WHY BRANDS HAVE SHIFTED TO MINIMALISTIC VISUAL IDENTITIES


LESS IS MORE. Local Brand Communications Specialists, Alex Fakudze and Maria Bucuane give insight into this minimalistic approach by brands. They note that simplistic logos give a solid image and bring consistency to a brand. Another reason they espouse is that minimalistic logos enable brands to be prepared for any digital environment, especially with the prevalence of smartphone use


By Phesheya Mkhonta

We have recently witnessed a number of local and international brands going through rebranding processes, which, of course, is to be expected over time as brands evolve. However, what has caught the attention of the industry and divided consumers alike has been the trend for brands to adopt a more simplistic approach in the design of their new logos and visual identity.

A divisive recent case in point has been the recent unveiling of the new FNB logo which has now shredded the brand’s previously iconic acacia tree leaves, leaving a trail of the bank’s unhappy customers on social media platforms.Other prominent organizations which have undergone rebranding of their visual identity include MTN (and more recently MTN MoMo), Eswatini Revenue Services (ERS), the Public Service Pensions Fund (PSPF), as well as internationally renowned brands such as car manufacturers Volvo and Renault, and retailer PEP, to name a few. All of these aforementioned brands adopted a minimalistic approach in revamping their logos.

According to the founder of advertising agency Insights & Magic, Alex Fakudze, rebranding is a long and critically thought-out process, ‘’As a company grows and its vision, mission, and values experience a drastic transformation, it is integral that its corporate identity remains appropriate to its revised value proposition. A re-branding exercise is more than just the refreshment of an outdated design, it has to speak to not just the here-and-now brand promise, but also the foreseeable future positioning. A re-branding process takes time and several technical and financial considerations. These processes are provided for in annual budgets and have been long in conversation and execution by the time they are unveiled to all stakeholders.’’

Quizzed on why brands are moving towards more simplistic logos and visual representation, the experienced advertising industry expert notes ‘’In my view, the reason behind this recent re-branding inclination i.e. dropping of depth and detail in corporate identities is the need for simplicity; consequently moving logos from colorful to flat, wild to plain, and cartoonish to corporate. Lastly, fashion trends influence design across multiple disciplines – the ‘less is more’ approach is now dominant everywhere. Company graphics are just as susceptible to this trend. In addition, most, if not all, companies are expanding their reach and enhancing their customer experience (CX) by including the digital sphere as an additional touch point in their Through-The-Line (TTL) communications. Therefore, their visual identities then go through an evolution to communicate this new expansion and accessibility.’’

Fakudze adds that the transformation of brands also plays the role of appealing to new territories, for example, Gen Z who are the future wallet holders, so it is imperative for brands to appeal to this wider audience as it goes through the brand life cycles.

Explaining the rationale behind its re-branding, FNB issued the following statement: ‘’we have refreshed our logo to demonstrate the next level of our business strategy. It’s not just about a logo change, but fundamentally taking our promise of help to the next level: connecting our customers to an ecosystem of platforms that meet their diverse needs, not just in banking, but beyond.’’

Earlier this year, telecommunications giant MTN also unveiled an evolved simpler visual identity, in what was just the second brand overhaul since the Group was founded in 1994. The Group noted ‘’The re-brand is an extension and visual representation of the Group’s refreshed strategy, dubbed Ambition 2025 and premised on leading digital solutions for Africa’s progress.’’

While it makes sense that there is a strategic business approach to rebranding, from a basic end-user point of view, the question is always ‘’why fix something that’s not broken?’’, especially when it comes across as bland or boring, compared to the visual identity consumers have come to know and love.


Maria Bucuane from leading agency TBWA/YATI, who has also worked with a number of brands such as MTN, had this to say on the subject ‘’We have obviously seen quite a few brands across sectors changing their logos to a simpler and minimalistic look. This I see as a modern trend for brands of the future. I know it has come across to many people as brands lacking creativity, but there is a method to the madness.”


She explains some of the key considerations of the process ‘’the first point to consider is consistency. Minimalistic logos give a solid image and bring consistency to a brand. For a brand to be top of mind and recognizable, a simplified design is a definite way to make this happen by being distinctive. Less is more. The simpler the logo the better and easier to remember or to be recognizable. A lot of brands are starting to focus on minimalism as their desired technique in visual branding and identity.’’


She adds that the second consideration is the optimization of digital spaces, as having a simple logo enables brands to be prepared for any digital environment. The prevalence of smartphone use has also necessitated this minimalistic approach. Bucuane notes that brands are designing more and more with the user experience and comfort in mind for a better digital brand experience. Experts are advising companies across all sectors to start thinking about what their brands will look like and how they’ll behave in the next stage of the Internet e.g. the Metaverse.

Moreover, Bucuane noted that versatility must also be taken into account. “These simple logos are easy to use and apply on virtually any medium without losing what the logo looks like. This covers digital platforms, merchandise, billboard, print, etc. Logo designs need to accommodate all these possibilities and easily adapt to any medium and minimalistic logos work like a charm.’’

When asked if it’s possible for designers and brands to go ‘’over-simplistic’’, at risk of alienating consumers, our experts are unanimous. Fakudze responds by saying ‘‘no. As long as a company’s aptitude and execution thereof are aligned, an over-simplistic logo design remains a distant concern (think Nike whose logo is just a swoosh). In general, oxymoronic, humorous, and arbitrary brand names need not be anxious about being accused of being ‘over-simplistic’ in their designs. Lastly, imagery and iconography are subjective to consumers. So “over-simplicity” doesn’t exist in the creative world.’’


Maria concludes ‘’you can never be over-simplistic. The key thing is not to lose your main assets as a brand. Less is more, so they say. Simplicity is also regarded as a major strength in graphic design, in general.’’


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