Good minimalist design, whether it’s graphic design, web design or architecture, has three defining characteristics:
The first, repetition, means a minimal variation in applied design elements. The effect of this is usually described as ‘a pared down aesthetic’. On the one hand, it offers a kind of sensory deprivation that is welcomed today by many in a world of increasing stimuli. On the other hand, its clean lines allow the observer to comprehend minimalist objects with minimal cognitive load. Minimalists appreciate minimalist design as ‘easy on the soul’.
The second characteristic, formal simplicity, refers to the minimalist’s preference for geometric shapes such as perfect circles and squares as well as for uninterrupted lines.
The third, the use of voids, is what gives minimalist design a certain tension. It appeals to the human condition of horror vacui, or the fear of empty spaces. Minimalists could be described as having an amor vacui.
When done right, minimalist design offers the observer a direct view at – and raises questions about – the true nature of the subject or object. It invites the viewer to consider it for what it really is: a shape, a thought, a movement—reminding us to focus on what’s really important.
In the 1960’s, creatives like sculptor, painter, furniture designer Donald Judd and director Robert Wilson in the USA and especially furniture designer, graphic designer AG Fronzoni in Italy were actively experimenting with minimalist design. Fronzoni, who was also an art professor, recognised a strong moral element in design in general, and in minimalist design in particular.
“I detest everything that is superfluous, surplus, redundant, all forms of waste, not only of materials, labour or technology, but moral and ethical waste”~ AG Fronzoni
During the 1980’s, minimalist design saw a revival as a response to the excessive, decadent designs of that period. During the 1990’s it was initially appreciated as supportive of a more conscious mindset towards the environment, sustainability and simplicity. Later on it was embraced by large commercial producers, making its way into the mainstream. In general it could be said that a preference for simplicity in design grows and declines with larger economic fluctuations (source).