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Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

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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.

You might also enjoy our previous article “Showcase of Clean and Minimalist Designs.”

Less Is More Link

“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.

Examples Link

North Kingdom
Simple, straightforward typography and a bare use of color make for a design that’s aesthetically pleasing but minimal.

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Sleepover
A simple design that puts content above all other elements. The simple double-border above and below certain areas helps to delineate the content without cluttering the design.

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Lindvall A&D
The simple line-drawing of a chair, barely visible if you’re not looking for it, exemplifies the “less is more” ideology.

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Your Neighbors
Another simple design, this one with many more graphics.

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Sharpenr
Simple navigation and graphics add to the overall minimalist feel here. The graphics are bold enough that they have visual impact without adding clutter.

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Omit Needless Things Link

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 things.” 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.

Examples Link

up&onward
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.

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Lachlan Bailey
A single image and vertical navigation are as simple as it gets.

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Sarah Hultin
Another example of a single image and vertical navigation.

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Aleksei Dubrovsky
This website goes a step further and omits any images, opting instead for just a header and simple navigation.

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Subtract Until It Breaks Link

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.

Examples Link

Anothercompany
A minimalist design with a single-column body and three-column footer. If any element was removed, the website would be less user-friendly.

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Works in Silence
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.

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Brett Arthur Photo
Another great example of using a minimum of elements.

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Danny Guy Photography
The black background sets this apart from many other ultra-minimalist designs. Notice the full-screen option in the lower-right of the image.

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Brian Danaher
Another website that opts for a single column and bold typography.

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Every Detail Counts Link

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.

Examples Link

Executive Edits
Details like the oversized typography in the header and the thin borders between elements make the Executive Edits website stand out.

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Christine Szczupak Photography
The stylized arrows and subtle drop-shadow are important details that increase the visual appeal of this website.

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Kha Hoang
The effect of the details here—circles, gray box, red typography—definitely add up to a lot more than the sum of the individual parts.

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The Rules of a Gentleman
Everything from the thick black border at the top to the mix of typography make this website elegant and sophisticated.

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Ryan Willms
The spacing and arrangement of content here, along with the elegant typography and simple lines, make for a fresh design.

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Visual Craftsman
This has more detail than many minimalist websites, particularly with the border and other subtle graphics.

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Electricgecko
The subtle colored box behind the content sets this design apart.

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Color Minimally Link

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.

Examples Link

Kyle Sollenberger Design
Subtle pastel colors set apart certain content here.

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Pixelbot Webdesign
Bright colors stand out against this otherwise black-and-white design.

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MattBango.com
The shades of blue are subtle but highlight special areas of this otherwise black, white and gray design.

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Second and Park
Muted colors work well in a minimalist design, particularly when combined with gray.

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Glinga
A simple website with a gray background and colored accents.

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Deartoy
Another simple design with colored accents.

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Superawesome
Magenta is a popular accent color for minimalist sites.

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Thinking for a Living
A website with a lot more color than many other minimalist websites, but the palette is well thought out.

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Nation
Another colorful website with a great palette.

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White Space Is Vital Link

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.

Examples Link

Rikcat Industries
Ample space between elements keeps this website from feeling cluttered.

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Straightline
Another example of a ton of white space around elements.

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52 Weeks of UX
Filling every column on the page is not necessary, as evidenced here on the 52 Weeks of UX website.

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Metro Gallery
The Metro Gallery pays a lot of attention to white space, right down the spacing of letters in its category headers.

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Blank Studio
Ample white space is used here.

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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 Link

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.

Brian Hoff
Gray can be used as an accent, not just for typography or backgrounds.

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Michael Cronin
Of course, gray also makes for a great background color, and it takes on a cool tone when combined with icy blue.

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Ross Gunter
Another very simple design with a gray background.

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Sort Design
Medium gray allows for good contrast with typography, while also making a stronger impact in the background than light gray.

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Jack Osborne
Gray lends itself particularly well to gradients.

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5-Squared
Combining multiple shades of gray lends visual interest without cluttering.

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Big Typography Link

Big typography is often used in place of images to add more graphic interest to a website.

Blake Allen Design
Oversized typography is used throughout this website.

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Kyle Steed
Big typography is a popular choice for minimalist headers. It makes an impact while also conveying vital information.

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EndGrain
Another example of oversized type in the header.

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Dunnodt
Combining different-sized fonts is a great way to add visual interest without clutter.

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Words Are Pictures
Large typography is also popular as an accent, rather than a focal point.

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Ryan Evans
Another website that combines multiple font sizes. It’s a great fit when the page has little content.

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Tiny Villain
Varying the size and color of type makes for an arresting design.

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Division Paris
Another great example of big typography in the header.

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Background Patterns and Images Link

Subtle background patterns and bold images can add a huge visual interest to a minimalist design.

Jeroenhoman.com
A subtle grunge pattern gives this design an edgy feel.

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Neiman Group
Keeping the background image in grayscale adds visual interest without adding clutter.

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IdeaPaint
A large background image is still minimalist when the rest of the website’s content is very simple.

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Bunton
The subtle texture and pattern in this background is aesthetically pleasing without being overwhelming.

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Francesco Fonte
Another subtle grunge pattern.

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Caitlin Worthington Photography
This taupe grunge pattern is unexpected.

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Simple Grids Link

Grids aren’t necessarily minimalist by nature, but simple ones can bring order to a bare design.

Fitzroy and Finn
Simple grids make sense for organizing equally sized images.

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Brand New
A simple grid like this organizes without adding complexity.

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Design Woop
A more traditional grid design that has plenty of white space to keep things looking minimal.

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Fortyone
Another great example of using simple grids to organize images, this time including text.

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Things
This simple-looking grid belies the careful thought that went into it.

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Corporate Risk Watch
This grid is set apart by the roll-over effects in the navigation (visit the website to check them out) and the subtle grid lines.

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Positively Melancholy
A simple grid like this works well for organizing different-sized images, too.

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Circles Link

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.

iLTD
A simple circular logo in the header.

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Simon J Hunter
Another circle in the header, this time with a monogram.

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Frank Chimero
Another circular monogram for a logo.

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Indextwo
And another.

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Leica
Leica’s logo is a bright red circle, used across its products and marketing materials, including its website.

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io
And another.

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Bless
Circular badges like this are also popular.

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Alex Cornell
A circular logo with a more abstract design.

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Royale
Circles aren’t just used for logos, though. Here’s a great example of a circle used for content.

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Bonus: Transparency Link

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.

Slideshow Press
The subtle transparency in the logo gives this design an added dimension without creating clutter.

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More Examples Link

Here are some more examples to inspire you.

Brancozero
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FLOWmarket
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Circus Family
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Reknit
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Dracula Studio
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Zachary Pulman
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Laboixeta
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SkilledConcept
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Days with My Father
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NeueBlanc
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Winkreative
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Madewithpixels
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Acne Production
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Further Resources Link

(al)

Smashing Book #5

Hold on tiger! Thank you for reading the article. Did you know that we also publish printed books and run friendly conferences – crafted for pros like you? For example, Smashing Book 5, packed with smart responsive design patterns and techniques.

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Cameron Chapman is a professional Web and graphic designer with over 6 years of experience. She writes for a number of blogs, including her own, Cameron Chapman On Writing. She’s also the author of The Smashing Idea Book: From Inspiration to Application.

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  1. 1

    Sweet stuff, made me think about some aspects on my own website.

    0
  2. 2

    fantastic compilation, thanks from joover!

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  3. 3

    Federica Sibella

    May 13, 2010 2:47 am

    Wow! Big collection, very inspiring. We also have a minimalist website, but we’re thinking of a little redesign this summer. It will remain minimalist of course!
    Thanks for sharing.

    0
  4. 4

    Creative Mashup

    May 13, 2010 2:57 am

    Nice showcase. A lots of new, never seen, examples…Anothercompany is my favourite.

    When I was designing my studios website: creativemashup.pl I was inspired by sites similar to Bless and SkilledConcept.

    :)

    0
  5. 5

    Simplicity is a feature.
    And this is the top priority.

    0
  6. 6

    I see the minimalist websites often have great typography. Would it be considered as a principle of minimalist design?

    Thanks for the article.

    0
    • 7

      Rilwis,
      When you have only five or six major design elements on a page, you have to make sure everything follows the principles and look nice.

      0
  7. 8

    Simplicity is what really appeals to me and these are lovely examples.

    0
  8. 9

    Beautiful websites.

    I think Antoine de Saint-Exupery said it best: “You know you’ve achieved perfection in design, not when you have nothing more to add, but when you have nothing more to take away.”

    0
  9. 10

    Love this article. It’s my passion to create simple, fresh and minimalistic designs. In the past, I wasn’t fan of minimalism, but I recently realized it’s great way to attract visitor and there’s always a plenty of space to loose imagination and create something very unique.

    0
  10. 11

    Why don´t you explain the PROCESS of getting minimal?
    I guess most of those websites didn´t reach this level of perfection by seeing showcases.

    I give up Smashing Magazine.

    -2
    • 12

      Smashing Editorial

      May 13, 2010 3:59 am

      Actually, the article describes the process and covers some principles that will help you achieve a minimal design. Please read the article more carefully.

      3
      • 13

        Topics and a few lines.
        Nothing that deep.

        -2
        • 14

          You have to admit it’s at least better than those “30 minimalists websites” list, no?

          Thanks for the article.

          0
        • 16

          I don’t know. I do see the intro paragraph to each section, but its kind of self defeating to the concepts explained in not keeping it minimal in the *volume* of examples – and rather putting more into the decomposition of each – that the little paragraph (or two) get swallowed up in the same feel of *”those “30 minimalists websites” list”*. I felt like it was the same endless scrolling (though I’m a gluten for punishment and indeed did all the scrolling) from the list-type posts, only broken by a short blurb. Now mind you, I’m too damn lazy to write that 2 paragraphs myself… so thanks for that and all the linking. I’d love to see more analysis or even discussion.

          Now for analysis/discussion, it may be my natural aversion as a photographer to the color Cyan, but I feel like the Lindall A&D is really just an eye-strain. I think Nation site did a bit better and using the minimal color for emphasis by the use of more contrast[ing elements]. I think the Tiny example tries to use the Cyan as an emphasis element through its minimal color usage, but its again hard to read because of all the white around it, becoming an eye-strain. I think this brings up a good point that when using minimalism as an enabler of emphasis/importance, then we have to be much more picky on the choices/elements we are contrasting. … That ends my “i hate cyan rant”

          1
    • 17

      If you don’t have it, you won’t get it!

      It’s called creativity.

      2
  11. 18

    Bob Venturi said, time ago “Less is a bore”.

    1
  12. 19

    Great post, I just updated my portfolio website to make it more minimalistic. The goal was to take away as many distractions from my artwork as possible. http://www.robertburchillustration.com

    1
  13. 20

    Minimal FTW!

    1
    • 21

      I really appreciate all your work, thank you so much providing such a valuable pages.

      -2
  14. 22

    Glenn Sorrentino

    May 13, 2010 5:09 am

    Great collection. It’s more difficult to design minimally than one may think and all of these are great examples of how to do it right.

    1
  15. 23

    amazing :D

    love it ^^

    1
  16. 24

    “It was popularized by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in describing the minimalist aesthetic.”
    It’s totally wrong, totally nonsense. Please stop quoting Mies about minimalist design. Mies was an architect and is work is not minimalist -see the glyphs on the roof of his museum in Berlin-, he didn’t care less about minimalim. So please stop quoting Mies when you know nothing about architecture and art.
    and sorry about my english, I’m not a native english speaker.
    S.

    1
  17. 26

    I’m tired of “clean and neat” and “minimalism.”

    Bring back “dirty and busy” and big, hearty MAXIMALISM!
    :D

    0
  18. 27

    Mindblowing concepts. Thanks for the post.

    1
  19. 28

    I think you missed Aisle One, Keyboard driven Blog (Shortcuts for different Grids and a Dashboard), with a nice, simple Design + Logo:

    http://www.aisleone.net/

    0
  20. 29

    “Glamour is back, but with a minimalist touch.” – Gianni Versace

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  21. 30

    Does anyone know how I might make a horizontal scrolling page like Thinking for a Living (http://www.thinkingforaliving.org/topics/curated)? I like how each post made creates a new column, and older posts get archived.

    I’m assuming this is done using something like jQuery Scrollable, but it’s something I know little about. If anyone can point me in the right direction I’d really appreciate it.

    Sorry for going a little off-topic.

    0
  22. 31

    Thank you! Love this post.. It’s like a tutorial… 100% inspiration!

    0
  23. 32

    That up&onward and Dracula Studio websites are very basic Cargo themes (cargocollective.com). Almost no customization involved or very little. The credits should go to Cargo team for the design work, not these sites. Thank you.

    0
  24. 33

    Thanks for including my site in this post.

    1
  25. 35

    Here’s an excellent minimalist black&white blog: http://mediatinta.info/

    0
  26. 36

    Thanks for the mention in this blog post, we highly appreciate it!

    0
  27. 37

    i have a circle in my site haha

    0
  28. 38

    Federico Capoano

    May 13, 2010 8:12 am

    Does a web-site have to have a monochromatic color scheme to be considered as minimalist?
    If you look at those web-sites, the majority use just black, white and gray scales.
    Imagine minimalist would become a successful trend in web-design.. omg it would be so boring to see just black and white web-sites!

    Thank god for the colours!!

    0
  29. 39

    Isn’t this whole minimalism thing in design just because everyone uses WordPress?

    0
    • 40

      No, not at all. You can do whatever you want with WordPress – it doesn’t cause any confines in design.

      0
  30. 41

    Christopher Anderton

    May 13, 2010 9:58 am

    Great inspiration! I’m working right now on a couple of projects that gonna be minimalistic.
    http://bayimg.com/image/eamhcaack.jpg

    0

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