Minimalist Graphic Design
Heury & Heury

Currently in my final year studying graphic and media design at UAL: London College of Communication, I am undergoing research for my chosen thesis topic, minimalist graphic design. I recently interviewed French designers Adrien & Clotilde Heury. Heury & Heury have recently raised their online presence in minimalist graphic design for their series of tribute posters to Swiss typeface designer Adrian Frutiger, who was the creator of some of the most used typefaces ever, such as Univers, Frutiger and Avenir.

The detailed discussion would be an excellent read for designers or enthusiasts with a passion for minimalism. You can read the questions and answers below.

How would you define minimalist graphic design in a few words or sentence?

Simple, radical, light, clear, obvious, modest, honest, confident.

As well as you can’t hide in an empty room, minimalist graphic design is not hesitant or elusive, nor does it intend to impress or dupe with some trickeries. Accordingly, to be efficient, the form has to be as clear as the content.

In a way, a minimalist design says “That’s my message. That’s all.”

At what point do you believe a piece of graphic design starts to become minimalist?

As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

Graphic design becomes minimalist when you have removed all the superfluous and irrelevant material.

Graphic design becomes minimalist when there is no visual clutter, no frills, no noise or redundancy.

Graphic design becomes minimalist when you feel it without even noticing it. It has to be obvious without imagining it simpler, clearer or more beautiful.

By the way, John Gruber gives us a tip: “If your UI [design] even vaguely resembles an airplane cockpit, you’re doing it wrong.”

How simple or complex would you say your own approach is to determine what the core elements are to include within a design?

Making something minimalist is complex.

The first step is to determine the clear message to convey. That sounds obvious, but if we are not able to formulate it simply in a few words, we will not be able to formulate it simply within the design.

Once it is done, we focus on it during the whole creative process.

When a solution seems to be valid, it is time to proceed to a methodical reduction.

As Jonathan Ive said: “It’s all about removing the unnecessary.” This meaning everything that is redundant, anecdotal or expendable.

John Maeda also said: “Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful.”

Whereas for Norwegian design agency, Heydays, it’s about:
“Removing noise to add value.”

We always keep that in mind as mantras. It helps us to determine what to keep and what to cut.

Like Milton Glaser, we don’t think necessarily that “less is more” but rather that “just enough is more”. The nuance seems to be slight but it suggests to not fall into an extreme that would become meaningless.

Influenced by the Japanese traditional design, minimalism is first and foremost to cultivate the beauty of emptiness.

Emptiness, space, blank, white, light are the same notion.

Adrian Frutiger explained: “When I put my pen to a blank sheet, black isn’t added but rather the white sheet is deprived of light […] Thus I also grasped that empty spaces are the the most important aspect of a typeface.”

In a way, our role as designers is to safeguard this light.

To borrow again the words of John Maeda: “The opportunity lost by increasing the amount of blank space is gained back with enhanced attention on what remains. More white space means that less information is presented. In turn, proportionately more attention shall be paid to that which is made less available. When there is less, we appreciate everything much more.”

Thus, emptiness is a powerful tool for establishing clear design arrangements.

What would you define as the key minimalist graphic design fundamentals?

A simple design for a simple idea.

The message has to be clear, simple and strong. Minimalist graphic design is only achieved through an effective message. Inversely, if the message is lame or obscure, minimalism will not help. The result will be confused, poor, even worthless. Through minimalist graphic design, it is a simple idea that becomes obvious.

Remove, remove, remove… but not everything.

Minimalist graphic design has to be simple but not simplistic. Minimalist graphic design does not occur to the detriment of the message that it supports. Facilitating the reading and giving meaning is what minimalist design is all about.

Emptiness not nothingness.

Minimalism embraces the concept of emptiness.

Emptiness is not nothing, laziness or a space that is wasted. It is a powerful something that permits to highlight a limited number of elements that are necessary and sufficient.

Minimalism is a commitment.

In order to make minimalist design, a calm, considered, organised work is necessary. But it is something you can practice everyday and not just in a design application. It is an attitude. Whatever you do, try to make it simple, without hysteria.