You’ve probably heard the minimalist mantra “less is more”. It’s become cliche at this point, but there’s very real truth to it.
Why cram design with unnecessary distraction when you can focus on the bare essentials?
Minimalism is governed by three principles:
- Repetition: you stick to the same set of patterns, styles and elements in your design.
- Formal Simplicity: a preference for simple geometric shapes, like uninterrupted lines and perfect circles.
- White Space: a penchant for emptiness in your design, making it void of anything but space.
Minimalism is not the only way to go when designing a website, but it’s a great route for addressing some of the pain points users have, specifically that they feel overwhelmed by the websites they interact with.
The drawback is that sometimes minimalism is not enough. Omitting necessary user experience elements in order to obtain as minimal a look as you can is a dangerous game. However, when done right, minimalism can help you and your customers grasp the most crucial parts of your brand without needless frustration.
Why Does Minimalism Matter?
According to Austin Golownia, a senior designer at Clique Studios, understanding the value of minimalist design starts with understanding the value you bring to your customers’ lives. “We’re impacting people’s lives, our client’s lives,” he says. “Minimalist design keeps us focused on what really matters.”
Minimalism can also be the key to a fast, effective page building experience. A minimalist approach usually implies a simpler design, which means you can focus less on long-winded busy work and more on creating a better experience for your users.
With a simpler website build, you get faster page speeds. At a time when 53 percent of users leave a website if it takes longer than three seconds to load, this is critical. It’s not only users who demand high page speeds; Google recently announced that page speed is a factor in search engine rankings.
One of the most iconic examples of minimalist web design comes from none other than Apple. We all know how many products Apple has to sell. However, their homepage only highlights their latest and greatest. Notice how they are never cramming all their content in a small space or trying to overwhelm you with what they have to offer. The small amount of text and image that sits on the page takes up far less room than the white space.
Product designer Mikiya Kobayashi takes a similar approach by focusing on the most alluring aspect of his content: the visual. As a designer, the core of what he has to offer comes with pictures instead of words, so the only words that show up on his website are his name and those that surface when you roll your cursor over one of his pictures. The pictures themselves make wonderful use of white space, with nothing to distract you from the simple pleasures of his designs.
The Pillars of Minimalist Web Design
The most common misconception about minimalist design is that it is centered around aesthetic. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the first step to obtaining minimalism is putting aesthetics on the backburner and focusing on functionality.
With every choice you make, you need to ask yourself, “why?”
Get It All on Paper
Start with a creative brief. This is a document that details what you’re setting out to create. Brainstorm your goals, the problems you’re fixing and the potential content experiences your users can have. Next, think critically about which of these are the most important and which can be sacrificed.
This brief is more than a brainstorming opportunity. When you get lost in the thick of a design project, it can be lifesaving to have a document to turn to if you need to reorient yourself. More importantly, it’s a written strategy you will stick to in pursuit of the clearest path to the solutions you offer.
In theory, you want to give your customers options. When it comes to minimalist design, choice is the enemy.
Be honest with yourself. What are your users here to do? If there’s a clear answer, you don’t need to give them multiple variations of that thing.
Choices can be distracting. Minimalism makes your user’s experience more impactful by eliminating these distractions. There’s no need to pretend to offer more than you do.
As a web designer, it’s easy to get attached to your work. There’s no shame in viewing your craft as an art form, but just like any art, you need to know when to ease off on the impulses.
You may have an amazing idea, but if it isn’t absolutely essential, think twice about including it on your page. There’s a chance that you are putting your own taste above strategy. Customers are far more likely to have a positive interaction with your brand if you project concision and convenience. Beauty might impress them, but it won’t keep them coming back.
Remember, Rules Can Be Broken
Just because your design is minimalist doesn’t mean it has to be bland. In fact, minimalism is an opportunity to hone your craft and embrace your creativity. Minimalism is about being restrictive, but that doesn’t mean you can’t think outside the box.
Repetition, white space and formal simplicity are best practices for minimalism, but veering away from them won’t necessarily be your downfall. In fact, throwing something unexpected onto the screen can catch viewers’ eyes, making them excited to interact with your page. As long as you break rules with purpose, you can enhance your design.
It’s important to note that minimalism isn’t law. In fact, sometimes it just doesn’t work. Think about your audience. There’s a chance that your user base will respond well to excess, especially if the purpose of your website is to give them as much information as possible.
An example of this is CNN. Think about what would happen if CNN only focused on a few stories at once, using four or five words in their headlines. News websites already try to use as few words as they can, but the reason people go to them is to pick and choose which of the countless daily stories to click on. Thus, they need all the options laid out in front of them. It may lack that understated beauty, but minimalism would do a disservice to their readers of most news websites.
Remember that minimalism is not about getting rid of necessary parts of your website. There could be a lot of elements users expect when they come to you and it might be hard to keep all of them there while maintaining your minimalist “look”. The key is to remember that minimalism is not a look, but a strategy. Let it guide you, but don’t let it dictate your direction. If you use it well, you will be on your way to a more functional website and happier user base.