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Simple isn’t simple

30 March 2015
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This week an email found its way to me seemingly compelling me to spend a most-likely silly amount of money and time sourcing a new limited edition vinyl. Not only was this a new release by one of my musical heroes, but it was also a thing of true aesthetic beauty; two perfectly formed white records held together by a branded white rubber disc, all encased in a pristine, clear box with completely minimalist typography.

Despite my love of digital design and all things gadgety, elegant, tactile product design is something that really sings to me – something that another recent(ish) limited edition also tapped into perfectly (even if my bank balance would never allow such a thing to be in my life).

Contrary to the aforementioned evidence I’m not a designer who just wants everything to be simple and white with zero text, but I can very much appreciate the craft in these two exemplary examples of not just minimalism but also product design. To the un-graphic-y eye, this kind of work may appear ridiculously simple to produce – probably blurted out in a matter of minutes – but the reality is that it can be far more challenging to pull off this kind of aesthetic when done well than cramming in jazzy and elaborate visuals and type. When there’s very little for all the elements to bounce off in order to distract the eye, the design has to be impervious to scrutiny; each letter’s relationship with the next’s must be perfect, and each line’s position on the page has to be carefully considered in order to leave the design balanced as a whole. It sounds simple, but can be extraordinarily complex, requiring fine-fine-fine-and-even-finer-tuning of a vast array of settings and approach.

While it may be a minimalist’s dream to have a plain white sheet with one word in black in the middle of it, the reality is that aside from making a statement this is not much use in the real world of designing for clients. Recent experience on developing a bold new campaign for one of our major clients has only served to reinforce in my opinion what makes impactful simplicity so hard to pull off. For this project the aim was to show the individuality of the client’s approach to their field; we felt that a pared-down, less photo-driven style was the perfect way to show this, with the bonus aim of adding a little more subtle intelligence into the mix too.

With something like collector’s releases for musicians, the audience is most likely one already sold on the content – they follow the artists, they want it, they must have it; the designs themselves do not actually have to convey that much information if it’s not wanted from a creating-beautiful-things point of view, plus designs can be conceived with just a few applications in mind. With most client campaigns there is usually a healthy amount of information which has to be displayed: in designers-land we’d most likely be inclined to just cull content in order to maintain the purity of a bold design scheme, but back in reality a minimalist concept for a campaign has to be extremely flexible in order to work across a variety of media, in many shapes and sizes along with vastly differing volumes of content. For most projects there needs to be consideration for conveying all required information with the required impact, all whilst trying to find the middle ground between cramming in every piece of information that anyone could ever possibly want to find out and intriguing the audience with scant information to trigger a desire to find out more.

Therefore as well as the technical skill and judgement required to create an effective design, there is a huge balancing act when developing a minimalist campaign approach, ensuring that as more and more content is inevitably added, the message, impact and cleanliness of the design can remain in tact; something which requires not only good planning and sound design but also great communication with clients to work towards the same objective; something that we pride ourselves on here at Serious.



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