As a designer, I appreciate all types of packaging design, and don’t get me wrong I can see the appeal of detailed and complex branding, and there are cases where that may be most applicable. But in my professional opinion, in today’s market, if you want to stand out on the supermarket shelf, then it is best to scale things down and create a packaging design based on the fundamental principles of minimalism.
Minimalism focuses on what the product is first, by not cluttering the packaging design with too many ornamental things. This allows the observer to digest the content of the packaging far more easily and to make a quicker decision about whether it is the right product for them. A complex design may be beautiful, and I can admire the hard work that goes into these designs, but if a consumer needs to decipher the text and read four different parts of the packaging to know what it is that they are buying, then this can ultimately be offputting and could lose you a sale.
A great example of this in action is the packaging for RX-BARS. Which literally uses the ingredients of the bar as the main design feature for its packaging. As people’s attention spans get shorter and shorter, it is a minimalistic design like this, that can grab an observer’s attention for long enough to disseminate its necessary information – in this case, the fact that the RX-BAR contains only a handful of natural ingredients.
I could easily talk about my favorite minimalistic packaging designs all day, but that probably won’t help you to understand why I champion this style of design. So below, I’ve tried to explain what the fundamental principles of minimalism are, have cleared up some of the most common misconceptions about minimalist packaging, and have also included a list of reasons why brands can benefit from embracing minimalism in their designs.
The fundamental principles of minimalism
When people first think of minimalism, they often jump straight to the idea of something being ‘basic,’ but this does not do minimalism justice.
Minimalism takes a lot of skill to master. Virtually anyone can create a ‘basic’ design, but not many people have the talent to use fewer elements and far fewer words while ensuring that the product makes the same impact and can communicate the same message. Rather than merely labeling minimalism as basic, I like to split it up into five basic principles.
Simplicity is one of the core principles of minimalism – ensuring that only what is essential is used. Simple product packaging designs not only have an aesthetic appeal, but also help to guide the observer through the design hierarchy, and help them to understand the product. The fewer design elements there are on the packaging, the easier it is to achieve this.
Alongside keeping the overall design itself as simple as possible, each design element of minimalistic packaging is also created with simplicity in mind. Color is used cautiously and only where necessary to accentuate other vital elements, and fonts and typescripts are chosen for their readability rather than their flare.
All in all, the goal of any minimalist design is to create a sense of balance by carefully building a harmonious relationship between all of the elements. Color, shape and negative space are carefully crafted to ensure that the finished whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Any good packaging design should have a planned trail of elements to guide the observer through the product information in the desired order. By keeping design features to a minimum, this trail of elements becomes far more apparent, which is why minimalistic product designs are often easier for the consumer to digest.
Embracing negative space
Last, but by no means least, minimalism also focuses on embracing negative space rather than filling it. Negative space within a design is essential for creating balance and can be used effectively to accentuate the elements that matter.
Misconceptions that you may have about minimalism
In my experience, there is still a lot of misconception about minimalistic design, and many marketers that I have worked with have held these pre-conceived misconceptions until I showed them otherwise – so let’s clear three of them up right away.
1. Minimalism is anti-design
Minimalism may have been born as a revolt against the dominance of abstract expressionism, but that does not mean that it is inherently ‘anti-design.’ Minimalism heavily considers many aspects of design like typography, hierarchy, color, and use of empty space, but focuses on using these elements in the simplest way possible.
In fact, alongside being born as a revolt against abstract expressionism, minimalism was also essential for the construction of wayfinding systems, which needed to be as simple as possible to communicate necessary information to the observer quickly.
Put simply; minimalism would not be minimalism without adhering to the basic principles of design – the only difference between it and complex design pieces is that less clutter is used to get the same point across.
2. Minimalism is a cop-out for designers
I’ve seen this one come up a lot over the years – “minimalism is nothing special it’s just a cop-out for designers who cannot handle complex work.” Minimalistic designs may be uncomplicated, but a lot of thought and experience is needed to create a design that tells a lot while only saying a little.
Minimalist design is not less work – it is just different work that.
When expalining to a client that I want to strip back their design, I am not doing so to make less work for myself. I am doing so because I believe that it will be more effective for their brand.
On the surface, a minimalist design may just look like a logo on a bottle, but in fact, many things have had to be considered to ensure that that logo tells the story that it needs to tell while using as few design elements as possible.
In some ways, you can look at minimalism as a more difficult avenue of design as there is nowhere to hide.
3. Minimalism won’t get you noticed
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about minimalist packaging design is that it will not get you noticed amongst more detailed products. The truth is, a lot of product marketers lean towards bright, bold, and detailed designs because they feel that they need this explosive impact to make them stand out. However, in reality, this can be counter-intuitive.
The shelves of grocery stores are now packed with complex designs that are all fighting for your attention, and with hundreds of designs to choose from, it is quite simply overwhelming to the senses of the observer.
Amongst a sea of bright, bold, and detailed designs, it is, in fact, the minimalistic products that are now standing out – drawing the eye in by conveying only what is necessary and closing the sale by providing the consumer with the information that they need quickly.
I get where you’re coming from when you request a bold, dominant and complex product design, but I am also here to show you that you don’t need all of those elements to make yourself stand out.
4. Minimalistic designs don’t use color
This misconception really couldn’t be further from the truth. Minimalism does allow for color, but it just uses it in a much more cautious way. Color is only used if it fulfills a purpose within the overall design, such as drawing the observer’s attention to a specific area or element. When it comes to using color on designs, often less is more, so a little can go a long way.
So what is the case for embracing minimal packaging design?
With big brands such as Apple, Chanel, HP, and Dior all incorporating the principles of minimalism into their brand and branding materials, it’s clear that there’s a significant case to be made for embracing minimal packaging design when it makes sense for your business. Some of the key benefits of minimalistic design include that;
It never goes out of style
Simplicity never goes out of fashion, making it a very attractive option for brands and consumers. Timeless and easy to refresh when necessary, a minimalistic brand image provides a solid ground for establishing a long-term brand identity that will be consistently recognized within a diverse market.
It is versatile
Brand versatility is crucial, and there’s nothing more versatile than a minimalistic brand. Minimalistic branding is applicable on a large scale and can be applied easily to all areas of your business including packaging, printed materials, logos, and your website.
It is ideal for a mobile generation
So far, we’ve focused a lot on minimalistic design for in-store products, but there’s a strong case for minimalism online also. People are now spending more time than ever on their smartphones and tablets, which means that they need mobile-friendly branding and content that can be easily digested through their screens. If a person’s attention span was short in the store, then it is even shorter online, and so a sleek and compelling brand is essential to capture the attention of any online audience.
It takes courage to embrace minimalism in your product design and let your product speak for itself rather than hide it behind a fancy graphic. I hope that from this post, you have been able to see why minimalistic product design could be a good option to consider for your brand and how the principles of minimalism can assist you in selling more products.