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It’s Time For The Minimalist Poster Trend To Die

Minimalist posters are a bait-and-switch: a lack of nuance disguised as insight.

Let’s imagine for a second you go into a restaurant. You order a cheeseburger, and after waiting for a while, someone comes out and serves you a Lunchables version of a cheeseburger: two Ritz Crackers, a patty of Velveeta, and a swollen puck of saline-injected roast beef. You wouldn’t say, “What a clever deconstruction!” or “How deliriously evocative of a cheeseburger!” You’d be like, “Where the fuck is my cheeseburger?”

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The seemingly inexhaustible trend of reducing everything into series of twee minimalist posters is the design equivalent of the Lunchables cheeseburger. Minimalist posters are a bait-and-switch: a lack of nuance disguising itself as insight. Bad, lazy design retconned into spartanly applied technique. The single olfactory note of a fart masquerading as a seven-course banquet.

No one can deny that the minimalist poster trend has flourished on the Internet. Hell, we’re part of the problem. In just the past couple years, Co.Design has published stories about minimalist posters for famous movies, Hollywood architecture, economic principles, philosophical ideas, Bible verses, and mental disorders.

The problem: Minimalist posters are encouraging us to be design idiots. A central tenet of good design is that it shouldn’t be any more complicated than it needs to be, but that doesn’t mean good design is inherently uncomplicated. Great design should have nuance, not strip it all away until it has been emptied of meaning. Done right, minimalist posters can help us gain new insight into complicated subjects, by bring a single aspect or theme into razor-sharp focus. But they rarely do, because that sort of focus is difficult for any but the most talented designers to attain. And forget about insight. Can you even tell me what these minimalist posters are meant to represent without me telling you?


Of course you can’t. If you care, they’re “minimalist posters” for Raiders of the Lost Ark, anarchism, gender identity disorder, and Return of the Jedi, and each and every one of them was posted on countless blogs (including Co.Design, facepalm), despite the fact that they are the graphic design equivalents of Rorschach tests: assortments of simple shapes so inherently devoid of content that someone else has to tell you what they see in order for them to make sense.

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There’s a scene in the The Simpsons where Homer and Lisa are watching a stand-up comic tell a joke. When the comic reaches the punchline, Homer is puzzled, and Lisa tries to explain the joke to him, to no avail. Exasperated, she says: “It’s just a joke, Dad” at which point he starts laughing uproariously, saying: “Oh, I get it! I get jokes.”

These sorts of minimalist posters, they’re the “I get jokes!” of graphic design. They’re just empty-headed references to bigger, better, and more challenging things. All too rarely, a good one comes along that makes us think twice, and there are graphic designers out there who consistently do minimalist posters well, like Olly Moss–which is why Hollywood pays him to do them. More often than not, though, minimalist posters are just trivial capsules designed to trigger an automatic stimulus-response mechanism in our brain: “Oh, minimalism! I get minimalism!” Except if you love a lot of these posters? You really don’t get the point of minimalism at all. Whether you’re talking about the stories of Raymond Carver, the music of Philip Glass, or the art of Donald Judd, minimalism is about breaking something down in order to amplify its essence. But it damn well isn’t about removing that essence entirely.

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