Design

Minimalism vs. Maximalism: Battle of the Divisive Design Styles

Are you Team Minimalism or Team Maximalism? As polarizing as they are popular, we put these differing design styles to the test...

Portrait for Kelsie Rimmer By Kelsie Rimmer
Posted 25 Jan 2021
Minimalism Vs. Maximalism

Whether you’re a loud and proud designer or prefer an understated, less-is-more approach, minimalism and maximalism are both incredibly sought-after graphic design styles. While they sit on opposite sides of the creative fence, they’ve each had a big impact on design trends over the last year. 

As polarizing as they are popular, both minimalist and maximalist approaches to design have their strengths and weaknesses. But when it comes to creating unique, eye-catching visuals, choosing to work at either extreme can have a big impact on your project or brand.

“As with most design trends, context is everything when it comes to putting these trends into practice,” explains Envato Designer Camilla Anderson. “Both minimalism and maximalism can be used to your advantage to stand out from the crowd, depending on what your surrounds look like. In a busy social media feed full of photos and ads, a minimalist design can be eye-catching because of its comparatively calm and simple nature. Likewise, in the clean surrounds of minimal UI and a white background, a maximalist hero image can make a big impression.”

So, which style will come out on top? We decided to place these contrasting aesthetics in the ring to put them to the test…

Minimalism

In response to an increasingly cluttered world, many designers have felt the need to strip graphic design down to its most essential elements. Minimalist design is about just that: removing the excess and using only the things you really need to achieve your desired outcome.

What Is Minimalism? 

With a focus on clean lines, neutral colors and basic textures, the minimalist design style stems from the idea that less is more. By reducing the number of elements in a design, you can highlight your subject by drawing the eye to whatever breaks the visual silence. Put simply, minimalism harnesses the power of nothing to highlight its counterpart. 

Frank Stella Les Indes Galantes I, 1973 - Minimalism.
Frank Stella Les Indes Galantes I, 1973

While styles such as Abstract Expressionism are all about messiness and emotional intensity, Minimalism takes form, color, and space and reduces them to their simplest form. The style first emerged in the 1950s when artists began experimenting with geometric abstraction. Minimalism was rejected the extremely subjective designs of Abstract Expressionism, and it began to rise in popularity when artists such as Frank Stella – whose Black Paintings were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959 –  moved away from the gestural art of the previous generation.

Minimalism is linked to other artistic movements such as Swiss Design, the Bauhaus movement and Scandanavian Design, and has found its way into various areas of visual culture, including fashion, interior design and architecture. Many designers and brands use minimalism in their products, branding and designs, including luxe shoe label ETQ Amsterdam, architect Alexandra Bertova and the minimal, stripped back branding of Higos Store

Minimalism - Higos Store Brand identity by Hardy Branding
Higos Store – Brand identity by Hardy Branding ©​​​

While typically associated with monochrome and white space, minimalism isn’t just black and white. In fact, colorful minimalism is on the rise in both graphic and web design. This includes block colors and bold backgrounds, simple sans serif fonts and minimalist typefaces, as well as minimal design elements which can combine to create a simple yet stunning website.

“Minimalism can be a great way to make sure the viewer is focussing on exactly what you want them to focus on in the design,” Camilla advises. “By leaving a lot of open space and sticking to one focal point, this can help your main subject have a lot more impact. Minimalism is ideal for projects with stunning photography – when the images can speak for themselves – or in branding when a unique font is the star of the show.”

Minimalism - Gomo Branding by Lekso Mamatsashvili

Gomo Branding by Lekso Mamatsashvili

In praise of Minimalism

  • Sophisticated
  • Modern
  • Simplistic

What the critics say:

  • Boring
  • Uncreative
  • Basic

If you’re on team Minimalism, here are some of the best minimalist items on Envato Elements…

1. Breal – Minimal Website PSD Template by VLThemes

2. MINIMALISM – Social media Kit by dirtylinestudio

3. Uniqlo – Minimalist eCommerce Template by codecarnival

4.  Minimalism Social Media Post 1.1 by mursyiduchy

5. Vava — Minimalistic Multipurpose Template by pimmey

6. Minimal Catalog by visuelcolonie

7. Minimal Business Card by micromove

Maximalism

Maximalism - First 2015 Catalogue by Jacob "Blank" Barrick
First 2015 Catalogue by Jacob “Blank” Barrick

If Minimalism’s mantra is ‘less is more’, then Maximalism’s is ‘go big or go home’. Encapsulating many recent controversial design trends such as Anti-Design, Brutalism and organized chaos, Maximalism is all about creating big, bold visuals to overwhelm, oversaturate and overstimulate the senses. 

“‘Less is more’ isn’t always the case in design – it depends on what will resonate best with your audience,” says Camilla. “If you’re aiming to disrupt the market, or designing for a youthful and bold audience, then a maximalist design can help catch, and keep, the attention of your viewers and set you apart from competitors.”

What Is Maximalism?

Maximalism - Posters collection / Vol. 1: Lyrics & Chaos by Celeste Caiello
Posters collection / Vol. 1: Lyrics & Chaos by Celeste Caiello

Loud, chaotic and overbearing, Maximalism in design is all about grabbing attention with bright and bold color, distorted shapes, and aggressive tones and textures. 

Driven by punk, graffiti, and skateboarding culture, the early 90s grunge trend saw a rise in more experimental, less polished design styles. This included anti-design, which was heavily inspired by the underground rock scene. It first appeared in the 1960s, but was reignited three decades on.

Anti-design drew on the grittiness of grunge, and celebrated chaos and ugliness as a radical response to traditional standards of beauty and ‘good’ design. Ettore Sottsass Jr. was a key spokesman of the Anti-Design movement once it took off and grew in popularity, as were the Radical Design groups Archigram (a British architecture magazine which emphasized alternative thinking and futurist architecture) and Superstudio (an architecture firm founded in 1966 in Florence, Italy). 

Archigram's Monte Carlo Palm Tree project
Archigram’s Monte Carlo Palm Tree project – Warren Chalk with Ken Allison, Dennis Crompton and Ron Herron, 1971

Now, thrust into the spotlight once again by the resurgence of Brutalism and Anti-Design, Maximalism has quickly found its way into other creative spaces, including art, interior design and branding. Many brands and designers are now dabbling in Maximalism, as seen in the eccentric web designs of Roze Bunker, these maximalist interior designs by Daphné Lesuisse and Zainab Badani, as well as this First 2015 Catalogue by Jacob Barrick

Maximalism - Bug Collection by Daphné Lesuisse
Bug Collection by Daphné Lesuisse

The independent magazine publishing industry has also embraced the maximal style, with magazines Mushpit, Hotdog Magazine and Buffalo Zine all featuring crowded maximalist layouts. 

With its experimental and asymmetrical structures, exaggeration, distortion, clashing colors, chaotic layering and traditionally ‘ugly’ elements, Maximalism is the design style that designers love to hate.

Maximalism - Roze Bunker - Website Homepage
Roze Bunker – Website Homepage

In praise of Maximalism

  • Eye-catching
  • Unique
  • Bold

What the critics say: 

  • Chaotic
  • “Ugly”
  • Obnoxious

So, if you’re team Maximalism all the way, here are some of the most chaotic maximalist items on Envato Elements…

1. CHAOS – Instagram Social Media Kit by dirtylinestudio

2. Zlatoust Chaos | Graffiti Font by arendxstudio

3. Rubber Vol. 2 – Instagram KIT Template + Stories by dirtylinestudio

4. Sambat – Creative Digital Portfolio HTML Template by esensifiksi

 5. Antique Instagram Pack by MotionMediaGroup

6. Ink Monoprint Poster Photoshop Action by bangingjoints

7. URBANYX – Powerpoint by dirtylinestudio

So, who came out on top? Whether you’re Team Minimalism or Team Maximalism, read up on more design trends taking the creative world by storm with the Bright and Bold Color Design Trend or our Design Trends Predictions for 2021!