Design, Language, Music

A minimal design’s voice


Design always has perspective and voice. It is always saying something and a good design’s message is intentional and thoughtful.

Three white canvases hang on a white wall aligned side by side at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. This installation could be making commentary on negative and additive space, on shadows, on meditation or virginity, or sound or color. The artists could be saying something about potential, beginnings and opportunity or the intimidation of working with huge spaces or the fear of having nothing to say. Though some would say say, these are just 3 pretentious white canvases in a famous museum and nothing more.

I visited the Pompidou twice during this trip in 2007 and neither time gathered the name of the piece. So if you know the artist or if this is actually an unfinished piece, please share.

Minimal design is not a shortcut
Minimalsts celebrate critical editing and their ability to sensitively the balance between form and function. Design should not be sparse or naked just for the sake of attempting a minimalist aesthetic. Blog themes are the worst offenders.

Dieter Rams MoMa

Minimalist designers edit for voice
We celebrate minimal design in product, layout, architecture, photography, music, dance, writing and fashion. The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams exhibit at the San Francisco MoMA did exactly that.  Minimalists pride themselves on their ability detatch themselves from their work to critique and edit. Omitting what is superflous, removing what is not required and stripping down the design is intended to result in a final product that is an exquisite sum of its best parts.

The b side of design editing is about maintaining voice. Design should still say something. Both commercial and artistic design is still about communication: what it is, where it lives, who it is for, how it can be used or and what it may be. The voice can easily be muted when essential factors are over edited.

We have more access to design software and likely more designers. Minimalist design looks easy to a novice: give it extra white space, switch the font to Helvetica and draw a thin hairline. These designs lack form, structures and constraints and therefore structure, a perspective, a voice, shape, color and membership to a system.

Minimal design executes details
Let’s analyze the Diynamic Music label art from Hamburg, Germany that does an excellent job executing a minimal design.

The records are all designed within a system; each sleeve is precisely and exactly the same as those in its family. The typography, shape, language style and material are consistent. Only the color of the sticker label and artist and track listing changes.

It’s designed with solid color blocks and matching typography. The design system is linear and predictable and its form factors are intentionally basic shapes. Minimalism gives more by challenging to the design to work with less.

Dinaymic Records

So with all of these constraints, the sleeve design still has a very distinct perspective. It speaks with a voice and attends to a message. The reel in motion would move forward voicing process and progress, the dissected shapes speak to the technical sounds of the label, the analog imagery is in conflict with synthetic electronic sounds on the record and the large black blocky image is softened with the gray background. But then all of this is disrupted with a vivid round block of bright color. This design is making an explicit statement with a unwavering perspective about what kind of music is within.

The designer here has also fantastically played with numbers:

  1. There a single main image, the audio or video reel. One.
  2. The audio reel requires a second circle to serve as its border, so the singular main image is comprised of a circle pair. Two.
  3. The rounded rectangles and punched out medium sized circles are intentionally only in tryptich. Three
  4. The reel is cut into 4 slices at shifted on the y-axis at half and fourth heights. Four.
  5. The last detail works in a partnership of 5. Three bullets run vertically down the lower spine of the reel and two stack next to each other like a set of eyes on the top right section. Three and two: Five.
These are subtle, intentional decisions designed in a rhythm. It is beautiful because it is edited and thoughtful. Minimal design especially in art and music does not usually command bold attention. The consumer can easily disregard and let the design go unnoticed or be be very cerebral and studious about its form and function. But to do the latter, you the participant has to bring something to the design conversation. Without a voice, there is no dialouge.
Minimalist design websites with perspective:

I am aware this blog does not have an applied theme.
I’m working on my editing skills. I’m quite aware this post’s length.
I must share the first minimal tech house track I fell in love with. From the Mobilee Back to Back Volume 2 Compilation on the second disc, produced in Berlin, enjoy Pan Pot – What is What Remixed by Gummihz.

Nina Mehta is a writer and product design leader in Brooklyn, New York. She began her design career in journalism and has been writing online for 20+ years. Nina is from outside Chicago and has since lived and worked in San Francisco, Berlin, London, and Tokyo. Learn about Nina at