Less is more: the rise of minimalism in retail

You hear it all the time: “less is more.” How does it relate to customer experience?

What does the new wave of minimalist design mean for retailers, and what does it say about changing customer trends?

How have trends shifted?

What are some notable examples?

What conclusions can be made?

How have trends shifted?

Where do we begin looking for the origins of open, spacious floorplans? We might want to start in Holland and the rise of de stijl or ‘the style’, which ushered in a new-found appreciation for lines, edges and angular shapes in art, which naturally found its way into design and architecture.

Naturally, this new minimalist style didn’t filter into every facet of our collective cultural consciousness, and the indulgent, wackier design trends of the 60s, for example, demonstrated that not all design reflected the minimalist trends that began to appear. What’s more, the minimalist art movement began to explode in the 60s, whilst simultaneously interior design embraced flower power, free expression, and more indulgent design styles.

In the United Kingdom, the desire to rebuild cities destroyed in WWII meant that architects and designers sought cheap, secure ways to design new buildings, and thus we now have the often previously underappreciated brutalist landscapes of Coventry and Birmingham, which are now garnering an appreciation thanks to their concrete, muted, minimalist designs.

The advent of technology entering the home in the 70s (‘The Decade The Taste Forgot’) and 80s, coupled with the fact that consumerism reached somewhat of a nadir in the West during the 80s and 90s meant we were now seeing more and more companies, with more and more designs.


The high street and the out-of-town shopping mall became places to while away an afternoon with the family.

But in the here and now, where do consumers’, and by extension designers’, priorities lie? As our appreciation for shopping dwindlesand our shared appreciation for the value of experiences grows, marketing, design, architecture and the wider culture will begin to reflect that, and we’re already seeing it in the way iconic brands are redesigning their premises.



McDonald’s recently redesigned their restaurants with 6 contemporary designs. The result is a much more modern aesthetic which almost looks like they’ve taken a walk around IKEA and picked out 6 designs at random, but which are almost so indistinguishable as to not put too much on any customer’s plate, pardon the pun.

The design is clean and simple, whilst the colours move away from the vibrant yet paradoxically drab designs of the past to something more muted, neutral, incorporating the stripped back wooden furniture of hipster cafes, harking back to a simpler time, whilst also incorporating the aforementioned angular lines and shapes that characterised de stijl.


Perhaps the most obvious embodiment of minimalist design, Apple’s shops, oh, no, forgive me, Apple Stores are notoriously minimalist, with their range of products on display for all to see on bare tables, with space to enjoy their beautiful design. The actual product you’ll take home, should you buy something, is stored underneath one of these tables. Rather than clutter the ‘Store’ with stock, Apple creates a harmonious environment by giving customers space.

Not bombarding them with options.

Even the product range is minimalist, as they often discontinue old models before they’re even obsolete, giving their customers less choice and fewer dilemmas.

That being said, it’s also a cunning marketing ploy to ensure they set the agenda on what is cutting edge and what isn’t.

All Saints

The London-based clothing brand is a Hipster-favourite, but not just for the broody, Grunge-inspired clothing designs, also for the way the actual shops evoke the feeling you’re somewhere truly organic.

The shops are decked out with wood, often looking like it’s just arrived fresh cut from the forest, so raw is the stripping. What’s more, even small touches like coat hangers and changing room doors play into the idea you’re somewhere untouched by time. The hangers are heavy industrial metal, no branding, just bare metal, as are the changing room doors, which can sometimes feel like you’re opening up a factory during the industrial revolution.

It demonstrates a simultaneous appreciation of minimalism and also creates a strong brand identity, just as Apple do through their love of all things bare.


What conclusions can we draw from the surge in popularity and admiration for all things minimalist, particularly in a retail setting? For one, shoppers are becoming more sophisticated. No longer do consumers need to be bombarded by choices and explicit imagery to help influence their purchasing habits.


The surge in stripped back design shows they’re not bothered how much you show them, they’d prefer the simplicity.

Something else worth considering is just how vastly complicated our lives are becoming thanks to big data, increased surveillance and a constantly evolving tech-obsessed culture. The love for decluttering, perhaps best illustrated by the huge popularity of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up shows we’re not willing to let our lives, nor our space become overrun with stuff. Brands and retailers must fall in line. We set the agenda.

Give us our space.

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