may be better suited to achieve your goals.
Once your message is clear, simple, and concise, it’s time to employ minimalist visual techniques.
A quick aside on maximalism: Maximalist graphic design, typified by bright colors, complex patterns, and intricate designs, focuses on adding as much detail and visuals as possible—think Baroque, Rococo, or Art Nouveau. Paula Scher, Peter Saville, and Stefan Sagmeister are notable practitioners of a more maximalist approach to graphic design.
1. The Grid Is Your Friend
The first thing to consider when creating minimalist graphic design is its layout. Segmenting your design into a logical grid gives the design structure and form, and allows for the precise positioning of elements to create a clean and simple design.
- Establish a precise grid system to create a sense of order and structure in your design.
- Use alignment to create a clear visual hierarchy. Critical elements of your design should be aligned to the grid and placed in the most prominent positions.
- However, don’t be afraid to break the grid if your design could benefit from it. If you’re going to do this, make sure any deviations are intentional and enhance the overall design. However, f you do this too often the grid becomes meaningless, so deploy this technique sparingly.
2. Use Lots of Negative Space
Often overlooked, negative space is the lynchpin of all design styles—minimalism or otherwise. It is the space between other design elements.
In minimalist graphic design, negative space is typically used in an exaggerated fashion to create clarity, balance, and contrast by opening up the structure of the design.
- Use negative space to draw attention to the most significant elements in your design. For example, you might use negative space around a product image to make it stand out.
- Consider the overall composition of your design when working with negative space. Create a visually exciting and balanced layout by leaving space unfilled.
3. Restrict Your Color Palette
It will probably come as no shock, but minimalist design tends to err on the side of a limited color palette. Typically, designs will be in two or three colors, with a high propensity for black and white, neutral, or monochrome palettes.
- Consider the mood and tone of your piece. Reds convey urgency or action, while blues and greens are more soothing. When using a monochrome palette, tints and shades will become critical in establishing contrasts and creating harmony in your design.
- Start with a simple color palette and build up from there. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shades and hues of the same color to create depth and contrast.
4. Overthink and Oversize Your Typography
Typography is a crucial element of minimalist design. Imagery is often sparsely used, so the choice of typeface becomes critical, setting the tone for the entire design.
Sans serifs will strike a modernistic tone, whereas serifs will feel more classic or elegant. Oversized type (and the extreme opposite) conveys impact.
Occasionally, you may wish to invert the usual rules, using smaller text for headings surrounded by swathes of negative space to create an unexpected tone in your design.
- Start with sans serif typefaces, as these deploy simplified forms by default and are easier to read. Minimalist design aesthetics frequently use sans serifs, but serifs can also be used effectively if hierarchy and form are carefully considered.
- Experiment with font size, weight, and placement to create a visual hierarchy. Key elements of your design should be more prominent.
5. Build a Clean Design Using Basic Geometric Shapes
Basic geometry, such as circles, squares, and triangles, can be used to construct the structure, design elements, or simple ornamentation in your minimalist design.
Used sparingly and strategically, they can bring a sense of balance and order to your design.
- Often, duplicated basic shapes are used in minimalist design. For example, you might use a grid of squares or circles to create a focal point or support the key messaging in your design.
- Remember, less is always more in minimalist graphic design, so use shaping only where needed. Use line art to bring in visual appeal without domineering the design.
6. Create a Sense of Openness with Minimalist Photography
Finally, once all other design elements are considered, you may wish to bring in some photography to round out the piece.
Besides basic shaping, photography is usually the only imagery used in minimalist graphic design. For example, you wouldn’t typically see illustrations or collages.
- Subtlety is key. Choose simple, uncluttered compositions that draw attention to the main subject of your photograph. You may want to retouch your photographs to reduce any aberrations or unnecessary elements from the frame.
- Combine photography with negative space and simple backgrounds to create a simple look and feel. A plain white background indicates a minimalist design and will often be where photography is placed.
Examples of Minimalist Graphic Design
There are many minimalist design examples from which you can draw inspiration for your next project.
From the iconic packaging of Apple products to the simple but seminal use of negative space in the FedEx logo, here are our top picks:
Apple AirPods Pro Packaging
Using a simple white-on-white design with minimal text and graphics, Apple’s AirPods Pro packaging is almost as iconic as the product itself. The lack of color embodies a sleek and sophisticated look and feel, which appears effortless but was incredibly difficult to create.
Perhaps not as modern as some of our other examples, but no less minimalist, the genuinely iconic Coca-Cola logo, designed by Turner Duckworth, is a simple, bold, and classic example of minimalist logo design.
Its inclusion here is a welcome example of how minimalism can employ color—this time red—and remain faithful to minimalist principles.
The New York Times Magazine
Gail Bichler’s New York Times magazine design typifies how complex structures can be boiled down into simple, clean, bold, and easily accessible minimalist designs.
Featuring boatloads of negative space and minimal text and graphics, it is a masterclass in minimalist layout and alignment.
- Simple typography
- Lots of negative space
- Simple shapes and forms
- Grids and alignment
- Minimalist photography
Muji Visual Identity
No article about minimalism would be complete without a nod to Muji. Taking minimalism to its ultimate extreme, the company’s design philosophy is about recycling, reducing production, and waste.
It even has a no-logo and no-brand policy, with its name translating approximately as “no-brand quality goods.”
Aesthetically, it is simple, clean, unadorned, and humble—there couldn’t be a better example of minimalism.
- Minimal color palette
- Simple typography
- Lots of negative space
- Grids and alignment
Deploying negative space can sometimes have incredible results. With the FedEx logo, it’s a case of once you see it, you can’t unsee it.
Look closely, not at the orange or purple letterforms, but at the negative space between the E and the X. Can you see the arrow?
Simple and memorable, the FedEx logo is instantly recognizable as an archetypal example of minimalist design.
- Minimal color palette
- Simple typography
- Intelligent use of negative space
Humans of New York Photography
This series of stunning photos features simple portraits on singular, block backgrounds.
Achieving something as striking as this with such a simple design is no mean feat yet, by doing so, the photos frame the subject and their story rather than the surrounding environment.
This style of photography is impactful in editorials, such as fashion photography or social media campaigns.
Using Shutterstock Create to Turbocharge Your Minimalist Graphic Design Projects
If you fancy diving into minimalist graphic design, start by using Shutterstock Create. Create is our online design tool that supports all aesthetic styles, including minimalism.
- You can access the vast minimalist image library here at Shutterstock, ensuring you have the perfect photos to support your minimalist design. A simple keyword search will get you up and running in no time.
- Create offers numerous built-in templates, perfect for minimalist graphic design. Use them as a starting point, and customize them to fit your needs.
- Create’s easy-to-use design tools will give you a leg up with all the key considerations of a minimalist design.
Bonus: Get Your Very Own Minimalist Wallpapers
And, that’s not all! We’ve pulled together a whole host of beautiful minimalist wallpapers suitable for desktop and mobile sourced from the Shutterstock catalog.
License these images via archi abdur rehman, ImageFlow, SARMDY, Archi_Viz, and brizmaker.
License these images via Edalin Photography, designium, Radu Bercan, Francisco Duarte Mendes, artem evdokimov.
License these images via Pavlova Yuliia, Melica, Olha Kozachenko, Lithiumphoto, and Hanna Taniukevich.
License these images via Olga Chapova, Light Stock, valiantsin suprunovich, Jane Vershinin, Marina Kaiser.
Ready to Create Your Minimalist Aesthetic or Design?
Minimalist graphic design effectively creates clean, uncluttered designs that are visually appealing and easy to understand.
As they are often hard to develop, they are also a great challenge for designers, as boiling down a composition to its core constituent parts is imperative in creating successful minimalist designs.
By using a minimal color palette, straightforward typography, an abundance of negative space, and linking it all together using a logical grid layout, you can create functional and aesthetically pleasing designs.
There is another Mexico that people haven’t examined very well. Let’s explore its beauty and complexities through photography.
License this cover image via Master1305.