Minimalism is achieved by reducing a design to only the most essential elements. Expressions of minimalism span multiple disciplines, as well as other art forms such as music and literature. For website designers, though, minimalism can be intimidating and difficult to master.
But anyone can master minimalism. Essentially, minimalism is about breaking things down to the barest elements necessary for a design to function. It’s about taking things away until nothing else can be removed without interfering with the purpose of the design. Below are a number of principles of minimalist design, as well as an exploration of current trends and additional examples.
Less Is More
“Less is more” is probably the most well-known catch phrase of the minimalist movement. It was popularized by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in describing the minimalist aesthetic.
In Web design, less is more is achieved by using only elements that are necessary to a given design. Using less to achieve an effect that’s more than the sum of the design’s parts is the goal.
Omit Needless Things
In their book The Elements of Style, Strunk and White coined the phrase “Omit needless words.” It has been adapted to minimalist philosophy as, “Omit needless things12.” In other words, don’t include unnecessary elements in your designs.
Think of what’s necessary to the content and function of your website. Then focus on only those things, and omit anything that doesn’t directly contribute to either the content or function. Remember, though, that certain design and graphical elements will directly affect the readability or usability of your website.
A simple gray background, white borders around the images and simple typography are the minimum elements necessary for this page. If any were removed, the website would not have the impact that it does.
Subtract Until It Breaks
When crafting an extremely minimalist design, try subtracting elements until the design stops working the way it should. When the website is on the verge of breaking, you know you’ve achieved the most minimalist design possible.
Remember that “breaks” is relative in design. Technical functionality is only one way to gauge whether something is broken. Usability considerations are equally important. Make sure your website is still user-friendly and delivers the experience you want visitors to have.
Works in Silence23
The elements of this information architecture, including the borders between sections and posts and the white space between columns, are vital to keeping everything visually pleasing, organized and readable.
Every Detail Counts
In a minimalist design, every detail has significance. What you choose to leave in is vital. A border around an image, the color palette, the white space, every part becomes important to the overall look and feel of the website when the elements are few.
Think of the feeling you want your website to give visitors, and then decide on the details that would impart that feeling. While many designers view minimalism as one size fits all, there is still room for different emotions based on individual design elements. A minimalist website can easily be funky and modern, fresh and clean, reserved and sophisticated, elegant and refined, or anything in between, based solely on its details.
Color takes on added significance in a minimalist design. Choosing the right palette or accent colors is vital. Many designers opt for a simple black, white and/or gray palette, but minimalism has room for any color in the rainbow.
Like details, color becomes critical with fewer elements. Pay attention to the meanings of the colors you choose and how they interact with one another.
White Space Is Vital
White (or negative) space is the backbone of any minimalist design. What you leave out of a design is just as important as what you put in. White space is critical to emphasizing certain elements over others.
White space “makes” a design minimalist to a large extent. Without it, you’d end up with a grid design or grunge or some other style that’s not truly minimalist.
There are plenty of trends in minimalist design. Some have been around for so long that “trend” is probably not even the right word to use. In any case, the following elements are being put to good use in a variety of minimalist designs.
Gray is fundamental to minimalist design. Shades of it are used for backgrounds, text, images and pretty much all other elements, often combined with black and white or other colors.
Big typography is often used in place of images to add more graphic interest to a website.
Background Patterns and Images
Subtle background patterns and bold images can add a huge visual interest to a minimalist design.
Grids aren’t necessarily minimalist by nature, but simple ones can bring order to a bare design.
Circles can be found on many minimalist websites. I’m not sure whether designers who like circles are more inclined to have a minimalist aesthetic or whether they choose circles because they fit minimalist designs particularly well. In any case, circles are often found in headers and are also used as accents in navigation.
This isn’t really a trend per se, because it’s not often seen in minimalist designs. But it can make a huge visual impact and should really be used more by minimalist designers.
Here are some more examples to inspire you.
- Minimalist Web Design: When Less Is More173
A comprehensive introduction to minimalist design from Webdesigner Depot.
- A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Website174
A look at minimalist websites, from both a design and content perspective.
- Understanding Minimalism in Web Design175
A good introduction to the concept of minimalism as applied to website design.
- “Minimalism” Is Just Designer-Speak for Laziness176
A great breakdown of the differences between minimalist and simplistic designs.
- The Anatomy of a Minimalistic Web Design177
Breaks down what goes into the design of a minimalist website.
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