When and How to Use Minimalism in Website Design

Let’s first get a misconception about minimalism out of the way. Just because there’s less to see doesn’t mean it’s easier. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The less you have, the more time you need to spend to make sure each element you have is right on the money.

After all, if you’ve got a crowded interface then if something is aligned slightly left of center, or a font that isn’t quite optimal for what you’re using, it will probably not even get noticed among the other details.

That won’t be true if you’re using a minimalistic web design, however, as there is nothing for your mistake or poor choice to hide behind. They’ll stand out in glaring detail – like a neon sign on a Japanese house. What that means is that if you’re just trying to throw a page together, minimalism is not the way to go. Minimalism is for the perfectionists, the obsessive-compulsive, the laser focused, stay-up-till –three-in-the-morning-to-get-that-title-just-right kind of web designer. If that’s not you then it’s not for you.

If it is then read on, read on! Down the rabbit hole we go.

Negative Space

Negative Space

Let’s begin by looking at what a minimalist website will have the most of – negative space, though you might know it as ‘the background’. Except, of course, that in minimalist design it isn’t ‘back’ at all. Instead, it is front and center, where it plays a vital role, in that it manipulates the user’s visual flow.

The power of negative space is that the more you have of it, the more whatever else you’ve got on the page will pop. This is why industrial designers will often use minimalist layouts. That way their products instead of fading into everything else will get the attention that they’re looking for. And as that is what they’re trying to sell or at least display that makes this approach highly appealing to them and anybody else who have got static objects to show, like interior designers and photographers.

Negative space can be a powerful tool to create an oasis of calmness, as well as to make users not feel overwhelmed. This is why spas and wellness centers often choose for this type of layout.

Note that negative space does not mean there is nothing there. Obviously, space has to be filled with something and though white is an obvious choice it is far from the only one. What is more, different colors have completely different effects on users, so make sure you spend some time doing the research. One thing I’d like to point out is that you don’t choose an over-saturated color. This is a basic mistake that many first-time designers make. The problem is that it can be quite painful to users, which therefore renders one of the big advantages of minimalism null and void.

Photos

Photos

If just one color is too much of a good thing, there is, of course, the option to go for a photo of some kind. Of course, if you do choose an image, make certain that is sticks with the spirit of minimalism that you’re going for. The picture needs to not be too busy.

I mean that in two ways.

  1. Obviously, make certain the photo is not overly cluttered with objects or people, as this will defeat the entire purpose of your minimalist design.
  2. That isn’t enough, however, as the implication of rapid movement or danger is just as capable of drawing the eye to the image and away from the main element that you’re trying to display. In fact, even the display of a negative emotion can distract people from what you really want them to focus on.

For this reason, when surfing through minimalist websites, you’ll see a lot of photos with very neutral and static backgrounds. Here are some great examples.

Typography

Typography

You can cut a lot of things from your minimalist page, like a menu bar, social media buttons, and ads, but one thing you cannot do without is words. Eventually, you’re going to need some. But how do you present them? You should consider very carefully what font you decide to use (and if you decide to make your own), especially seeing as different fonts will evoke different emotions and different states of mind.

For example serif fonts (those are the ones where the squiggly bits stick out below and above the line) are read more fluently than sans serif fonts and are therefore considered easier to comprehend. Similarly, as instructions are written in cleaner, more readable fonts (like Ariel for example) are seen as more understandable than ones are written in more confusing and busier font choices, which means that those instructions are considered easier to carry out.

But of course, readability isn’t the only thing that needs to be considered, you also need to think about what emotions the fonts provoke. Yes, that’s right, different fonts affect people differently, with font types like Times New Roman more often associated with emotions like ‘funny’ and ‘angry’ than Ariel.

I did warn you that minimalism wasn’t for the faint of heart!

Another thing to consider is what font types you use where, as you obviously do not have to use the same font throughout. And as there isn’t anything else to distract your audience, if you use different font styles and typographies your user will be far more likely to notice them.

This can, therefore, be a very effective strategy to get your audience to pay attention to specific areas. For example, consider writing those text you want users to read first in bold styles, with thick strokes, while the parts that are supposed to notice later written in more neutral fonts. The user’s eye will immediately be drawn to the bolder text while the other text will be consumed later.

Contrast and Positioning

Contrast and Positioning

One of the most powerful tools available to a minimalist web designer is contrast. If you want to use contrast to its best effect, you’ll have to go for light colored backgrounds – white being the predominant choice, as this allows for the best effect. This is why minimalist pages will often use black on white backgrounds as these stark lines are immensely visually appealing. Here is a good example. What’s more, the smallest bit of color, like a splash of yellow, can then be highly effective. Just think of the girl’s coat in Schindler’s List.

A designer can create a contract with many different things, including color, shape, location, scale, and size. If used correctly, it can be incredibly useful in leading your user to those parts that they should pay attention to first (much like I explained in terms of typography above, when I discussed bold versus more neutral texts). It is not easy, however, and to use it to best effect it’s necessary to have a basic understanding of how users consume internet pages.

Studies of eye-movement have given us great insight into where people look first, with them generally starting off at the top left and then, depending on whether there is a lot of text or not, either scanning the page in an ‘F’ or a ‘Z’ pattern respectively.

As your minimalist page will not be text heavy, you’ll therefore want to arrange the most important aspects of your page in a Z-type pattern, with the things that your users should notice first (you’re your menu options) generally taking a position more towards the top left of your page, while those things that should be noticed later (e.g. your copyright claims) coming down lower and further to the right. In this way, you’ll make the consumption of your page more fluent and more natural.

The Hamburger Button and Other Layouts

The Hamburger Button and Other Layouts

The one thing that’s important to remember with minimalist design is that just because there’s not much to see per page, doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of content overall; most of the time all that information is just tucked away in submenus and secondary pages. One popular (though controversial) way this is done is through what is known as ‘the hamburger button’, or the three lines that you now see all over the place, like in chrome on the top right as well as on the iPhone. And yes, if you’ve had a couple of drinks it does kind of looks like a hamburger (I did not make up the name).

Personally, I’m not a big fan as this goes against my minimalistic instincts. What’s the point of creating an uncluttered page if you’re then going to create a cluttered menu to surf the rest of your website? For me, a much better strategy is to sub-divide your hamburger button into several menu choices that are obvious and easily understood and will engage your readers, but it’s ultimately up to you.

One important factor to consider when you’re thinking about whether to create several menu items or use the one button is how old your audience is. The older they are, the less familiar they’ll be with this design and the more likely they’ll therefore not find your submenus, which can render your page useless. So is your page mainly aimed at millennials? Go ahead and use it. Are you serving retirees? It’s probably wise to think again.

Visual Style

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And then there’s how your page is supposed to be laid out. When you decide to choose a minimalist style you need to choose one layout style and then stick with it. This is because your audience will immediately start making unconscious assumptions about how your webpage fits together and if you then violate these assumptions, your users will feel that your page is ‘messy’ and ‘unorganized’. That’s a death knell for minimalism (and most other pages as well, truth be told).

For this reason, you need to select a grid, which basically means the columns in which you’ve divided up your page, and stick with it. How many columns do you want? How will they be spaced? How much negative space will be left between them? These are all important questions that you need to answer before you even start laying out the page.

The idea here is not that images can’t exceed the boundaries of these grid lines. Often images will sprawl the entirety of your page. In this case, the text about the image presented below it would be arranged in you the columns you selected. Similarly, if you’ve got several images on your page, they should follow the grid you’ve created so that your page overall will look clean and professional.

Is going minimalism worth it?

That honestly depends on what you are trying to do (and of course the topic of your page). If you’re trying to reduce your work, then as already said, minimalism isn’t for you. If on the other hand, this kind of layout instinctively appeals to you and fits the kind of product you’re pushing, then it’s the way forward.

The thing is that minimalism calls on a different skill set than standard design, in that you can’t just use run-of-the-mill pieces and slot them together to create a page. If you try to do that, you’re going to end up with something that isn’t visually appealing or all that informative. The worst, in other words, of both worlds.

Instead, you’re going to have to spend some time learning how to subvert your basic instincts that you’ve picked up from previous page designs you’ve done. Then you’re going to have to sit down and figure out what is essential to your page.

And you’re going to have to get to grips with contract, font types and photos like you never have before. It’s almost like you’re learning a new design language. That can be hard.

The thing about learning a new language, however, is that it makes you realize things about your original language that you’d never noticed before. And this is equally true with learning minimalist web design. The very act of trying to learn how to design in this way will make you realize things about design you never knew before.

And that might well make all the sweating and hard work worth it.

Forgetting for the moment that minimalist pages are just simply beautiful, of course.

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