Is less really more? Or is big, loud and busy the only way to stand out, be seen and stick in people’s minds?

Both ends of the scale—minimalism and maximalism—have their inherent pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses. And when you take minimalism and maximalism away from interior design, art and architecture and apply it to graphic design, these elements shine as brightly as ever.

If you’re an ecommerce or retail brand, you can use these concepts in all elements of your branding—including your packaging design. That’s exactly what you’re going to see in this article.

As an SMB, we understand that designing your packaging might not be high on your skills list. So in this article, we’ll show you the beauty of both minimalism and maximalism, and the differences between the two. You’ll also learn what role good packaging can play for both ecommerce and retail brands, and if the min or max world works for you and your brand.

It’s difficult to sum up both minimalism and maximalism in one sentence, but let’s try anyway!

What is minimalism?

Minimalism is about getting rid of excess. Minimalism is about using only the things you really need.

This concept is used a lot in art, architecture and interior design.

minimalismus
Photo by Bench Accounting

Minimalism stems from the idea that less is more. By only putting the most important things into a space (eg. a room or a canvas), it makes those elements stand out more. That way, those things have the space they need to shine and play a visual role in an environment. Minimalism isn’t about using nothing, it’s about using only what really matters.

As entrepreneurs like The Minimalists have shown, minimalism can be more than just design—it’s an entire lifestyle and mental philosophy that can help you shift your focus to what’s important in life.

minimalist room
Via Daria Shevtsova

Minimalism is more widely known than it’s counterpart maximalism. Minimalism has, in fact, found its way into many areas of modern society. With a focus on clean lines, neutral colors and basic textures, it’s a very versatile way of designing a wide range of things.

By using colors, tones and textures that are neutral and can work in nearly any combination, the power of minimalism is unlocked. It’s versatile. Small, subtle changes can be seen easily and it takes less work to do so.

Look at it under a more detailed microscope and one could argue that minimalism is similar to the punk-rock lifestyle and image. It’s all about rebelling against norms—in this case, consumerism.

What is maximalism?

As you may have guessed, maximalism is the opposite to minimalism. It’s best described as the reaction to minimalism, where ‘more is more’.

Maximalism lets color, shapes, tone and texture do the talking. It doesn’t have to be loud or overbearing, but maximalism does grab your attention.

maximalismus
Photo by Annie Spratt
maximalismus
Photo by Flaunter.com

Just like minimalism, maximalism can be used in art, interior design and architecture. More often than not, maximalism is the side that we usually subconsciously lean toward. Fill every space with something, collect things and display them—it’s borderline hoarding.

If you’ve ever been to the house of someone who has travelled a lot, you may see lots of souvenirs, little things gathered and on display. And this is maximalism in its true essence—it uses ‘things’ to tell a story.

Minimalism and maximalism in packaging design

So how do these popular design ideas work on product packaging? Does each idea work for all occasions and all brands?

Well, no, not necessarily.

As a SMB, you’ve more than likely spent some time and money building your current branding. Things like a logo, color palette, business cards and your web design.

The best way to figure out if minimalism or maximalism is better for your brand is to refer to your current branding.

Is your current branding delicate, understated and calming?

minimalistische Verpackung
Decent packaging design by katerina k. for nkapshuk

Or is it bold, exaggerated and energetic?

üppiges verpackungsdesign
Loud packaging design by UniqueHub

To establish what works best for you, look at what you’ve already got.  From there, establish what would best compliment both your brand’s aesthetic and your customer’s taste.

Marketing 101: Know your customer. If you know that they are attracted to minimalist brands (like Ikea or Apple), you’ll know which direction to follow.

What is your brand’s mission?

One important thing to remember is your brand’s mission statement. Whatever that statement may be, does it reflect a minimalistic or maximalistic view?

Many brands that take on a social responsibility, such as being organic, sustainably sourced or similar tend to lean more toward a minimalistic approach.

On the other side of the coin, we have brands that are loud, fun or aimed at children. Candy and toy packaging, for example, are usually colorful, bright, and use clashing textures and vibes to stand out.

Are minimalism and maximalism here to stay?

If you’re a SMB that likes to keep up with current trends, it’s very much worth jumping on board the min or max train.

Why?

  • Minimalism is a trend that’s been around for almost a decade now—it’s stuck and lasted
  • Maximalism naturally complements a loud, in your face brand with an attitude
  • Both elements, when done well, can be used to cut through the noise of your competitors

However, you may be in for some difficult decision making. It’s not just a simple matter of picking minimalism or maximalism and heading to the (literal) drawing board. You need to consider different branding options to decide what’s best for you.

If your brand wants to adopt a ‘modern’ image, you might find a minimalist approach best for you. The ‘modern’ vibe is invoked by clean straight lines, neutral colors and in most cases, empty space.

minimalistische Verpackung
Minimalistic packaging design by Cime for dinhdaniel

Any branding wanting to invoke emotions of grandeur, luxury and opulence will find the use of maximalism much more suited to their needs.

maximalistisches Verpackungsdesign
Detailed packaging design by Martis Lupus

With complex writing, detailed lines and uses of occasionally clashing colors, a viewer feels a sense of grandeur and prestige.

Minimalism vs maximalism for specific occasions

Focussing on minimal or maximal branding for specific events or holidays can really set you apart from your competition.

Take, for example, Christmas time. By using Christmas-themed packaging, you save your customer the hassle of gift wrapping.

Christmas can be a good time to use the maximalist concept, as it’s about giving and exchanging things. It’s a celebration that usually involves excess food and gifts. It’s an event that’s based around things—as is maximalism.

But is there such a thing as a minimalist Christmas?

christmas packaging
Via John Masters Organics

There is.

By using simple (yet specific) shapes and relevant colors, John Masters Organics in the image above for example created a very interesting minimal-esqe Christmas design that still conveys that warm fuzzy feeling of being with loved ones.

Christmas has some branding elements of its own. Green and red, for example, as well as shapes like stars and Christmas trees. Glitter and shiny textures are also often associated with Christmas.

The example above refers only to Christmas, but there are many other events throughout the year that can warrant seasonally-themed packaging.

Halloween is usually a more extravagant time leaning toward the maximalism concept. An event like a personal anniversary or similar, may take better to a minimalist theme.

Why?

Because these are much more personal and intimate. Small minimalist things can work in a maximalist’s home. It’s very hard to make it work the other way around!

Examples of minimalist and maximalist packaging

What’s the best way to learn about visual design?

By looking.

In this section, you’ll see a wide range of different product packaging that either leans toward minimalism or maximalism, and how to integrate these ideas into your own packaging designs.

Deer My Dear—Minimal

deermydear-minimalistisch
Deer My Dearis a Polish company that creates handmade coasters and table accessories from wood.
Why it’s minimal

This packaging design leans toward the minimalist side as it is focussed on the bare essentials. It includes a logo, the company name and a website. There are some more details on the other sides of the box—but again, the bare minimum.

Why we love it

This is a fine example of a simple yet effective packaging design. Since the product is made from an organic material in its most natural form (wood), the product and packaging resonate with a very outdoor, natural vibe. The natural color and texture of the cardboard match the product perfectly.

Yope—Maximal

Yope – Maximalistisch
Yopeis a soap company that sell vibrant, refreshing hand soap and other washing products.
Why it’s maximal

This design leans toward the maximalist side of things. While there is just one texture to the touch and only 3 colors in use, the clashing patterns and complex shapes are exciting and maximalist. By using contrasting colors and intricate lines, the packaging design takes on a funky yet homely feeling.

Why we love it

We love this packaging because of it’s unique shape and quirky illustrations. The handle adds a practical element and the circular hole draws your attention to what’s important—the product itself. 

Biotika—Minimal

Biotika – Minimalistisch
Biotikais a brand selling natural cosmetics for women.
Why it’s minimal

It’s hard to argue that this packaging design takes anything other than the minimalist approach. On the 2 most prominent surfaces, we see the company logo, name and website. That’s it. Again this design sticks to using the bare essentials and not overcrowding.

Why we love it

The Biotika team uses texture to their advantage. As a natural product, they want to be associated with nature, simplicity and still have a touch of elegance. The color and texture of the natural cardboard achieve this in a fantastic way.

Birthday Box—Maximal

Birthday Box – Maximalistisch
Birthday Box is a subscription-based service where people buy a box full of birthday gifts for friends.
Why it’s maximal

This packaging design clearly falls into the maximal side of things. The use of confetti in many different colors makes it bright, eye-catching and engaging. While the text is rather subtle and dialed back, it’s the use of color and shading to create depth that gives this box the busy, full and maximalist vibe. Since birthdays are usually about extravagance and luxury, this approach works really well!

Why we love it

What a way to make a statement. Bang. Bright, loud and in your face. Look at me, I’ll help make your birthday better. That’s exactly this brand’s mission statement and that’s exactly what this packaging design does.

Snakehive—Minimal

Snakehive – Minimalistisch
Snakehiveare a British company that creates high-quality leather cases for smartphones.
Why it’s minimal

Muted and neutral colors, no clashing of shapes or textures, minimal branding and an overall feeling of simplicity—the core elements of minimalistic design. And they’re echoed here in both the product and the product packaging of Snakehive.

Why we love it

It’s hard to stay minimalistic when more than one texture gets involved, yet this product and its packaging do that. The velvet phone case looks to have the same texture as the matte product boxes.

Devangari—Whatever you want it to be

devangari
Devangari is a subscription-based service for people interested in coloring as a form of relaxing.
Why this one falls under both umbrellas

By definition, these box designs are arguably minimalistic. Only 2 colors that don’t clash, a single texture and nothing more than a logo.

But on the other hand, the design is incredibly complicated. So much so that the imagery gives the sensation of a totally different texture.

Why we love it

The fact that it’s hard to pin this design down as either minimalist or maximalist is the reason we love it. There’s so much going on and so much to take in, but it’s also simple and understated.

Ipseity—Minimal

Ipseity
Ipseityis a web page that sells one-off and custom made fashion, jewellery and accessories.
Why it’s minimal

It’s hard to argue with what’s on the box—a logo and the name. But what makes this design interesting is the colors. Unlike most minimalistic design, this uses a bright pink and a vibrant red.

Why we love it

We love this design because it breaks the color rules normally associated with minimalist design. Same hoes for the size of the logo—it’s large and it’s not overly delicate. Yet the design still only consists of the absolute essentials.

Happy Socks—Maximal

happy socks
Happy Sockscreate unique and interesting designs for all kinds of socks.
Why it’s maximal

Complex patterns, bright contrasting colors and a detailed text make the Happy Socks box design lean toward maximalism.

Why we love it

This box design perfectly echoes the branding as well as the product design itself—bright, fun, vibrant and welcoming. It does all these things without being overbearing or ‘in your face’. The concept of subtlety within maximalism comes to mind.

Find the style that works for you

Minimalism or maximalism—which is right for you? More importantly, which style suits your brand, your product or your business?

Remember, there are no clear dividing lines of what these two themes are and are not. If you prefer to use bright vibrant colors alongside a simple handwritten font, do it. Design rules are always meant to be broken! It’s up to you to figure out what works best for the application you need. And the best way to find an answer to the minimalism vs maximalism question? Just get out there, get to know your own style and customers, and play around with designs styles until you find one that perfectly represents your brand.

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About the author

Phil is a bearded Australian that lives in Warsaw. At Packhelp he’s responsible for creating helpful content about custom packaging and getting eyes to read it. He also takes care of ExpatsPoland.comHe loves Star Wars, his dog, Australian Football and Star Wars in no particular order.