Table of contents
People are getting tired of frame-stuffing and turning to minimalist video design for clarity and digestible pacing. As a video marketer, you can capitalize on this emerging trend by adopting simplicity and focusing on less to get more done.
This resource is a crash course on minimalist video design, featuring five sections that build off of each other. Each section covers an essential component of video minimalism (listed below).
To create minimalist videos, you need to:
Determine the subject
Map out the essential objects
Subtract the inessential
Storyboard the project
Film the video
As you can see, most of a video's minimal design work happens before principal photography. So, as a video marketer, you cannot expect to go minimal in the edit. The starting point for a minimalist video is the idea phase, where your first decision is regarding the subject.
Step 1 - Determine The Subject
Just because your video is minimal doesn't mean your subject can't be complex. You simply need to know him enough to understand how to minimalize his story visually.
Suppose your character is heroic. In a maximalist storyboard, you'd show him rescuing a child. But in a minimalist one, you might show him picking up trash from the ground and putting it in a bin. Either way, you need to know your character.
If your story is fictional, you can make characters that lend themselves to minimalist storytelling. And for adaptive works, you can curate your characters for minimalism.
Your subject must:
Be easy to root for very quickly - Let the setting and the plot make him instantly sympathetic.
Have a problem that can be shown and solved with less than five characters or objects - problems like things going missing or being taken away are helpful.
Have a short character arc - a minimalist video should not drag on unnecessarily.
Now, let's take a look at the perfect characters for a minimalist story using the criteria mentioned above.
An Old Man
The character’s age makes him instantly sympathetic. Most of us have grandparents we care about, and old characters can remind us of them. Moreover, the old man can lose things, which is an easily solvable problem. And characters that are old can just learn a simple lesson in a short period, which can be their character arc.
Now that the criteria check out, let's ask the final question: does that character have commercial viability? Since elderly care and products have a huge market, there is definitely a commercial advantage in featuring an old subject in your videos.
You can market insurance products, medicines, comfort products, and even easily giftable items with videos that feature an old subject.
Kids inspire instant empathy, so they are the obvious favorites for minimalist storytelling. Their objectives can be simple and easy to accomplish in a short duration. A child might really want a chocolate bar he can't have or a toy that's already sold out.
These are major problems from the subject's perspective but can be solved quickly with less than four objects. Finally, kids can be commercially viable protagonists because parents are a huge demographic.
That said, matters regarding kids are sensitive, so you have to be careful with your storytelling. Avoid emotional manipulation, as it can ruin brand trust in the long run.
Adult In Distress
Apart from the old person and the child, the only remaining character group is the adults. But unlike kids and the elderly, adults are not inherently sympathetic. So, when you feature them in a minimalist video, they must be in visible distress.
This requires creative plotting. Because only with plot can you create a problem that makes your adult subject sympathetic. Plus, it needs to be easy to solve with as few objects and characters as possible.
Since plot is that important, it only makes sense to discuss that next. Different creators have different plotting processes. You don't need to alter yours. You just have to start it right after you select your subject. This will help you determine the essential objects to feature in your story.
Step 2 - Plot And Map Out The Essential Objects
Once you have your subject, it is time to create a plot for your story. And that happens hand in hand with object selection, at least when you're designing a minimalist video. The number of objects creates a contrast for your plot, and your creativity in overcoming it is what makes your video remarkable.
The following are some plot elements that can help you create a minimalist video.
For your story to be compelling, someone needs to lose something or someone. Alternatively, there can be an absence that creates an intense desire for a certain outcome. For instance, an orphan does not get toys for Christmas.
He hasn't lost any toys, but still, the absence is painful enough to make getting those toys essential to the story. From a commercial perspective, such an absence or loss creates an opportunity for your brand to be positioned as a hero.
Perhaps the child gets free toys thanks to your give-back initiative. Or, in case of a loss narrative, your return and exchange policy allows the protagonist to get a new product in place of a broken one.
People have an easier time rooting for someone trying to gain something for others than for someone trying to get it for himself. So, a selfless gain narrative is an easy way to get immediate audience investment.
Selfless gain also creates a halo that associates your brand with positivity.
That said, selfless achievement can become a complex quest. And as a creator trying to produce minimalist videos, you have to keep plot complexity to a minimum. Make sure your subject's selfless gain can happen using less than five objects.
The protagonist cannot remain unchanged after a video. If he does, then his story has no point. A good story leaves its characters changed in significant ways. There is an arc for every important character.
In a minimalist story, you can limit the arc to just one character, your protagonist. He can learn something, gain status, or enter a different wealth bracket.
Finally, your video's plot must have something surprising. If it is predictable, then the video itself isn't satisfying. To keep your audience interested, you have to pepper your plot with surprises. Or at least have one big satisfying surprise towards the end–a plot twist.
So, how do you combine loss/absence, selfless gain, development, and surprise in a tight, minimalist narrative? Layer your story elements.
You can sandwich loss and selfless gain just like you can develop your character with surprise. Let's take the example of a child who doesn't have toys for Christmas.
The plot could be as follows:
Loss/absence - An orphan doesn't receive any gifts for Christmas.
Selfless gain - He decides to steal from a store to get toys for his younger siblings
Surprise - When he sneaks into the toy store, he finds it empty. He comes home to find toys and learns that the store owner, Mr Claus, had taken all the toys to give them out for free.
Development - He feels guilty for trying to steal from such a nice man and instead decides to help him. Mr Claus gives him a job.
As you'll notice, all elements are tightly woven together. The selfless gain and the initial absence are of the same object (toys). The surprise (store owner’s generosity) directly causes development.
One could storyboard this narrative in a maximalist style with all types of Christmas decorations and a huge toy store. Or one could approach it with a minimalist lens and subtract the inessential. What matters is that only the essential remains.
There are two approaches to plotting that serve this goal. And you can pick whichever suits your temperament.
The first is to plot with the essentials in mind. And the second one is to plot freely and then adjust the story to make fewer objects essential to the story. Either way, only the essentials must remain when you begin storyboarding, which is discussed further in the next section.
Step 3 - Subtract The Inessential
As long as you can differentiate between essential and inessential, this step is easy. However, most creatives have a tough time discarding a portion of their creation, no matter how inconsequential it is
There are three protocols you can use to differentiate the gold from the dirt in your creation (script).
The second opinion protocol - you ask another writer or a peer to highlight the inessential in your script.
The distance edit protocol - you leave the script alone for a long period then edit it once there is some distance between you and the work.
The mathematics protocol - you create hard mathematical limits (like a word count) and then force your edit to abide by them.
As a creative, you need to distance yourself from the work or create conditions that make it mandatory to put some of your work on the chopping block. The protocols above help you accomplish this.
Read more about these sifting methods to find the one that suits you.
The Second Opinion Protocol
As a creator, you're biased in favor of every word in your script. So, you're more likely to assign essential status to things that can be removed. When you get a second opinion or a third-party editor (even better), you erase your bias.
Because the other editor hasn't created the script, he is not biased in favor of it. For minimalist videos, script editing has to be ruthless, and such ruthlessness is hard to muster for one's own creation.
The drawback of this method is that it affects your voice and authorship. If you're the kind of creative who wants exclusive credit, then bringing other parties on board might not be an option you'd consider.
You would also not want other parties involved to maintain secrecy. As a video marketer, you might be contractually obligated to keep client briefs and related deliverables strictly between you and your client.
If, for any reason, you cannot get a second opinion from anyone else, then your next option is to give yourself a second opinion.
The Distance Edit Protocol
Reducing your bias towards your own work is possible with the help of time. Time creates distance, which is why it is easier to laugh at one’s past follies. When you begin to edit your script immediately, you might find it hard to discard anything because of how close you are to the work.
As time passes, your mental state shifts, and a sense of objectivity sets in. You are not as close to your work and can see flaws. More importantly, you can see what can be removed and separate it from what must be kept.
This approach offers secrecy and credit exclusivity. You do not have to worry about leaks or plagiarism. However, you need a lot of time. And that's not something every video marketer has.
The more you wait before editing your script for length, the easier time you'll have removing its non-essential contents. For the distance edit to be effective, you need a distance of one week at a minimum. Ideally, you should wait a month before cutting your script to size.
But what if you don't have weeks of waiting time? Try the next approach and force your own hand.
The Mathematics Protocol
Mathematics is the language of objectivity. The sum of two and two is always four, regardless of anyone's opinion. Since the problem with editing your own work is your subjectivity (self-serving bias), you can use mathematics to make your edit more objective.
Mathematical constraints you can use include the following.
By setting a hard limit on the number of words in your script, you give yourself no option but to remove a portion of its contents. The tighter this limit, the more minimal your script is.
This is a limit we recommend for minimalist video design. By forcing yourself to abide by a limited object allowance, you give yourself no option but to remove excess objects. This minimizes what shows up on the storyboard.
Finally, you can set a hard limit on the number of scenes you'll shoot. This, when applied to a large project, can force you to remove entire scenes.
Chopping Block Quota
If you want to get serious about minimalism, you should create a quota for the number of elements (words, objects, characters, or scenes) you must remove. Feeding that quota forces you to put more on the chopping block than you would have otherwise.
With the inessential out of the way, you're ready to proceed with your project as normal. You still need to keep visual minimalism in mind, but not to the extent you have thus far.
Step 4 - Storyboard The Project
Storyboarding is a process where you visually represent scenes on a sheet, board, or digital file before you film them. For minimalist videos, storyboards look remarkably understated compared to standard videos.
As a creator, storyboarding is your opportunity to revisit the question of what's essential. With everything mapped out, you can spot inessential elements more easily. But if you've followed the previous steps, then you won't find much to remove.
After completing your project’s storyboard, you can proceed to the next step.
Step 5 - Film The Video
This is the final step before post-production. As long as you have followed the previous steps properly, this one doesn't need to be any different from a regular video shoot. The script and the storyboard are already designed with minimalist sensibilities, so the resulting video will have a minimal design.
In fact, you need to be a maximalist at this stage. Film more takes than you need and make cuts longer than they are supposed to be. That way, you will have more raw material to work with.
Minimalist Content Multiplication
Content repurposing workflows can consist of five to seven apps. How about some minimalism? If you want to turn your long videos into multiple bite-sized clips for different social media platforms, then ContentFries is your minimalist content multiplying solution.
It lets you turn one piece of video content into 36+ pieces in different formats. You can use it to generate quote cards, turn videos into blog posts, and make audio podcasts out of talking head videos.
Use the white color to essentially erase portions of the frame. Our eyes focus on color and symmetry, so as long as there are a few objects with color and they are presented symmetrically against a white backdrop, the resulting frame will appear minimal.
Use AI To Erase Background
Finally, one way to add minimalism to any existing video is to use Canva's AI-powered background eraser tool. Canva has a range of AI effects in its Magic Studio, one of which is a background eraser.
As long as your video is under 90 seconds long, you can use Canva's background eraser tool on it and turn it into a minimalist video. For this to work, the background should not be essential to the story.
Minimalist Video Hacks: Success Secrets for Content creators and video marketers
Having discovered the five steps for making minimalist videos, you're probably excited to start your project. But don't do that just yet. There are some handy hacks you need to learn about first.
Minimalist Video Design can be summed up in two words: essentials only. As long as you plot your videos to have as few essential elements as possible and remove everything inessential, you will produce a minimalist video. More specifically, you need to Determine the subject, Map out the essential objects, Subtract the inessential, storyboard the project, and Film the video. Each of these steps is covered in detail in the resource above.