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Fresher Styles for Web Designers: Psychedelic Minimalist Style

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Curt Cloninger discusses the Psychedelic Minimalist style, a style that intentionally straddles the fence between minimalism and psychedelia, achieving surprisingly fresh, purposefully paradoxical results.
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The Psychedelic Minimalist style is a schizophrenic combination of two seemingly contradictory approaches. Its layout and typography are very simple, basic, and minimal, but its color and ornamentation are wild, bright, florescent, and psychedelic. The Psychedelic Minimalist style is kind of like the Late(st) Modern style on LSD. Grayscale palettes are replaced by bright screen colors—colors that only exist in RGB light space and are very difficult to replicate in CMYK print space.

This conflict between understated layout structures and unapologetically bright colors gives Psychedelic Minimalism its playful tension. Rather than pushing every element of site design toward ornate psychedelic extremes, the Psychedelic Minimalist style intentionally straddles the fence between minimalism and psychedelia, achieving surprisingly fresh, purposefully paradoxical results.

Influences

The influences of Psychedelic Minimalism come from two completely different, oppositional eras. It is partially influenced by 1920s European modernism, but its colors are influenced by 1960s California psychedelic art, which was a reaction against modernism.

1960s Psychedelic Color Schemes

Psychedelic poster art of the late 1960s is famous for its barely legible art nouveau-inspired typography, its use of organic forms, and its vibrant colors. Psychedelic Minimalism retains the vibrant colors and discards everything else. Psychedelic minimalists are more influenced by the muted, iridescent, pastel color schemes of pop artist Peter Max than by the intense, intrusive, seizure-inducing color schemes of psychedelic illustrator Victor Moscoso. In this sense, the colors of Psychedelic Minimalism might be considered psychedelic lite—a happy, neon rainbow trip rather than a heavy, hardcore, mind-eroding one.

Because the colors of Psychedelic Minimalist style are used sparingly, they don’t often have the opportunity to intensely vibrate in contrast to one another, which is just fine. These color combinations don’t need to be optically intense in order to seem intense. Set in the context of a minimal layout scheme, even a slightly vibrant hue screams brightly.

The “Less Is More” Minimalist Mantra

Modernist architect and Bauhaus director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously adopted the motto “Less is more.” He sought to use the minimum of formal elements necessary to achieve his required goals. This approach characterizes minimalism. There is no wasted effort, no ornamentation, no fluff. Psychedelic minimalists adopt the Less Is More mantra and apply it to everything but color and texture. Layout schemes are direct and sparse. Right angles dominate. There is a lack of flowing, organic, ornamental line. Typography is standard and straightforward.

The addition of vibrant colors to this extremely reserved design approach is an intentionally playful move. Curiously, psychedelic colors in a minimalist environment don’t come across as anarchic or even accidental. Because everything else is so purposefully structured, the vibrant colors themselves look purposeful and contained. The minimalism tames the psychedelia.

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