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The rise of minimalism in branding

Nearly every big corporation you can think of has changed its branding in recent years, simplifying its design to stay on trend and give the brand a sophisticated and modern look.

Caitlin Hall


Minimalist blank white wall with all white surfaces and dull chair.

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Sans serif fonts, sleek, simple, subtle design—branding nowadays all look…well, the same.

Nearly every big corporation you can think of has changed its branding in recent years, simplifying its design to stay on trend and give the brand a sophisticated and modern look. A few examples include Burberry, who changed their iconic serif font, which signified luxury and decadence, to a regular sans serif bold, with the intention that it looked sleek and simplified. American Express dropped their shaded ombre background, opting instead for a flat colour. Rolling Stone Magazine removed the black and white outline of their previous logo. Even the UK Parliament decided to simplify their logo and optimise it for the web.

The thought behind most of these changes is that an intricate logo design is lost on most people. The more simplistic the design, the easier it is to recognise, and the more it will stay in people’s minds as they get bombarded by information every single day.

Minimalism is associated with modernity. Mobile phones, laptops, televisions, cars…they’ve all scaled back their designs as time has moved forward, aiming to always be thinner, sleeker and more aerodynamic than their competitors and/or previous incarnations. Gone are the days of box televisions and bulky Nokia ‘bricks’, as they were lovingly referred to. Any part of the specification that makes a product too bulky is axed, like CD slots on most laptops, and headphone jacks on newer iPhone models. To ensure it’s the slimmest laptop around, my MacBook doesn’t come with USB ports, which meant that I had to buy a separate extension. In my experience, minimalism has become synonymous with inconvenience—removing mod cons may make for a sleek design, but you have to pay extra for the privilege.

Some consumers think that a shift towards minimalism makes brands lose their ‘pizzazz’. The logo that everyone comes to know and love gets replaced by a boring imposter. The market is already incredibly oversaturated; it doesn’t make sense that companies would choose to make their branding look just like everyone else’s. The risk is that they will all start to lose their individual brand identity.

Minimalist desk space with pure white organised keyboard, mouse, headphones, notebook and pen

The creative juices that produced the original designs have been diluted, in favour of bold, sans serif, black fonts and rounded, cartoon logos.

Brand identity is often intrinsically linked with nostalgia. Brands and their logos become cemented in our brains during our formative years—so we might closely associate McDonalds, for example, with the logo they had when we were fourteen, when we created happy memories of going for a Big Mac with our friends. When the brands you loved as a teen change their logos, the alterations may be miniscule enough that you still recognise the company; however, these subtle changes may make you reflect upon the brand itself. For example, if the logo has changed, what else is different? The changes could be for the better, implying a step in a new direction for the brand. However, it could also signify a drop in quality, a change in the flavour of a certain product, or a rise in price. By changing the thing most associated with a brand—its logo—the company could risk alienating their audience.

Having an attractive and effective logo is one of the most important things you can do when launching a new brand. Once you have this, you can concentrate on brand awareness, i.e. how many people recognise your logo and know which company is behind it. The likes of Pepsi, Starbucks, and Burger King are recognised by millions across the world—this shift towards minimalism may threaten this familiarity…

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