How often do you hear or talk about minimalism? It is a very popular opinion nowadays that minimalism is king. A minimalist lifestyle is better for the environment, minimalist apartments or houses are more comfortable to live in, and even web design is way easier to create and use when it is minimalist. But is it so? What is minimalism in web design, and do we always need it?
In this article, I want you to get answers to the four pivotal questions:
What is minimalism?
Why do we need it?
Where to use it?
And how to use it?
Let's start from the beginning. Some very short historical background and explanation will be a useful insight.
1. What is minimalism?
Minimalism is a movement in visual arts, which emerged in the Western post–World War II world. Initially, minimalism was associated with the American artists of the 1960s and early 1970s. Today, it has reappeared as an influential movement in modern architecture, sculpture, music, visual arts, and even web design.
Minimalism in software design is the world’s reaction to overly complex, clustered, unusable websites. However primitive the first websites were, they were overly complicated since developers tried to show people that the Internet had a lot to offer. By adding all the possible features, along with decorative elements and ads, the first website owners created barely usable and visually incomprehensible platforms. With each additional element, the design was looking more and more complicated to the user.
So, minimalism is all about the pursuit of simplicity. At the same time, it is not necessarily something easy to create. Such a design should look simple and be easy to use, but not easy to develop. After all, minimalist web design is all about users, not about the development team.
2. Why do we need it?
As web design focuses more and more on good user experience, designers need to create the most usable and attractive websites possible.
Minimalism is only one of the ways of improving user experience. Do you want to learn more?
Minimalism is a great path to take in the pursuit of better UX. Yet, there are more. I tell about 8 ways to boost user experience in my recent article. Have a look!
Wisely created minimalist website design can help users focus on exactly what they need. At the same time, it helps businesses deliver a clear and concise message to the target audience. Some other benefits of ultra minimalist websites include reduced loading time, better compatibility between screen sizes, and simpler customer journey maps.
According to Nicolas Carr’s book “The Shallows” we have changed the way we think and absorb information. We used to trust every book or TV channel because of a lack of information. Yet, nowadays, we receive huge amounts of new information every day, and it is hard for us to separate useless information from useful. And from there, designers need to start creating something pleasant to see, easy to use, and practical in action.
To recap, minimalist design offers:
Improved user focus
Stronger connection between business and target audience
Shorter loading time and better performance
Improved compatibility across different devices and screen sizes
3. Where to use it?
Once you understand what it is and why we need this style of web design, there goes another question: where should you implement it? Spoiler alert! The answer is not “everywhere”.
I have to warn you that an entirely minimalist design will not always meet the needs of your business.
The first step towards understanding if your website will benefit from minimalism is to understand the purpose of your platform. Take time to consider what your website is all about. Can you afford to dedicate your website to a single mission? If not, a different method of design may be a better way to go.
Here are just a few examples of projects where you can use minimalist design:
One specific product
Business card websites
You also can use some principles of minimalism in your existing website, For instance, if one of your web pages is overfilled with content, you should strive to make it more minimalist in order to improve usability and reduce loading time. Whatever the case is, you need a clear vision of whether your content plays well with negative space and what is your main point that you try to convey. You may be surprised at how little information you actually need to present to the user at a time in order to get your point across.
4. How to use it?
The essential principle of minimalism sounds as follows:
Each element in a professional design should have a purpose.
No element should be included unless it is necessary to make the message clear. As Joshua Becker mentions in the book “The More of Less”,
You don’t need more space. You need less stuff.
At the same time, make sure that you are not making your users’ primary tasks more difficult by removing or hiding content that they need. The idea is to make the message clear, not hidden.
Minimalist web design always has a user-friendly interface and follows its own rules such, as:
A minimalist design uses no more than three colors at once.
A minimalist website is characterized by a lot of empty space.
A minimalist design has no excess details, such as color transitions, textures, or shadows.
A minimalist website does not include extra buttons.
A minimalist design experiments with font styles.
Now, I will highlight a few more minimalism tips in the three major simple web design areas: color, empty space, and typography.
For you to understand better what I will be talking about, let's have a look at Greenpeace Concept designed by Vladyslav Vonsovych.
When we think about minimalist web design, the first thought that comes to mind is black and white colors. And it is the right association because black and white are often the best colors to go with. But with a well-planned color palette, you can upgrade your design to the next level. B&W leaves the door wide open for any accent color, which allows the website to match the brand style guide.
The colors play a huge role in simple website design and can create different kinds of moods. From sleek and sophisticated black and white to bright and bold colors across the spectrum, minimal website design is not prejudiced against any color. Yet, it is prejudiced against the number of used colors. If you want to stay in a minimalist style guide scheme, you should use not more than three colors.
Greenpeace Concept designed by Vladyslav Vonsovych perfectly illustrates the rule of three colors in minimalism.
Empty (or negative) space
When the goal is “to make less mean more”, negative space becomes one of the most powerful tools. Leave enough space empty in order to focus the user’s attention on the right part of the content and lead them strictly to what they should notice. Empty space also helps to achieve balance in design.
One of the best practices can be to design the entire web page — and once the design feels complete, start removing all those objects that do not fulfill a functional need for the website. Yet, be careful, and do not forget the goal you want to achieve with this page.
Notice how the usage of negative space in Vladyslav Vonsovych's design helps you focus on the action button!
Typography and fonts
Minimalism often uses very few images and animations. For your website not to look dull or boring, make sure to use creative fonts. You can easily complement your simple main font with some creative extra font. It can help create a hierarchy on the page or even guide your users to certain content or buttons.
As for simple and basic fonts, I recommend you to take a look at Roboto or Lato. As for creative ones, you can have a look at Google handwriting fonts. Fortunately, the pool of fonts to choose from is so diverse — only the sky is the limit.
The same Greenpeace Concept by Vladyslav Vonsovych illustrates the rules of minimalist typography very well. Although Vladyslav does not use creative and bold fonts as we mentioned before but opts in favor of old but gold Helvetica, this choice of fonts perfectly complements vivid colors used in this design.
Once again, a huge shout out to Vladyslav Vonsovych for creating such an elegant design!
So, what goes next?
As you can tell now, minimalism is simple only at first glance. In order to make it light and user-friendly, you need to think each element through very thoroughly. Organize your content, strive to create a more efficient path across the website, and never sacrifice usability for the sake of visuals.
At the end of the day, the essential thing is to understand the goals you hope to achieve with minimalist web design. If “trying out a new trend” is your reason, then you have got it all wrong. Minimalism as a design strategy should be rolled out only because that is what your users need.