Minimalism has taken direct-to-consumer brands by storm. Explore why so many startups are decluttering their look to connect with consumers.
If there’s a single style that illustrates recent direct-to-consumer (D2C) identities, it’s this: sans-serif typography, solid backdrops, grid-based layouts, and natural textures. You may have seen this aesthetic on your Instagram or Pinterest feed, or you might have purchased from a brand that takes on this very minimalist approach.
Spurred by Airbnb’s rebrand in 2014, the so-called “startup minimalism” style has taken online platforms by storm, with a wide range of industries adopting a similar appearance. It seems this pared down yet flexible style can sell anything, but it’s especially noticeable in the D2C space. Products and models staged on a muted, solid background have become the norm for many direct-to-consumer brands
The Rise of Online Presence
As more and more brands move to ecommerce, social media continues to grow as the companion marketing channel. Platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest are powerful tools for businesses to cultivate a brand and connect with consumers in an intimate way. Engaging content and personalized messaging encourages users to interact with brands, a quality that sets social media apart from more traditional advertising like television or print.
Due to increased social media marketing, many brands have taken on specific aesthetics to appeal to their target demographic. Bright, attractive images with muted presets — deemed the “Instagram aesthetic” have become the de-facto design approach for young startups. On top of that, digital platforms have influenced the look of many ecommerce brands; photography, logos, and website design are tethered to the dimensions of a screen.
Built for the Screen
As online presence becomes a must, more and more brands are exclusively designing for digital platforms. Due to the varying sizes of phone and computer screens, websites need to be accessible and legible at multiple dimensions. Cluttered design can often make websites, posts, and images hard to read at the smallest of sizes; to combat legibility issues, businesses are resorting to a pared-down aesthetic for all platforms.
Whether it’s simplifying logos, typography, color schemes, or web design, every new iteration of this minimalist design eradicates a newly excessive detail. But, there’s a line between artful simplicity, and simple for simple’s sake.
As more and more startups take on the minimal aesthetic, it begs the question whether they’re hopping on the “blandwagon” or if the clean aesthetic truly appeals to their target demographic.
The Minimalist Formula
The mainstays of this design approach are solid backdrops, sans serifs text, natural textures and colors, and grid-based layouts. This minimalist formula can be seen in a range of industries, from brands offering custom-made supplements to high-end sustainable fashion. It’s versatile and flexible.
While the minimalist approach taken by many brands is certainly eye candy, it has its reasons. The straightforward look creates an uncluttered feeling to a brand. When products or services are displayed in an uncomplicated way, the path to purchase is similarly uncomplicated. A pair of shoes displayed on a natural marble backdrop, or denim styled with a white T-shirt and a solid background emphasizes the product first and foremost. Startup brands also advertise an ideal lifestyle that comes with the product, urging consumers to opt in to purchasing the product to attain said lifestyle.
In addition to picture-perfect product images, D2Cs have also cut down on their product lineups. The phrase “less is more” applies here; instead of offering an overwhelming assortment of products, brands are focusing on minimizing their output to maximize the product quality. catered to the consumer along with smaller product offerings. Supplement brand Care/of prioritizes personalization, while sustainable shoe brand Allbirds fixates on a select number of products in different colors. By offering a smaller selection of items, brands can simplify and speed up the decision-making process.
Is minimalist branding overdone? More and more brands are taking this route in order to appeal to consumers and present “perfect” products, but doing so can dilute one’s visual branding amongst others. As clean design reaches its peak saturation, it can be difficult for brands to differentiate from one another. Not only that, but over time, a brand’s target demographic may grow tired of the same sans-serif font or product setup in front of a solid or patterned background.
So, what does the future hold for minimalist branding? As trends continue to shift, will there be a slew of rebrands in order to stay ahead of the curve? History has proved itself time and time again that there are phases of art and design, whether it’s the chaotic compositions of the 90s or the rigid approach of De Stijl design. Just as trends cycle through, so do design styles.
For more in-depth thought pieces on trends and design, check out these articles:
- Using the Creativity in Naive Art for Your Design Style
- How the Plastic Free Movement Impacts Packaging and Product Design
- Design Trends in the Wild: Back to Yesterday’s Tomorrow
- Blanding: The Rise of Logo and Design Oversimplification
Cover image via 3DJustincase.
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