Minimalism is damaging for the world of design

Photo by Dani Sisson Student Publications

If you have looked at any company’s logo recently, you have probably noticed something has changed — or to be more precise, something is missing. 

Modernized, minimalistic logos are all the rage. From Google to MasterCard to Dunkin’, the evidence that minimalism has fully taken over the world of design is clear. 

Small, unique details are being lost in an abyss of bold fonts and basic shapes. Despite logos being the most important visual cue people have about a brand and what it stands for, they are increasingly becoming more simple and similar, losing any originality.

Take Pringles, for example. Their iconic Pringles man displayed on packaging (named “Mr. P”), with his bushy mustache, red bow tie and voluminous hair, was a staple of so many children’s lunches while growing up. 

But in 2021, Mr. P was redesigned for Pringles UK products, losing his hair, bowtie and detailing on his mustache. According to Pringles, Mr. P’s redesign is his “boldest look yet” and that the new logo simply modernized him. 

But were these changes really necessary to make the brand more distinct? The warm joy of Mr. P has been lost to an overly simplified emulation of a human face. 

I know it may sound pointless, overanalyzing the importance of Mr. P’s hair, but bear with me. Looking beyond the packaging on the shelves of grocery stores, what about design in the digital space? 

Another example of oversimplifying logos is the Google Workspace icons, which encompasses platforms such as Gmail, Google Drive and Google Calendar. 

In 2020, Google released new icons with the intent to unify the colors and shapes used in the icons. 

For instance, the Gmail icon, which was historically an envelope with a red border, was redesigned to incorporate all of Google’s colors (red, blue, yellow and green) along the edges. Google Calendar, which was originally a blue page of a calendar, became a rectangular box with all four colors along the border.  Google was clearly trying to give its apps a consistent look while removing any unnecessary design elements, but it only led to confusion. 

Where its previous icons had not only unique colors but slight shading to give them a three-dimensional shape, the new icons are oversimplified and too similar to easily distinguish.

Looking outside of just the digital space, there are plenty of examples in architecture and interior design of this trend towards minimalism. 

On Tech’s campus, the new Student Center and Exhibition Hall were made with very similar design choices: huge windows with uninterrupted glass, bold solid colors on the walls, concrete flooring and in some parts of the buildings, exposed piping on the ceilings. 

There is a lack of pattern used, and huge open layouts give the buildings feelings of being airy and fully connected. 

Display cases compartmentalize the decorations in the space and a few select murals are carefully placed on walls.  

The spaces seem to use these minimalistic design elements to create the sense of increased productivity — less distractions and more functionality for various uses, right? While I have found that the spaces are very functional to work in, I do not think this functionality is inherently due to its minimalist design. Compare the detailing (or lack thereof) in these buildings to other existing buildings on campus such as Tech Tower. These spaces are still comfortable to use and perfectly functional. Not only that, they take advantage of the fact that physical spaces are full of opportunities to add little touches of character, like in the shape and design of windows, molding around the ceilings, and pattern and material of floors. 

Another good example of spaces that are functional while taking advantage of opportunities for design is that of subway stations. The New York City Subway features beautiful artwork at many of its stations, such as vibrant, colorful mosaics at the 34th Street-Hudson Yards Station and glass artwork of the Broadway Station on the Astoria Line. Finally, what about the furniture itself placed in physical spaces? 

Again, I do not believe that the functionality of an item (or in the digital space, the effectiveness of communication of logos or icons) is inherently tied to how simple it visually appears. One of my least favorite trends in interior design is that of furniture flipping. 

Furniture flippers will scour flea markets and thrift stores for old furniture in need of some repairs, and instead of simply giving the furniture the TLC it needs, they instead gut the furniture and make it more “modern.” 

This includes sanding down furniture and painting over the original wood beneath it, as well as replacing the original handles. Little details that make furniture unique are lost while being modernized for a profit. We already have stores to purchase new furniture — why destroy a dresser that has unique character so that it matches the same monochromatic products that are already found everywhere? Seeing minimalism dominate so many design choices is very concerning to me. 

While I completely understand that for some, minimalism may be a lifestyle that resonates with their values, I cringe to think at how much richness in design is being lost to primary colors and basic shapes. 

Even the smallest everyday things are opportunities for creative designs. From lights switches to cutlery to doorknobs to buttons we click on an app, our daily tasks can be enriched by the objects around us — why not make them visually interesting to look at?