The Rise of a Minimal Aesthetic

The digital graveyard is getting bigger these days. Like Clippy the Microsoft Office Assistant, once impressive computer graphics are falling by the wayside in favor of clean and simple design. Websites, apps, operating systems, and logos are all embracing the minimal aesthetic. The characteristics are easy to spot: flat dimensions, matte colors, symmetry, iconic shapes, and conscience use of empty space for the cleanest possible look.

Historically, this minimalist aesthetic has come in and out of vogue in different cultures; the Victorians weren’t really into it while post-WWII American artists couldn’t get enough of it.

powell William Powell Frith,A Private View, 1882 (Wikimedia Commons)

smithTony Smith, Free Ride, 1962 (Wikimedia Commons)

Typically, an aesthetic change happens gradually over a decade or so until it becomes the norm. However, it seems like in the last two years, every website, brand, and user interface has undergone a major redesign to fit into this new paradigm. But it’s not just limited to the digital world. Product packaging, cars, architecture, and fashion all demonstrate these aesthetic elements. So why is this minimal look so popular?

Three reasons why minimal digital design is on the rise:

1. People are less impressed with multi-dimensional graphics, and now just find them distracting. Also, increased screen resolution makes a minimal look visually pleasing rather than lazily built.

UI Update

UI Update

2. Faux realism is less necessary now that people are more comfortable with computer programs, websites, and touch screens.


3. With so much stuff on the web, simplicity and clarity is the best way to break through, quickly get your message across, and create a great user experience.


A classic example is the UI (user interface) of Apple’s iOS7 update in 2013. They stripped the design of reflections, shading, and borders for a low contrast, two-dimensional look. 7 Microsoft has adopted this style as well in Windows 8. All your applications are neatly organized into tightly aligned and proportional boxes. Also, the desktop toolbar has pretty much been eliminated. You couldn’t have a messy desktop even if you tried.


Even the Windows logo has followed this same aesthetic trajectory: It’s back to its original single-tone blue panel. logo From a marketing perspective, it’s clear why following a minimal aesthetic is good: It allows for clarity and a strong visual impact. Most people are naturally drawn to a clean layout. And with no other visual distractions, a product will stand out as the only thing worth noticing.

Looking Foward…

I think the minimal look will stick around for a while. It’s popular among younger demographics, who are less concerned with the logo they’re wearing and more with the quality and usefulness of the product. Minimalism has an association with intelligent, purposeful, and meaningful ways of life—associations many brands need to make if they are going to stay relevant among these rising generations. This period of minimalism won’t last forever, but just like aesthetic movements of the past, its impact will undoubtedly shape what the future looks like. Illustration by: Walker Fisher

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