I was recently asked on Quora: “Why are non-minimalistic designs often considered untasteful?” I thought about this for a while—it’s an interesting question.
Here’s my answer:
I think the answer here is two-fold.
1) The first is that minimalism inherently works well for logo design. A good logo should be instantly recognizable and should work in any setting—as a single-level engraving or as a multi-colored, shaded and animated 3D model. A good logo should be recognizable at 1/8″ of an inch and should still be aesthetic as the center piece of a full page design.
Look at the Mercedes logo.
It can be rendered as a metal emblem, making up the entirety of a design, but it also still works flat and in black and white.
There are other minimalist designs that aim for such an irreducible minimum of complexity that they end up looking generic and more like an icon than a logo. Recent examples are Asana and Open Table.
Sorry, but three dots doesn’t pass muster for a logo. Speaking of three dots…
And this brings us to the second point.
2) Minimalism is a safety net. It’s a lot easier to create a minimalist design and not fail than it is to create a non-minimalist design and succeed. There are tasteful, non-minimalist designs. Starbucks is a good example—although it has been moving more and more toward minimalism, I certainly wouldn’t group it next to the Google logo or Microsoft logo.
Here are some other examples of non-minimalist logos that are tasteful.
Look at the Ritz Carlton logo. It is not minimalist and is a great design.
But putting together a logo like this takes a lot more design skill than, say, this:
For every great non-minimalist design there are hundreds of terrible ones.
If you create a “logo” that’s a word written in a sans serif face with a few geometric shapes next to it, it’s hard for it to be terrible—even though it won’t be memorable or unique.
In summary, minimalism inherently works for logo design and so it’s always a good route to take. If you can create a minimalist design that’s also memorable, you’ve hit the sweet spot.
Non-minimalist logo designs are more challenging to pull off, but if you do, you’ll certainly set yourself apart from the competition.
And of course context and brand requirement trump design inclination—an intricate lion would never work for a modern tech company but works extremely well for an established, high-end hotel chain.
You check out my other answers on Quora here.