“Form follows function.” “Less is more.” “Keep it simple, stupid.”
Every designer will have heard these snappy mantras umpteen times throughout their career, but it’s a concept that rings true throughout most aspects of design and indeed general life. Here’s another:
“Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
Now, I am in no way trying to suggest that living in a shambolic mess comparable to a post-Trump bomb shelter is desirable, but at the risk of alienating myself from my creative compadres here at KL, I am asking where we draw the line – or rather, erase it – with simplicity in our work. When is a flat, monotone circle superseded by a beautifully ornate mandala with labyrinthine patterns and flawless interlocking flourishes?
The truth is, reducing everything to its most basic form has proven a failsafe way of creating a brand which is stylish, communicative and relevant. Our eyes find comfort in the absence of clutter and we appreciate the space around marks as much as the marks themselves. Designers the world over have recognised people’s preference for the minimal, and as a result we’ve seen businesses of every scale abandoning their decrepit 90s typefaces and drop shadows in favour of clean, unadulterated shapes and fresh colour palettes.
Ushering in the flat design trend we’ve all come to know today, the designers responsible have left us hailing simplicity as king and ridding our work of decoration wherever we can. Notable brands that embraced the trend in 2016 include Gumtree, Instagram, the Premier League and rumour has it, BT (more on that here). However, despite brands like this successfully simplifying, can it always be said that they successfully rebranded?
A case in point close to my heart, the rebrand of the University of Suffolk (previously University Campus Suffolk) was revealed last month to mixed receptions. Students, alumni and the general public alike voiced lukewarm reactions to the conservative, somewhat corporate mark now being used across the uni’s marketing materials. The previous logo contained a visual link to the campuses spread across Suffolk and had a myriad of youthful colours supporting it – in sharp contrast, the new concept does away with almost everything, leaving what could easily be mistaken for a logo belonging to a construction company or a bank. Alas, with examples like this it is easy to see that too simple can be too generic.
Jumping to the other end of the spectrum, in 2016 it was announced that Guinness would be giving its iconic harp logo another makeover. In much the same way the harp is identified with Ireland, so too has Guinness become synonymous with consistently innovative advertising over the last 80 years. On seeing the newly adopted logo created by Design Bridge, making the link between it and the brand slogan ‘Made of More’ can’t be helped – the intricacy and craft invested in the concept echo the decades of iterations the company has undergone. Through the use of mouth-watering detail, lavish textures and alluring lighting, it blurs the line between illustration and photorealism and signifies a milestone in the era of flat design.
While the simplistic approach is tried and true, embracing the decorative rather than dismissing it can yield beautiful solutions to the design problems we face and I, for one, will try not to reach for the eraser quite so quickly in 2017.