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When does minimalism become boring and inauthentic for brands? 

Is it just me or do beverage brands seem to all be favouring one type of branding? From CBD soda to iced coffees and kombuchas, every iced metallic bottle seems to adorn a bi-coloured, bi-textured label that’s matte on one side and metallic on the other. Said minimal colour palette and textures are met by minimal text, usually in the form of an acronym, and a quirky description. This doesn’t only apply to individual chilled beverages but also other drinkable products such as plant milk cartons. 

Newcomer drinks brands, such as Trip or Dash and even Minor Figures, have launched into the market with minimal designs, while established companies have also reconsidered their cans. This includes San Pellegrino, which prompted discussion earlier this year when it revealed a new slimline version without the much-loved peel-off foil top. Lilt and Fanta have also simplified things, with Lilt abandoning its illustrated pineapple and sloping type for a sans serif face and more abstract fruit.

So how much minimalism is too little? Chris Garvey, creative director at Tuckworth, cleverly summed up the San Pellegrino example as one where too many elements were ‘minimised’.  “The [San Pellegrino] foil is a ritual, and that’s one thing that does hurt my heart a little bit […] A little bit of any change is going to upset people, point blank … but the ritual remains an emotional moment. That’s where you’re maybe stripping one element too far.”

In terms of where minimalism came from, the design trend sprung from traditional Japanese design and architecture and emerged as a trend in 1960s America. It was a reaction to the excesses of Abstract Expressionism and the chaos of urban life. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe followed the motto “less is more,” and sought to create architectural elements that served more than one visual or functional purpose.

What is interesting in today’s collage culture where all aesthetics are available at the click of a button, is that minimalism champions certain areas where maximalism still thrives in others. When it comes to fashion for instance, aside from the ‘Parisian Girl’ or ‘Clean Girl’ aesthetic, maximalism is favoured. Take Lil Nas X at the VMAs just last week (he adorned a multitude of black feathers and blue glitter) and even in everyday life, large glitzy jewellery and bedazzled handbags are back courtesy of the y2k Paris Hilton-esque comeback swarming TikTok. 

However branding and design seem to go the other way. With post covid co-working spaces favouring a two-colour palette accompanied by plants and natural light and, as we spoke about, beverage companies and independent coffee shops opting for clean, minimalistic layouts, minimalism is ruling in these areas. Perhaps this balance of maximalism in fashion and minimalism in lifestyle is done on purpose to encourage visual harmony – a key factor of minimalist design. Visual harmony is all about symmetry. The balance between and among elements breathes life into a minimalistic design by providing it with visual structure.

It would also make sense that in the 21st century, minimalism rules with leading lifestyle and tech companies from Apple to Google favouring sleek and neutral colour palettes and textures. 

At the end of the day, minimalism as a design philosophy is not just a passing trend. It’s timeless and classy and allows you to do away with clutter and focus on what is truly important. Minimalist design is marked by two key features: simplicity and consistency. 

However, minimalist design only works if it aligns with the brand’s ethos. For Minor Figures who prioritise healthy drinks with few ingredients, it works. For San Pellegrino, famed for its nostalgia and attachment to a vintage southern Italian landscape, it feels less authentic (Versace just wouldn’t go minimal, now would they?).
Companies like Google and Apple have been consistently minimalist since the beginning, and the philosophy has played a key role in their consistent business performance for years. You must decide whether it’s right for you. Before you go minimalist, you need to evaluate your brand and your customers’ needs first.

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