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The how and why of minimalism

By Mohammad Shakeri | Web Design | Jul 8, 2013

If done correctly, minimalist design is one of the best and most effective approaches to creating beautiful websites. Not only is the target audience subjected to less clutter and noise, but you can use colors, textures, and fonts to create a very simple yet very memorable experience for the person viewing your site.

Of course, switching to a minimalist design will mean that you only have a select few pages of information, but the result is desirable on multiple levels. Creating a mobile-friendly site will become loads easier, your audience will find your content easier to read, and your site will look more professional.

Read on to learn more about why minimalism works, and how to apply this beautiful approach to your designs.

 

Why it works

Less is more

This famous saying by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is the ultimate representation of minimalism. These three words of wisdom really get the message across, while being concise and to-the point.

Likewise, a de-cluttered website can get your point across more efficiently. Many designers/developers use this ideology and “prune” their content, effectively cutting away useless, less visited, and unimportant pages, leaving sites left with higher quality content.

Not only will your website look clean, it will also be higher-quality and more refined.

Subconsciously sensible 

Subconsciously we are growing more and more defensive to clutter and distractions. Every day, we receive dozens, if not hundreds, of business advertisements through spam, mail, newspaper inserts, internet ads, radio and TV commercials and more. This surge in advertising has caused people to learn how to avoid annoying ads.

Flipping channels during commercial breaks or clicking the “Back” button from an ad-filled website has never been easier. As web designers, we should keep in mind that not only is extra ad clutter on our websites distracting to users, it is also bad for SEO.

Responsive

All good minimalist websites have a unique wireframe and a really good grid system. If utilized correctly, both of these can translate to a painless and easy transition to the responsive and mobile world.

With less content, fewer blocks and design elements, and a whole lot of whitespace, it won’t be hard to move things around for mobile device screens.   

Furthermore, mobile users tend to have less patience. They are busy people who are either on-the-go, limited by data plans, working a hectic schedule, or all of the above. Getting concise, clear, and useful information as fast as possible is usually their expectation, so why not give it to them?

Lighter is better

Having only a few pages with a minimal amount of text will mean a lighter website. Not only can this make the task of updating, and maintenance easier, it will also speed up your site.

The less content, widgets, and design elements you use, the less data has to be transferred, making a faster, lighter, and hence more enjoyable, user experience. And it helps with the data limits issues for mobile devices.

 

How to convert to minimalism

It’s no secret that implementing a minimalist style is much easier if you already have a pretty good foundation of design itself. A solid understanding of grids and layouts, and an expertise and finesse in applying that understanding can go a long way when designing minimalist websites, however a lack of these things should not stop you from learning this beautiful style.

If you are interested in adopting a minimalist approach for your designs, there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

First of all, you must minimize your content. Throw away as much as you possibly can. If you can remove it and it doesn’t significantly undermine the main message you are trying to get across, it’s probably junk.

One good piece of advice for those attached to their content is: Temporarily hide the content for 30 days. Don’t go back and read that content or remind yourself about it. After 30 days if your life is not in a state of absolute crisis, you are free to throw the content away. 

One way to go about getting rid of and/or simplifying content is to review the usual culprits of lower-quality content:

  • Second and third level navigation pages : you realistically shouldn’t need more than 4 or 5 pages (unless we’re talking about an e-commerce site or some sort of technical site). 
  • Recent feeds, Popular feeds, Comment feeds, Facebook and Twitter feeds: Anything that ends with “feeds” is almost definitely unnecessary. Help your readers focus on what’s important.
  • Any sort of counters: Social ‘like’ counters for your main page, ‘Total visits’ counters…really? No need to become anti-Social Media, but a few simple buttons should suffice.  
  • Extra graphics: One small to medium sized graphic element per page is enough. Keep in mind, however, your graphic should neither overwhelm your content nor take too much attention away from it.  

Finally, when your content is minimized and you have stripped your site to the bare minimum, you must style it. Remember, minimalism is not about looking plain or boring, it’s about focusing your attention on the essentials. Having an attention-grabbing and consistent layout is key. The proper colors, typography, textures, and whitespace are also essential to your minimalist goals. 

 

Textures, colors, and fonts

Converting to minimalism doesn’t have to be a chore. Think of it as a way to give your site a fresh look with new textures, interesting colors, and captivating fonts. After all, with less content to worry about, you’ll have more time to tone and master the look and feel that will attract an audience, and keep them.

Textures

Using textures in web design is the greatest thing since sliced bread. When used in conjunction with appropriate colors, fonts, and a simple layout, textures can really make your website shine.

If you are completely new to textures, it would definitely be worth your time to read up on how to create them in Adobe Photoshop, how to apply them, and the different types of textures. 

Colors

Similarly, colors present an invaluable medium to present your website. Take caution, though, as colors and their associations can vary from culture to culture. Yellow, for example, may represent mourning when used in Egypt, while it may represent courage when used in Japan. With minimalist type designs, or any design really, having only 2 or 3 colors on your website is a good idea as this provides a consistent and simple experience for the user. 

Fonts

Finally, good fonts are truly vital when using a minimalist design.

Of course you don’t have to splurge on dozens of fonts; you could consider creating your very own fonts. Some designers even go to the extreme of having the typography become the sole visual effect of their website. While this is an interesting trend, it can be harder to pull off as it requires a complete mastery of typography.  

 

Summary

This article has only scratched the surface when it comes to the principle of minimalism and its uses and benefits in respect to web design. I hope it has caused interest for those who are still not applying some of these techniques.

Although minimalism doesn’t work for all websites, the principles of discarding low-quality and or less valuable features of your website can be useful for all web designers and developers. Less really is more.

 

Do you take a minimal approach to design? Do you find minimal sites cold? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, minimalism image via Shutterstock.

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  • Isis Marques

    I love minimalism, the way that the things look efortlessly elegant (even when there’s a lot of efort behind the work)…I’ve been following this guideline in my work, in case someone want to see some minimalist book covers: http://www.behance.net/gallery/Book-Covers-Bio-Pattern-Design/9498231
    Thanks for the article, I just love this site! =)

  • Caryn Humphreys

    Great piece, and something I certainly strive for on every design I’m working with. Strangely, I find pruning an existing site or web application quite a bit easier than creating one from the ground up. I imagine that’s due to it being easier to prune down than to build up with a limit in mind. I certainly find myself building up beyond what I think is reasonable (content, textures, interactive features, etc.) then going in afterward and trimming down everywhere I can. I don’t know if it’s an efficient model for presenting a cleaner end product, but the reaction from users is always one of pleasant surprise :)

  • ranaman

    excellent read, thanks!

  • http://mikemai.net/ Mike Mai

    thanks so much for writing this!!! people need to understand minimalism and stop making shitty flat design. flat design is one of the worst design trends ever. design needs a concept, it shouldn’t be flatten just for the sake of being “up to date”.

  • http://webdesign.ducktoes.com/ Ducktoes Web Design

    I wish you would show us some examples of minimalism.