By now, most of us are familiar with minimalism in design. Over the last decade, you've seen plenty of the ever-familiar Apple aesthetic, overuse of Helvetica and sans-serifs, hidden navigation, the exaggeration of negative space and understated color palettes.
But like with most trends, a style reaches a saturation point, and everything starts to look and feel the same. Inevitably, new styles begin to emerge in response as an attempt to stand out.
The Latest Design Trend: Maximalism is the New Minimalism
Recently, the response has been a shift to maximalism, entering a new era that embraces personality and expression, rather than minimal perfection.
"We are definitely in a moment where design is reconnecting with a more decorative impulse," Gabriel Hendifar, Apparatus's creative director and co-founder, told Fast Company. "Our tendency as a studio over the past few years has been towards minimalism-silhouettes that feel paired down to just their essential elements, and restrained color palettes. But I'm finding myself more and more attracted to large-scale pattern, rich colors, and ornamentation."
Obvious, right? Of course, in today's attention economy, the way to be distinct is to be as loud and boisterous as possible. While everyone else conforms to zen-like designs and experiences, the market has gradually moved towards unorthodox, non-conformist styles in both physical and digital environments.
Not so Fast; Minimalism Will Never Go Out of Style (At Least Not Online)
The maximalists are coming, but let's hope they don't stay for long.
The reality is, our brains process information faster than we care to admit. A study by Google found that users aesthetically judge a website within 1/50th of a second, and visually complex (read: maximalist) websites are consistently rated less beautiful than their simpler counterparts.
Most users that encounter websites or apps are already developing impressions before they can take the time to appreciate the decorative, artistic details that you spent so much time deliberating and meticulously crafting.
The more color and light variations on the page (i.e. the greater the visual complexity), the more work the eye has to do to send information to the brain and are therefore perceived as less beautiful.
In other words, despite the ability to be more expressive, the more maximalist elements are introduced, the more difficult it becomes to achieve beauty.
Beauty Can be Achieved by Being... Well, Unoriginal
Minimalism at this point might feel unoriginal, but there's no doubt that it's effective. This is especially true online, when users are trying to complete a specific task.
Your brain categorizes everything you interact with. If I say "furniture," what image pops into your mind? If you're like 95% of people, you'll think of a chair. If I ask what color represents "girl," you'll likely say pink.
The same phenomenon occurs online. You have specific mental images for social networks, banking apps, e-commerce and blogs. If you have an experience online that doesn't match your mental image, you reject the experience, consciously or subconsciously.
To match expectations, it's sometimes appropriate to follow convention. According to Jakob's Law, users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know. In other words, you can improve cognitive fluency by providing patterns that users are familiar with.
Unlike art, furniture or interiors, users aren't thinking about how interesting your intricate site is, they're usually just frustrated, left wondering why things aren't where they're "supposed to be."
You Can Still be Authentic with Minimalism
Minimalism isn't about stripping away elements, it's about adding just enough to get the job done. The bad news for designers is that most of the time what's essential are things that, in today's market, feel conformist.
But it doesn't mean you should completely copy other designs. Becoming an minimalist doesn't mean stripping away your app or website's identity. It just means being intentional about the distinct elements you do choose.