Minimalism | Stripping Down Of A Work To Its Fundamental Features

Minimalism | Stripping Down Of A Work To Its Fundamental Features image

Minimalism also known as, ABC art, reductivism and rejective art finds its application in various forms of art and design. It boasts a simplicity of style in artwork and design and favors the cool over the theatrical. Artists and designers sort to avoid symbolism and emotional content and rather endeavoured to draw attention to the materiality of the work itself.

What Is Minimalism In Design?

The Minimalist movement and design trend began in the 1920s and continues today. Minimalism is characterized by the 'stripping down' of a work to its fundamental features. Minimalist design tends towards more whitespace, grid layouts, better typography and less color.

 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously said:

“Less is more”

And this became a guiding principle for minimalist design. He believed that every element should serve multiple purposes both functionally and visually.   

Buckminster Fuller provided a different version of the motto:

“doing more with less”

Dieter Rams then changed the idea once again to:
“Less but better”.

All three are saying similar things, namely that Minimalism is about reducing works to their fundamental and essential elements. They aim for a design that does away with ornamental layering; they want a design that speaks of simplicity and objectivity.

Influences of Minimalist Design

Minimalist design can be said to have three key influences:

  • The De Stijl art movement
  • Van Der Rohe
  • Traditional Japanese design.

De Stijl

The De Stijl was a Netherlands-based art movement that embraced an abstract reductionist aesthetic that used core visual elements such as:

  • Primary colors
  • Geometric forms
  • Horizontal and vertical line
  • Primary values white, black and grey

The key figures of the movement were the painters Theo van Doesburg and Piet Modrian.

The movement postulated the ideal fusion of form and function and as such aimed to be the ultimate style. The De Stijl artists did not limit themselves to the traditional confines of the fine arts but rather worked in virtually all art forms including industrial design, typography and even literature and music.

The use of basic visual elements and the aim to fuse form and function heavily influenced minimalist designers.

Important Design Movements image
Important Design Movements image


Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Van der Rohe had no formal training in architecture. He worked under Peter Behrens and then succeeded Walter Gropius as Bauhaus Director. He Migrated to the US and taught architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Van de Roh designed skyscrapers made out of steel and glass and this set a precedent for skyscraper design throughout the world. Landmark building that he designed include: Chicago’s Crown Hall and New York’s Seagram Building.

Characteristics of his design:

  • Open, flexible pans and multi-functional spaces
  • Use of glass to bring the outside in
  • Steel and glass construction
  • Exposed structural details.

The simplicity and clarity of his designs directly influence minimalist designers.

Traditional Japanese Design

Designing according to needs and removing all that is superfluous has always been key to traditional Japanese design. A look at old Japanese architecture and interior design will reveal their use of simple color and clean lines and forms. Japanese design is connected to the Japanese culture, which promotes Zen and simplicity. The relationship between the simplicity of traditional Japanese design and minimalism is overt.

Influential Minimalist Designers

R. Buckminster Fuller

R. Buckminster Fuller was one of the key innovators in the 20th century. Aside from being an architect he was known as a visionary, philosopher, thinker, inventor, poet, engineer, mathematician, cosmologist, and more. He aspired to create a sustainable planed.

Fuller invented the Geodesic dome in the middle of the 20th century. The minimalist dome was built so it could stand on its own; and it remains standing today.  He ones one of the pioneers of using basic geometrical shapes in design.

Dieter Rams

Rams is a German Industrial designer who was born in 1932. He was head designer at the Braun company. In the late 1970 Rams started becoming concerned about the state of the world around him; as he stated: “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises.”

As he believed he was a contributor to this ‘world problem’ he questioned whether or not his design was in fact good design. In response to this questioning he set about to write principles of good design.

He came up with the following 10 principles:

  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design makes a product useful
  • Good design is aesthetic
  • Good design makes a product understandable
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is
  • long-lasting
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  • Good design is
  • environmentally-friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible

He also created according to the credo he came up with “Less, but better.”


By the end of the 1970 Minimalism had prevailed in America and Europe. The influence of the movement spread over a variety of mediums from art and design through to literature and music. This period even saw the beginnings of a new movement, Post-Minimalism; a tribute to just how influential the minimalist movement was and continues to be.

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