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Minimalist Product Design - The Art Of Distilling Down To The Essence

Minimalist Product Design - The Art Of Distilling Down To The Essence

Minimalism is taking over and whether it's in art, architecture, product or interior design, there's something about the focus on space and simplicity that is very refreshing. 

In product design it’s a movement that creates simplicity by taking away everything until you are left with the bare essentials - resulting in aesthetic cleanliness.

The Roots

Minimalism isn't new and thanks to its timeless style it can be traced back to almost any time period. The origin has been heavily influenced by Japanese Zen philosophy, there's a clear link between Japanese culture and design which focuses on adding only what is needed and removing the rest. Everything from food presentation to clothing, all exudes simplicity. A perfect illustration of this is the Japanese Kimono, every aspect of the outfit is designed with essential functionality: "freedom of movement, natural cooling, comfort, durability and ease of taking on and off".

In the West a new standard was set for modern minimalist design by World War I architect - Mies Van Der Rose who is well known for creating architecture with simple structural frameworks and plenty of open space. He famously said "Less is more" to describe his aesthetic sense of having every element serve multiple purposes both visually and functionally.

Naturally the simplicity trend continued through the mid-20th century with notable designer and architect Buckminster Fuller. Who designed domes using simple geometric shapes that still stand and look modern today, Fuller made his motto "Doing less is more".

And of course minimalist design spilled over into consumer products with designer Dieter Rams - a firm believer in Functionalism. His rationalist vision of design is clearly represented by the phrase "Less, but Better".
Designing A Minimalist Product

While minimalism by its very nature appears simple on the outside, a lot of thought, practice and time goes into the production and development of a minimalist piece. There's a certain beauty to a product which doesn't distract you from the user experience and which features don't look like they are competing with each other. 

As a general rule the goal is to "subtract until it breaks". In other words the designer has to revise and remove from the product to the point of reaching its purest form without compromising its intended functionalityHere lies the biggest challenge for product managers and designers: correctly balancing extra features whilst maintaining minimalism. Although it's great to emphasise visual cleanliness, if it’s a detriment to your product's capabilities then you’ve gone too far and leave your product vulnerable to market competition.

Once released, it's important to listen to end-users and continue to innovate and enhance your product without adding clutter. To maintain purity all changes need to be carefully thought out with the original goal in mind - a change for the sake of change will undoubtedly make things worse instead of better.

Another complication that arises is product cost, reaching aesthetic minimalism often incurs a higher unit cost. Since there are fewer components each one may become more complicated in order to fulfilmultiple purposes, on top of this the use of bespoke materials needs to be accounted for as their finish becomes as important as their functional properties.  

This emphasis on every single detail while enhancing user experience creates products that are timeless in their appeal. Timelessness is undisputedly a quality characteristic of great design.
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