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Aspiration Avenue

Aspiration Avenue

‘Less is more’ is a well-known axiom of modern design. Joseph Harvey explores what this means for the modern printer and considers if adopting minimalism can transform your output

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Modern print, such as this amateur zine, Folded, is based on ideas of minimalism

Modern simplicity in printing and design

As our lives—particularly in the modern urban environment—become increasingly mired in complexity, governed by productivity and dictated by time constraints, it seems some facets of this contemporary rush are becoming ever more simplistic.

Simplicity within these facets of the contemporary, such as our architecture, fashion, colour scheme, and contemporary design, whether it be interior, graphic, or computer-aided play is clear. Minimalism (especially in relation to design) has been tirelessly observed, mused upon, placed on a pantheon of wondrous acclaim as well as positioned critically as an almost obsessive post-modern theorisation.

I suggest that considering the design and forms aspects of architecture, fashion, and graphic design takes relates to a wider milieu—that of the post-modern. 


In Swedish, there exists a term—lagom—that has no direct translation in English but can be loosely interpreted as meaning ‘perfect-simple’ or ‘just the right amount’, and in my mind’s eye seamlessly outlines this balance in design and in presentation.  Achieving these high-quality and simple, effective finishes results in the marriage of good design, quality materials, and modern printing processes.

Achieving these high-quality and simple, effective finishes results in the marriage of good design, quality materials, and modern printing process

Carrying the same notion, architectural simplicity, joined with simplistic or neutral colourways, represents this post-modern repertoire of simplicity that has been so deeply theorised. And this is but one example. Minimalism is clearly something that often fascinates the artists, creatives, designers, and musicians amongst us to the point we develop a deep relationship with exploring the idea.

(Above & below) Lagom is a Swedish term which roughly translates as ‘perfect-simple’ or ‘just the right amount’ and describes Harvey’s idea of modern simplicity in design

Just as scholars would cite minimalist art as deriving from the reductive aspects of modernism or a reaction to abstract expressionism so would musicians cite minimalist compositions to be striving to achieve the same thing. Something that is spare and stripped to its essentials, but which can offer so much more than the sum of its parts.

Modernism in design is about defined boundaries and stark colourways in the graphic design stage that is then married with the controlled manipulation of thermographic print, for example. This can be observed in everything from quality amateur creative zines to Victoria Beckham’s new minimalist flyer designs for her new flagship capital establishment.

Extreme attention to detail has always been compelling and effective. Achieving a contemporary look of balance and simplicity through detail, colourway, layout, and texture is a careful balance and something to which quality materials and the printing process contribute.

Less is more

And cultural idioms and turns of phrase reveal—perhaps obviously—how we interpret and live our lives culturally. They communicate our attitudes, logic, and how we may communicate as a nation; a culture or through individualism. In this case we can explore how the term ‘less is more’ came to be associated with the life, times, and work of one man: Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe.

It is an aphorism which states that simplicity is key to aesthetic achievement, and it is something we see everywhere in post-modern society. It is in the incarnations of the post-modern, for example a modern redeveloped Battersea power station flat in London.

We see it in our curvaceous minimalist tap cascading into a clear glass bowl set into our stark, black, and rigid shaped kitchen island. We observe it in the design of modern fashion and we see it equally in the minimalist graphic design of advertisements. And we see it through the print technique of thermography—used to add dimension to the arabesques and simple text on a modern business card.

John Pawson of The Guardian writes: “I believe we have to get away from the idea of minimalism as a style and instead understand it as a way of thinking about space: its proportions, its surfaces, and the fall of light.” Similarly this observation applies to graphic design, and therefore what appears in print techniques and aesthetics.

No matter what medium, minimalist approaches often achieve the same thing: the exposing of the bare essentials

In fact, a minimalist finish, symbol, or layout quite often communicates beyond its literal form.  For example, some of the most powerful—and most commercially successful—logos have drawn on simplicity for their authority: Apple, Nike, and BBC to name a few. And this touches on the point made early on—no matter what medium, minimalist approaches often achieve the same thing: the exposing of the bare essentials.

Minimalism has been assimilated into popular culture and design, with even Victoria Beckham recognising the lucrative potential of simplicity

Van Der Rohe has been famously cited as coining the less-is-more term, and lagom is a word that encapsulates this perfectly in art and design.

The term ‘less is more’ became very much associated with German-American revolutionary architect Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

However, like any relationship between two elements or two opposing viewpoints, there is a line to be drawn. A huge range of scholars and post-modern commentators will indeed suggest that ‘more-is-more’ or an equally enlightening—but less colloquial—‘less is bore’.

Is more also more?

As some astute commentators point out, less isn’t always more. There is a fine line between creating something aesthetically reductive and pleasing to the eye and something stark, unwelcoming, and bland.

Whilst an all-white business card—stark apart from the oversize font of the owner—may be very good-looking and effective, is it memorable? When we compare that to a small white business card with a small thin X or || centred as one symbol at the bottom of the text, it creates an attractive memorable piece.

Simplicity in design and displayed through print is something unmistakably attractive, chic, modern, and intelligent. Minimalism is a concept and mentality that creative art scenes have embraced for centuries. Observing these post-modern appearances in these different areas of contemporary life is telling of our wider place and culture, but it’s essential to ensure that less is more, and not simply less.

Joseph Harvey writes on behalf of Instant Print W1. For more information on this W1 print company visit www.ipw1.co.uk

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