Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

Why Minimalist Branding Succeeds

If you wander down any given street in Daqing, China, you will be assaulted on all sides by something that shouldn’t really exist (in theory) in China: lots and lots of branding. When it comes to advertising in China, the louder the better. It is a designer’s nightmare. Clashing colors, weird font combos, and over the top illustrative logos abound. That’s not to say we don’t have this problem in the States as well, especially with local businesses. I say local businesses because major corporations already have it figured out. Being as loud as possible with your branding just to attract attention will be perceived by many as an assault on the senses - eye-catching in the worst possible way. This is the future, baby. White neoprene jumpsuits are in. Your dad’s leisure suit is out. 

In all seriousness, simple, clutter-free branding has been trending for at least since the early 2000s. Behemoths like Apple, Google, and now Windows have shown that consumers respond well to sleek logos rather than more cumbersome, clunky branding. In my experience as a designer, local businesses fall into the trap of not wanting any of their message to get lost, so they keep adding. And adding. Until the very thing they wanted to avoid starts happening. This post is all about encouraging small businesses to strip away the nonessentials and embrace more minimalist branding. It works!

The message is clearer and easy to grasp.

As I’m sitting in my favorite coffee shop writing this, I can see at least 3 signs on the main road outside that are making a mistake with cluttered branding. They have more than four colors in their logos, three or more different fonts fighting each other, and the graphical parts of their logos are so detailed that I can’t tell what’s going on while sitting here, much less while driving a car at 45 MPH. If these businesses narrowed their colors down to two, went with one clear font, and simplified their overly illustrative logos, it would be much easier to understand what they’re all about. Your customers are smarter than you give them credit for! They don’t need every detail of your business spelled out in your logo to know what they are getting. Better yet, you will stand out from the competition with a crystal clear message that looks good, too.

There is more competition for our attention than ever.

It is largely a myth that our attention spans are getting shorter, and “attention spans” in the traditional sense aren’t really a thing. Our attention is task-dependent, meaning that we will exert the amount of attention a given task requires until it sort of fizzles out. So imagine your clients are looking for somewhere to eat, a new place to get their hair cut, or have a new roof put on. These are tasks that most people are not going to devote a lot of attention to, yet there are so many options out there competing for this attention. In other words, your brand needs to hit hard as fast as possible when people are searching for your product or service. In these circumstances, minimalist branding stands out among the typical local ads. It sets you apart from the competition and gets your message across effectively in situations where customers are unlikely to spend a lot of time searching, and…

In most cases, it looks more professional.

Most of my points in this post all lead back to this one. When a business’s branding is clear, clever, and modern, it simply looks more professional and thought out than more cluttered designs. This is a situation in which "less is more" definitely applies, as "more and more" will eventually equate to sloppiness. Not always, mind you, but in the majority of situations, minimalism is going to be your friend, especially when it comes to your branding materials like business cards, letterhead, and other stuff that potential clients can hold in their hands and take as much time as they please to scrutinize. Minimalist, more typographically-focused logos can actually show your customers that you have put a lot of thought into your branding by virtue of there being a lot less to work with. When you’re able to do something unique and clever with that, it can pop a lot more than something clunkier and more obvious. In other words, it is more likely to look like you hired some Mad Men to work on it than enlisting your nephew to create something in MS Paint (R.I.P.). 

It’s more versatile.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not completely against more detailed or illustrative logos. These can work well for more creative industries or - for lack of a better word - more "hipstery" endeavors. It depends on the target audience. However, the stumbling block of more detailed branding is its limited versatility. When I do a logo package for clients, I like to include full-color, black, grayscale, white, and transparent versions of the logo. This all gets a bit more complex with more detailed branding, it usually doesn’t look nearly as good as a minimalist logo does throughout all of these different iterations. It is also much easier to develop a package of sleek collateral (business cards, letterhead, etc) with a simple two-color logo than one with several colors. Same goes for how color can be utilized on the accompanying website. Personally, I think the best arrangement is having a largely typographical logo with a slight graphic accent to it, that way you can also have a stripped down version with only the graphical element once you achieve greater brand recognition. Check out the Grizzly Bear logo in this list for a good example of that. 

Professional design is worth it. 

As a designer, all you can do is recommend what you think is best for your clients’ branding materials. You can’t make them take this advice. However, the real culprit here - in my experience - is that many local businesses are unwilling to pay for good design. They would rather take a chance with doing it on their own or getting a relative “who knows Photoshop” to do it pro bono. I’m a small business owner myself, so I can totally relate to needing to notch an extra hole in the belt to get by, but there are some things you just shouldn’t skimp on. Your brand is number one on that list. It’s the first point of contact between you and the customer, and it should get their attention in the best possible way. The best possible way in the twenty-teens? Less is more!

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Now that you know how effective minimalist branding can be, you'll need to find a designer who specializes in it...and that's me! Whether it's a logo, full branding project, or your website, simplicity is my speciality. Feel free to check out my portfolio here, and if you like what you see, start your project by clicking the button below!