Brands are opting for pared-back visuals, reflecting a collective turn away from excess consumption.
The past year has driven a significant shift in spending habits and consumption patterns. More than two-thirds of Americans said the pandemic helped them find new ways to cut back on spending and 64% said their spending will be permanently changed, according to a TD Ameritrade survey at the end of May 2020.
Faced with economic uncertainty, consumers are padding their wallets in place of their closets, thinking twice before they buy and reevaluating their needs. “Consumers seem to be stripping down the non-essentials and focusing on what they truly value,” Jacqueline Rabot, one of the designers behind upcycled ready-to-wear label Rabôt, told Vogue.
Now, brands are reflecting these attitudes in their visual language, paring back for a simplified, unfussy look.
Japan Airlines was given a minimalist makeover in January 2021. Design firm Nendo reimagined the airline’s on-board aesthetic, redesigning everything from the meal trays to the slippers to the earplug wrappers for a streamlined, calming and peaceful experience. The design features a neutral palette, clean lines and little embellishment—the only nod to the Japan Airlines logo is a discreet, unmarked red tag.
Burger King is also opting for a minimalist visual identity. In January 2021, the fast-food chain introduced its first complete rebrand in over 20 years, which includes a simplified logo, understated uniforms and streamlined menu boards, restaurant signage and packaging. “The new minimalist logo seamlessly…pays homage to the brand heritage with a refined design that’s confident, simple and fun,” the brand said in a statement.
The understated rebrand follows a procession of car makers that returned to simplified, two-dimensional logos in the summer of 2020. After rebranding with three-dimensional, chrome-effect logos in the 80s and 90s, auto brands like Audi, Volkswagon, Nissan, BMW and Toyota are now returning to minimalist flat logo designs and ditching brand wordmarks.
“Design is one of the most essential tools we have for communicating who we are and what we value,” said Raphael Abreu, head of design at Restaurant Brands International, which owns the Burger King brand. Now, at a time when excess consumption is waning, brands are using that tool to reflect the shifting culture.