Designing a small contemporary garden is challenging unless you have a clear plan. A large garden has room for imperfection, but optimum use of space is necessary for a pleasing small garden. Even a tiny balcony is capable of showcasing elements of your design aesthetics--clean lines, and well-manicured plants. Know the feel you're aiming to achieve and always keep it in mind while you design and determine if your choices contribute to the overall theme.
Xeriscaping is the practice of incorporating low-maintenance and low-resource consuming plants. Typical lawn grass is often eschewed in favor of low-maintenance ground covers--small, spreading plants that cover an area where grass won't grow easily or where it's undesired. In very small garden areas, ornamental ground covers are beneficial because they often never need mowing. Depending on the species, some ground covers withstand foot traffic better than others. Contemporary design is easily achieved with xeriscaping by incorporating groupings of eye-catching specimen plants rather than plants typically chosen for an informal cottage garden.
Hardscaping elements in a landscape are all non-vegetative items, such as patios, pavers, gravel, containers, water features and furniture. Depending on the scale of the small garden, incorporate a patio to increase the livable garden space, and use tiered shelving and other containers to increase available growing area. The patio can have contemporary furniture to fit your style and can easily be changed with trends. Large containers are better at holding water for plants and will lend a more grounded look to the space than several small, inconsistent containers. Choose containers that are interesting and colorful , but coherent. Contemporary design is often very streamlined.
Use dwarf varieties of species where possible. Even small trees and shrubs are sometimes too large for the smallest landscapes, but dwarf varieties of many species exist, and pruning is an option as well. Container-grown species will often be much smaller than the same plant grown in the ground. Go vertical to increase your amount of usable garden space. When space is at a premium, don't neglect railings, walls and fences as options for areas to grow plants and hang containers. But be mindful of clutter; too many items competing for attention takes away from a contemporary atmosphere.