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Minimalism vs. Maximalism: Navigating the Graphic Design Spectrum
Whether you are a graphic designer or admiring the work of one, you may notice two distinct styles in the graphic design world.
Whether you are a graphic designer or admiring the work of one, you may notice two distinct styles in the graphic design world. Perhaps you enjoy clean, simple designs. On the contrary, bold and busy designs may bring you the most joy.
Either way — you, my friend, are a minimalist or a maximalist.
While there are many different graphic design styles, each one can fit into one of those categories. Think of your favorite styles, including contemporary or geometric. Are the designs clean and simple or bold and busy?
If you like clean and simple, you are a minimalist. If you are cheering for the other team, you can describe your design style as a maximalist. Consider two camps: You either design with the basics or bring out bold, in-your-face designs.
One thing is certain, though. Both styles have strengths and weaknesses. When used wisely, these styles can please designers, clients, and crowds. Regardless of the side you choose, we believe you can find a place for these styles in your business and industry.
Who knows? You may even find times when one style works better than the other. The beauty of art is creating something that brings others joy while also allowing for self-expression. Expertise comes as you learn when to use one style over the other.
What is minimalism?
If you hear the word “minimalism,” it won’t take long to stop at the word “minimal.” Designers who create with this style focus on simplicity and basic elements. A cluttered look is the antithesis of this design style.
Minimalism is a functional design style. Instead of pulling out all of the colors, textures, patterns, and typefaces, a minimalist asks an important question: What is necessary to get the job done?
Minimalism first entered the scene in the 1960s. Its beginnings are from the modernist movement.
The minimalist style does not mean the design is incomplete, boring — or even lacking. Instead, the style describes the designer's approach. Think of clean lines instead of zig zags. Imagine neutral colors instead of the brightest shades.
The style is effective in offices and homes. You may see designers use these styles with your favorite fashion brands and even apps. White space and negative space are big elements, too. Using these elements allows designers to once again focus on what is most important.
With minimalists, the less-is-more design allows both the designer and the audience to zoom in on what matters the most. Minimalists help to tone down the visual noise. The goal is to create something calm, timeless, and sophisticated. You won’t see textures in this work.
Strengths and weaknesses
If you are on team minimalist, you will most likely praise the way the designs appear to the audience. Clean and simple are two words that come to mind. If you think this design style leaves you with disappointment, you might feel like the work is boring — or blah. One of the greatest critiques is the thought of minimalist work lacking creativity.
When to use
If you are designing with functionality or calmness in mind, minimalism is the way to go. Think of directional signs or an informational app. Perhaps you are creating designs for a doctor’s office. Keeping things clean and simple may mean the difference between a patient understanding directions and having an unpleasant experience.
Balance it well, though. Minimalism doesn’t mean the design should be cold or unwelcoming. These are the last feelings a business wants its patrons to feel. Before you choose this style of work, talk to your audience. Would they like more — or less?
What is maximalism?
You guessed it — it’s all about being big and bold and keeping things busy with your design. Consider maximalism as the opposite end of the spectrum. The goal is to create something far from calm or minimal in color. Designers who use this style would feel the minimalist’s design is lacking and simply not enough.
For history lovers, maximalism hit the scene after the postmodernist movement. Think about the second half of the 20th century. Yes, you guessed it — maximalism is the response to minimalism. You may sometimes hear maximalism referred to as the “aesthetic of excess.”
Maximalists want to capture your senses. Dare we say the goal is almost to overwhelm them? When done right, the maximalist design not only captures an audience’s attention but also keeps it.
What’s another way to describe this style? In your face.
Strengths and weaknesses
If you’re cheering for making your next design with a maximalist approach, you love how the style is eye-catching. For designers who wish for a more toned-down approach, the obnoxious vibe of a maximalist design is simply too much to handle.
More, more, more. It’s all about excess and “look at me.”
When to use
Maximalists want their designs to make an impact. With the ability to add more depth, there is even space for storytelling in these art pieces. If your brand is bold and busy, there is only one way to go: maximalist design.
Here’s the drawback: the design should never complicate the purpose of the work. If the art creates conflict with comprehension or no longer serves a purpose, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. When designing, think of a brand and its core values. If they are an organization that focuses on expression and excitement, make the right decision with maximalism.
Spotting the work
Can you imagine a design that uses both styles? Well, it happens. Brands can successfully pair the “less is more” approach with the “aesthetic of excess.” It takes skill to get the job done, but you may see this more than you think. There is a time and place for both design styles. You may even see a brand use one style temporarily to capture the vision for a campaign.
Have you ever noticed a campaign that uses a different typeface? The switch to a busier and more bold typeface is an example of knowing how to successfully switch back and forth.
Here are some areas to examine when spotting a minimalistic design:
- Company name
- Negative space
- White space
Here are some areas to examine when spotting a maximalist design:
Which one should you choose?
It’s OK if you don't know the answer right now. Both design styles have a place in your graphic design world. Consider your brand and your audience. then decide if clean and simple is better than bold and busy.
One of the most important opinions belongs to the client or audience when picking a design style. People prefer a visual style as they view birthday cards, magazines, signage, billboards, and more. Whether they are team minimalist or team maximalist, their love for art remains the same.