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How Max Perry's design represents a shift towards maximalism

Have you ever stared into distant galaxies on a clear, starry night and pondered the mysteries of the universe? That sense of awe and wonder is what artist, illustrator, animator, and curator Mike Perry’s work is all about. Hailing from the Midwest, Perry now runs a studio in New York and is perhaps best known for his work on Comedy Central’s “Broad City,” for which he won an Emmy. His style is all about color — and lots of it.

Fluorescent pink — which Perry admits is his favorite color — is particularly prominent in his works, which range from paintings and graphic design to animations. He aims to invoke the sense of infinite possibility you get when you go on a journey in your imagination or contemplate the meaning of life.

Perry’s work is playful, expressive, and maximalist, serving a refreshing contrast to the uniformity of minimalism that has dominated the design space since the early 2000s. He expresses childlike wonder through the use of joyous, unabashed colors and blends the real and the surreal into awesome conceptual designs.

While certainly striking, his signature style points to a broader design trend — a steady shift away from minimalism and toward maximalism. Where minimalism is discreet, maximalism is loud and proud, featuring clashing colors and creative chaos.

This article will provide an overview of the current shift toward maximalism and how Perry is spearheading the maximalist movement.

Walking sun, humanoid bird — the surreal and the maximal in Mike Perry’s artwork

Ben Barnhart of Vectornator puts it best when he says, “Perry is known for his generous use of colors. You can see every single color combination in his amazing designs. Colors, and especially bold and bright colors, are the way Perry expresses himself in his works.”

Perry’s work is all about positivity and good vibes. Not in a “bury your head in the sand” way, but in a way that inspires hope for the future despite the current global circumstances.

To get a feel for Perry’s particular flavor of maximalism, let’s take a look at a few of his designs. The first is this “walking sun” that Perry shared on his Instagram page during the height of the pandemic, along with the caption: “Good Morning. Today is another day. I love you. Be well. Stay safe.”

Another defining feature of Perry’s work is the bizarre — yet cute and cuddly — anthropomorphic characters that populate his paintings. There’s something so relatable about them, and they capture some of life’s mundane moments in full technicolor — like the following image that he posted simply with the caption “Hi.”

But perhaps the most striking aspect of Perry’s works is his explosive use of color (he’s even confessed he always runs out of fluorescent pink first), coupled with the simplicity of his messaging, as demonstrated by the following image that he posted, adding, “May you find a moment of silence.”

But nothing happens in a vacuum, and Perry certainly isn’t the only artist pioneering the maximalist movement. So let’s take a look at the broader maximalism design trend, where it came from, and what the future might hold.

Why maximalism? Why now?

Design trends don’t just appear out of nowhere; they emerge as a steady progression of or reaction to what’s come before. And the current trend toward maximalism is no exception.

The (re-)emergence of maximalism isn’t random. In fact, it’s the next natural step on a journey that can be traced back to the 1990s and the early days of graphic and web design.

So let’s take a trip down memory lane to see where we’ve come from and discover where we might be heading.

The 1990s: skeuomorphism

Skeuomorphism is a design technique that aims to emulate real-life tactile experiences. An example of a skeuomorphic icon that still proliferates today is the email symbol — usually an envelope with an @ symbol that’s closed when unread and open once read.

Skeuomorphism was everywhere in the 90s, from websites to computer games to audio editing software that featured skeuomorphic knobs, buttons, and sliders. Just take a look at the Jade Tree website’s vintage aesthetic that was designed to evoke the experience of a Bakelite radio:

Steve Jobs aspired to make products so simple that anyone could use them based on instinct alone — hence the prevalence of skeuomorphism in the Apple products of the time. The concept of skeuomorphism predated Jobs, but Apple pioneered its use in product design, incorporating features such as leather-bound calendars, analog-style clocks, and yellow notepads that look like jotting paper.

Although Apple announced a move away from skeuomorphism in 2013, many of these features have never fully gone away. The image below shows how the announcement changed the iPhone user interface to a flatter, more stylized aesthetic while maintaining elements of skeuomorphism:


Early 2000s: minimalism

The early 2000s heralded a generalized shift away from skeuomorphism and toward a more minimalist aesthetic. This was all about stripping away the excesses and reducing design to its barest bones. Straight lines, negative space, neutral color palettes, and a sense of laser-focused purpose to every pixel are the hallmarks of minimalist design.

Where Apple went, all other brands followed. Its shift from skeuomorphism toward more stylized, flat logos and icons started a minimalist trend that continues to this day. Take a look at a few examples of how Pepsi, Netflix, Microsoft, Google, and eBay followed suit and upgraded to a minimalist aesthetic:


Minimalism brought a refreshing, streamlined look to the chaotic world of graphic design and helped it progress beyond its nascent years. Favored by Millennials as both an aesthetic and a lifestyle, minimalism dominated design — and our lives — throughout the 2010s.

2020s: a return to maximalism

The rise of maximalist style may be a response to the pandemic, or perhaps it simply marks a generational shift from Millennials to Gen Z as the driving force behind new trends. Either way, one thing’s for sure: the pendulum has swung back toward maximalism, marking a new era for design.

As Julius Colwyn of Space Doctors says, “The trend is all about a living, energized chaos. It comes as a reaction to an increasingly harmonious, consistent graphic style defined by too many brands and businesses. There is a growing space for something jagged, something raw, something real — jarring collage, sharp contrasts, powerful neon, and irregular frames."

The maximalist approach aims to upend the uniformity and “sameness” of minimalist brand designs and move toward a chaotic, asymmetrical look — all while maintaining a smooth and intuitive user experience.

The maximalist features of Mike Perry’s design

Mike Perry’s work embodies many of the key elements that make up the maximalist design style. Here are three of the most prominent features of maximalism and how they show up in Perry’s work.

1. Absurdity and cheekiness

Maximalist designs are characterized by a degree of absurdity, including lots of bizarre elements and generally silly concepts. This gives maximalist designs a light-hearted, cheeky, and rebellious feel.

Absurdity is a cornerstone of Mike Perry’s philosophy, as he articulated in this interview: “I think existence is pretty bizarre, and I think that really helps with handling the absurdity of life.” That must be how he comes up with ideas like this:

2. Daring color schemes

Maximalists revel in using a range of contrasting — sometimes even jarring — colors to intentionally shock the onlooker.

Perry is no stranger to this concept, relying predominantly on bold colors to create striking visuals — as a quick browse through his website reveals.

3. Visual repletion

There’s no room for negative space in maximalist design. Margins are pushed to the side, and layers of busy artwork take the wheel.

Perry’s work rarely features white space — instead, he opts for filling the canvas with his bold, imaginative designs like this one:

Maximalism is here to stay (for now)

No design trend lasts forever, but maximalism looks set to define the 2020s in the same way minimalism defined the early 2000s — and Mike Perry’s brilliant work is representative of this tonal shift.

Want more cutting-edge content on design trends, tips, and more? Check out the Playbook blog for more insightful takes on the past, present, and future of design.