What Makes Minimalist Design? The Big Picture Or The Detail?

The designer Charles Eames is not unknown to many design and art enthusiasts. After all, he was, together with his wife Ray Eames, one of the most important American designers of the 20th century. Together, they created numerous iconic designs in the fields of furniture, architecture, and graphics. He is credited with the famous quote: “Details are not the details – they make the design.”

According to Eames, then, details are not merely ornamental aspects of a design, but rather integral parts that contribute to the overall effect. He argues that it is important to consider all details when creating a design, as even these can have a significant impact.

So this quote highlights the importance of paying attention to even the smallest details to create a cohesive and successful design. But how does minimalist design fit into this context? What role do the details play here? After all, this style eliminates all unnecessary decorations. With minimalist design, is it the details or the big picture that should come together to create a cohesive, balanced and visually appealing composition? And is it possible to create a harmonious overall image based on the details? That’s what I’d like to explore today.

The devil is in the details, right?

Everyone is probably familiar with the saying, “The devil is in the details.” The phrase, whose origins are attributed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and others, was derived from the original saying “God is in the details”. It also emphasizes that everything you do should be done thoroughly.1 So, the details are an important aspect of a design because they can arouse visual interest, give texture and depth, and give the viewer a sense of what the designer was thinking when designing the piece.

When we look at a design, we see the general shape and form, but it’s the details that really catch our eye and make us take notice. It’s the details that make us look at the design more closely, and it’s the details that make us appreciate the design more. Especially with minimalist design, the smallest details can define and make up the entire design (like in the upcoming left picture, example 1)

But if there are no details, especially in minimalist designs, what defines the design?

Minimalist Design
Example 1: In this example, we see a strong focus on the details. © The Design Walker under Fair Use
Example 2: How about this example? Hardly any details, excellent minimalist design – here it’s all about the big picture. © Japanese House designed by Shinichi Ogawa & Associates under Fair Use
Minimalist Lamp Design - K Lamp by Vitamin
Example 3: This is a beautiful example of how the details can combine functionality and style © K Lamp By Vitamin under Fair Use

If there are no details, then it’s a stylistic means used intentionally to contribute to the overall concept. It can even be a defining feature. In this case, the missing details make the design unique and special. But be careful here – if composition, color choice, symmetry, and other important design principles make the overall look unconvincing, a lack of detail can determine whether the design is good or bad.

If composition, color choice, symmetry, and other important design principles make the overall look unconvincing, a lack of detail can determine whether the design is good or bad.

From good to great

I personally believe that the big picture of a minimalist design is important, after all, it gives the first impression, but it is usually the details that make the design special. They distinguish good minimalist design from great minimalist design. Especially the details that manage to combine functionality with aesthetics (example 3). And that, in my opinion, is what makes minimalist design so appealing.

It is important that the details work together to create a cohesive whole. If one element is out of place, it can throw off the entire design. So the key to a successful minimalist design is finding the right balance between the details and the big picture.

Now it’s up to the designers among my readers: What makes minimalist design for you?

Further Reading

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_devil_is_in_the_details

About Exploring Aesthetics:

Sarah loves asking questions and exploring the things she engages with on a daily basis. Exploring aesthetics is her column which discusses art, design, and aesthetics to explore, inspire, and question the status quo.

  1. In my opinion, successful minimalist design comes down to two things: balance and simplicity. To create a balanced design, all of the elements must work together to create a cohesive whole. And to create a simple design, the designer must focus on the essentials and edit out anything that is unnecessary. When these two things come together, the result is a beautiful and effective design.

  2. I agree that details are important because they can create visual interest, add texture and depth, and give the viewer a sense of what the designer was thinking when creating the piece. However, I think it is also important to consider the big picture when creating a design, especially in minimalist design. The overall aesthetic of a design always sets the tone and mood, and the best designs are those that balance both the big picture and the small details.

  3. Without both the big picture and the details, a minimalist design would be unfinished and lacking in depth. The details are what make a design special and unique, and they should work together to create a cohesive whole.

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Aesence is an independent art and design publication dedicated to minimalist aesthetics. Founded out of a deep appreciation and fascination, Aesence aims to promote awareness and appreciation of minimalism in art and design.