Trends in branding shift faster then a Gen Z-er swiping up on TikTok. What worked last week in branding was to build a bold minimalist identity that worked well on digital channels and was serviceable for print. Clean UX trends pioneered by Apple and curated Millennial personas on Instagram reshaped the entire design industry to adopt minimalism. But there’s a problem.
Minimalism is dull!
As a self-professed minimalist Millennial, what works for my tidy, neutral-toned living room does not work in the world of branding. And for good reason. Minimalism is about self reflection, introspection, meditation, and calm without distraction and clutter. That’s great if you’re seeking personal serenity. Not so much when you’re trying drive a strong position or attempting to make a splash in a competitive market.
Minimalism is like kryptonite to engagement building.
When we designers jumped on the clean design train, we finessed those stark lines and polished those sharp angles, but all of the messy joy and creativity seemingly fell by the wayside. It got bland!
And lest you think I’m some sort of branding designer anarchist, best believe I fell in line with the trends. Clean was easy to craft. Clean was easy to sell. Clean looked good on iPhones.
Everybody wanted clean design, and like most I got hooked.
Like fashion, design trends evolve and contort to the whims of society. From the chaotic Trump years to the never ending lockdowns of the pandemic, clean design felt safe and it offered comfort. The Pantone 2022 color of the year reflected this cultural reality. People weren’t ready for edgy. They needed security.
The last few years were a downer, and design tagged along for the ride.
But, today things feel a bit less like the whole world is burning. Yes, Ukraine is under attack, America is reckoning with systemic racism, and the impending doom of climate change is waiting patiently in the wings, and still, hope is alive. Perhaps its because unemployment is historically low despite high inflation. Or perhaps the dream of a better tomorrow is not lost on the young, despite a challenging housing market and crippling student debt.
Whatever is shaping optimism today, its ramifications are being felt in the design world. Safe and clean feels positively obsolete.
Remember when all the historically rich, legendary brands of old got their minimalist makeovers over the past decade? Harley-Davison, Starbucks, and Microsoft to name but a few. And then there was GAP — perhaps the worst offender with a “fresh” design that received so much public backlash that the company quickly reversed course and went back to the old design after spending millions for an unnecessary “sexy” upgrade.
So, what is coming now that I’ve declared that minimalist branding is dead (btw, I’m nobody – just a brand designer with thoughts)? Here’s a few adjectives that sum up my approach to branding in 2023:
Textured | Patterned | Bold | Rich | Riveting | Organic | Sassy