Minimalism as Style: What is Minimalism?

by Kaitlin Aguilar

I don't enjoy most things about school. I remember being in a history of design class where I never did my homework. So with that being said I am going to refresh my memory and attempt to give a short history lesson of where Minimalism actually come from. 

What is Minimalism?

Minimalism as defined by Merriam-Webster is "a style or technique (as in music, literature, or design) that is characterized by extreme spareness and simplicity."

Minimalism in design started in the 60s and 70s after the end of World War II and a trend that continues today. Minimalism in design is a design that has been stripped down to only its essentials. Minimal design is principle and doesn't matter what you are designing. It could be a poster, website, magazine, a building or user interface and everything else in between where you only keep what is necessary for the design to function. Architect Ludwig Mies van de Roche said "Less is more." and this is a statement that many individuals have heard and is synonymous with minimalist design. 

How did Minimalism come to being?

There are a variety of things that contributed to Minimalism but I am going to focus on the De Stijl movement which loosely translates to "the style."

De Stijl chair designed by Gerrit Rietveld in 1917.

Born out of the Netherlands in 1917, De Stijl proponents advocated art and design to be simple and abstracted. They heavily used vertical and horizontal lines, focused on squares and rectangles, and did not stray far from the use of primary colors and black and white. Their art usually didn't not overlap so that they elements of their designs could function independently and not interfere with one another. 

Influential Designers and Minimalism.

Dieter Rams

Born in 1932, Rams should be a household name to many designers, but for those who are not familiar Rams is an influential German industrial designer. He worked for the Braun company which was responsible for things like consumer appliances, radios and calculators to name a few. 

Rams designed products that only included their essential aspects so that they would be simple and in their purest form. He followed his design motto--"Less, but better." Rams is also responsible for creating ten principles for good design and they are as follows.

Good design:

  1. Is innovative – uses improving technology 
  2. Makes a product useful – emphasizes functionality
  3. Is aesthetic – not only beautiful but makes user feel good
  4. Makes a product understandable – should be pretty explanitory 
  5. Is unobtrusive – is neutral and allows user to impose personal style
  6. Is honest – does not promise what it cannot give
  7. Is long-lasting – timeless, a classic
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail
  9. Is environmentally friendly – uses little resources and space
  10. Is as little design as possible

So when you are trying to implement the minimalist design style make sure you are focusing only on elements that will better serve the functionality and usability. Anything else is probably just unnecessary decoration.