Moving Beyond Minimalism

Trends / Technology
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Sep 19, 2022
The minimalist aesthetic that dominated commercial design in the 2010’s is quite specific: smooth sans serif fonts, sparse composition, crisp neatness, natural accents, pastel pinks and beiges or color‑blocking. Popularized by start‑up CPG brands in the then‑burgeoning direct‑to‑consumer space—think Casper, Glossier, Harry’s, Hims, Quip, and so on—this aesthetic flowed seamlessly with the current of new apps and social media ads, bolstered by a cultural moment of modesty in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. But times have changed. Especially after the events of the past few years, the minimal aesthetic is beginning to feel dull and boring, not to mention negatively associated with Big Tech and vapid self‑improvement culture.In the midst of the so‑called post‑Covid "vibe shift", it's time to think about moving beyond this minimalist aesthetic and towards visuals that feel fresh, new, and future‑oriented. So what's next? 
At the moment, the landscape of direct‑to‑consumer e‑commerce is shifting again, too. A flood of independent small businesses are entering the online marketing game, thanks to new omnichannel platforms like Shopify.2 Up‑and‑coming CPG brands are emerging with aesthetic choices that are more whimsical, idiosyncratic, and elaborate; in fact, they appear to be intentionally departing from or even rejecting minimalism. For example, skincare brand Topicals and meat purveyor Mercado Famous both mix and match intricate typefaces; beauty brand Experiment made crowded and colorful still life images for its online ads; toothpaste company Twice’s branding looks like a print magazine, with serif fonts and layered imagery3; reproductive health brand Cora even recently rebranded with a bolder color scheme in order to fit in.4

Many of these brands are appealing to Gen Z and Millennials, whose sensibility is often shaped by the internet and who are twice as likely to make a purchase based on online imagery than Gen X or Baby Boomers, our consumer survey found. Retail and CPG industries spend more on digital advertising than any other sector in North America,5 so their visuals will need to fit in and stand out against this crowded digital landscape—not to mention resonate with the current cultural mood.
Aim to entertain
Our consumer survey found that in the face of crises such as the ongoing pandemic, climate change, inflation, and a potential recession, young people in particular are turning to social media for entertainment and escapism, even more than just communication. The minimalist aesthetic proliferated online when social networks were growing; now, even Facebook is changing its interface to keep up with the explosive growth of TikTok users.6 So when choosing design elements, think about how to move on from the rigid logic of minimalism, and loosen up design choices to make them more playful and fun. Searches for “abstract background,” “organic shapes,” “wavy lines,” and even “psychedelic background” are already on the rise at Getty Images, and there is still room to include funky patterns and fluid forms, as well as bright, bold, or neon color schemes.
Embrace artful imperfection and clutter
Visuals showing objects, food, and nature without people are popular with our CPG customers at Getty Images, but the consumer desire to see more authenticity doesn’t stop there. Our Beauty customers tend to choose visuals that reflect trends in Instagram marketing; in 2019, popular flat lay images tended to show objects arranged in a neat and orderly fashion; in 2021, it looks as though someone has knocked these flat lay images slightly off kilter—in an artful way, of course. Social media savvy younger generations are migrating away from social media platforms that oppress them with images of perfection, and this trend can be reflected in design choices without people, too. So, when choosing still life visuals, try reflecting the desire for a bit more realness with arrangements that feel artfully cluttered, slightly imperfect, or even a bit messy.
Nostalgia for bygone media
A hallmark of minimalism was that it blended seamlessly with the user experience of Web 2.0: a sleek, polished, unified theme. Now, trends in web design and branding for smaller CPG companies—taking a cue from some Editorial and artists’ websites—are making an aesthetic return to print magazines and the early internet in order to stand out.7 At Getty Images, amongst visuals popular with our Food and Beverage customers, we’ve seen a shift over the past five years from computer‑generated clip art and “hand drawn” fonts to illustrations which appear more detailed, intricate, and natural.

Counterintuitively, spending more time online has inspired a longing for aesthetics from times before the internet existed. “Retro” has long been a popular search term amongst our customers, and nostalgia for past moments in mass culture has always been visible in our postmodern era. But the internet has put information (and clothing) from past decades at our fingertips, and perhaps even shortened nostalgia cycles.8 From the popularity of 80’s‑era Stranger Things to the return of Y2K aesthetic9 (to the chagrin of many Millennials10), nostalgia feels especially heightened in cultural production at the moment. Researchers have found that this bittersweet emotion actually makes people feel more optimistic about the future, and can even help us deal with transitions,11 such as the one we are now making into a post‑Covid world. So, to stay current, consider choosing illustrations and design elements which refer back to the simpler times of pre‑ and early‑internet media, especially those which are elaborate, surprising, and optimistic.
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