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Functional Minimalism for Web Design
Rooted in the post-World War II artistic movement, minimalism has reemerged as a powerful technique in modern web design. This technique sometimes presents as an attempt to prioritize content over the chrome. Applied correctly, minimalism can help designers focus their designs to simplify user tasks. It brought additional benefits to websites, in the shape of faster loading times and better compatibility between screen sizes.

The simplicity of minimalism may seem simple enough, but under the surface lies far more than just “less is more.” Below are a number of principles of minimalist design, as well as best practices for this technique.

What Is a Minimalist Web Design?

Even though Google now offers a huge variety of products, its homepage has changed very little over 15 years.

Many of today’s most popular design trends (such as flat design, hero images, and hidden global navigation) are directly influenced by minimalism, a web-design movement that began in the early 2000’s.

Google is often credited as the pioneer of minimalist web interfaces. It has prioritized simplicity in its interfaces ever since its beta offering in the 1990s.  The success of Google’s search page paved the way for minimalism.

Although there is some debate about what exactly qualifies as minimalist web design, there are a few common features that most designers can agree upon. Let’s define characteristics of minimalism:

1. Only the Essentials
The philosophy of minimalism sounds very simple — “less is more.” In web design, less is more is achieved by using only elements that are essential to a given design. A minimalist web-design strategy is one that seeks to simplify interfaces by removing unnecessary elements or content that does not support user tasks, because
The less elements on a screen, the more potent the remaining ones become.
By that logic, if you had only a single element on the screen, you could be sure that your message is communicated to the user.

Minimalism is the intentional stripping away of everything that distracts users from content. But at the same time you must be sure that you aren’t making your users’ primary tasks more difficult by removing or hiding content they need. Thus,
Design around the content, and leave just enough secondary elements (such as primary navigation) so that users don’t get confused.
2. Negative Space
It should be no surprise that the most common element in minimalism is no element at all. Negative space — also known as whitespace — is the most important feature of minimalism, and what gives it much of its power. It serves to manipulate the user’s visual flow:
The more negative space around an object, the more the eye is drawn to it

The primary design element that most people associate with minimalism is negative space.
Image credits: bouguessa

3. Visual Characteristics
In a minimalist design, every detail has significance. What you choose to leave in is vital:

  • Flat textures. Minimalist interfaces often use flat textures, icons and graphic elements. Flat interfaces don’t make use of any of the obvious highlights, shadows, gradients, or other textures that make UI elements look glossy or 3D. 

Minimal visual hierarchy accentuated with touches of flat design in UI elements is quite common combination in modern websites. Image credits: F-Secure

  • Vivid photography. Images are the most prominent form of artwork in minimalist design, they enable an entire world of emotional connection and set an atmosphere. However, remember one key tip when selecting the photo: all the visual minimalist characteristics should be present in selected image. Choosing a wrong image (e.g. busy photograph full of distracting items) can negate the benefits of the surrounding minimalist interface.

The most prominent form of artwork in minimalist design, hero images are defined by a dramatic image placed near the top of the scroll. Credits: adablackjackgoods

  • Color Minimally. In minimalist design we use color to create visual interest or direct attention without adding any additional design elements or actual graphics. Since you should design with fewer colors, you need to get creative when it comes to creating a visual hierarchy.

With less visual information available for a user, color palettes are more noticeable and will be more influential in a site’s impact. Image credits: Mixd

  • Dramatic typography. Bold typography brings immediate focus to the words and content while crafting a much larger intriguing visual. The most impressive examples of minimal design and typography often include bold styles and interesting letterforms. But remember, drawing attention to bold typography is only useful when that text communicates meaningful information. 

Use typography to convey meaning or create visual interest.

  • Contrast. Because you should design with fewer elements, you need to get creative when it comes to creating a visual hierarchy. In the We Ain’t Plastic example below, you see the staple of minimalism, the white background contrasted with the black gemstone.

Many minimalist designs use only one bold color as an accent. They use it to highlight the most important elements of the page. Credits: weaintplastic

Minimalist sites seeks to simplify interfaces by removing unnecessary elements or content that does not support user tasks. What really makes such sites inspiring is when a design combines the usability factor with refinement: an easily navigated, simple site can be a very powerful form of communication.
What challenges do you face in making minimalism functional? Share your thoughts with us by mentioning us on @XiMnetMY.
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