Minimalism, as a design concept, really grew in popularity following the end of the Second World War in the west, when – according to many commentators – traditional Japanese design influences made their way into the consciousnesses of architects, artists and composers. It is the combination of minimalism together with the popularity of science fiction in the 1950s that has led many to think of minimalism as a kind of futuristic design aesthetic. In terms of home decorations, it still remains a stark choice that is not yet for the masses. Nonetheless, you can see minimalist design influences everywhere in normal homes – even if not everything is given over to the principles of the school. Modern minimalist design ideas in home architecture certainly led to the development of things that we now think of as commonplace, such as the open-plan kitchen and family room, by simple removal of often unnecessary internal walls.
One area that has seen minimalist design ideas take off is with web design. It is in this area that graphic design ideas are put to the test in a cyber world that tries not to bombard the visitor to a website with too much information. Rather, the idea is to cut away distracting elements that can make a site seem cheap. A minimalist website will often be almost entirely blank except, perhaps, for a logo. The popularity of Google’s search engine platform, for many, is down to their ultra-simple and minimalist design. Of course, it helps that relatively blank web pages tend to load into pages more quickly than ones packed with images and scripts. Nonetheless, the principle is that a minimalist-inspired web page is simple a more pleasant place to visit that should also be easier to navigate.
Minimalism has long been a design idea that has been put to use with record and CD sleeve designs. One of the most innovative rock albums ever recorded, The Beatles’ White Album was originally designed to have only a white cover with no other element to it at all. The double album was eventually released with the band’s name in light grey and subsequent reissues have featured a bar code and even track lists. However, the album’s sleeve design remains a classic. Many view Beck’s 2006 release, The Information, to have a graphical sleeve design that echoes the minimalist tradition.
Minimalist furniture is another area where these design ideas have crossed over into the mainstream. All sorts of furniture design houses, the likes of Natuzzi for example, use minimalism as part of their ideas. Chairs, bookshelves and even sofas can all get the paired-down minimalist look which gives a home a certain sophisticated look. Many, in Europe and elsewhere, think of Scandinavian designers when they consider minimalism in terms of high quality furniture design.
Educated in Milan, Claudio Silvestrin is one of the most renowned minimalist architects in the world. In 1989, he established his own practice – Claudio Silvestrin Architects – with offices in London. He later opened a branch in Milan. One of his most famous commissions, that uses his trademark minimalist style, is the Museum of Contemporary Art in Turin. Silvestrin is often mentioned by other designers, such as Giorgio Armani and Terence Conran, as being an influence on their own work.
Another minimalist architect who has a reputation in Britain is John Pawson. His work reflects his design concepts which are described as soul, light and order. Pawson says that, by reducing clutter and simplifying the interior of a place to a point that gets beyond the idea of its essential quality, then a sense of clarity is achieved, instead of emptiness – something which can be a mistaken interpretation of minimalist design.
Carlos Hebian is a design student and freelance writer.