Minimalism in Web Design: A Guide

Aug 23 2010 by Jason Gross | 63 Comments

A Comprehensive Guide to Minimalism in Web Design

Minimalism is a word that gets tossed around in a lot of different contexts. Whether it be a lifestyle or an art form, saying something is "minimalistic" can take on a variety of meanings.

In the web design field, minimalism is carving out an ever-increasing niche among designers that are looking to convey important content in a new way. Like just about any trend or theory in the web design world, minimalism can be easy to get wrong.

So what is minimalism in web design? Just as important, what is it not?

It’s easy to see how a minimal web design can be misconstrued as something that requires less effort or time to create. After all, conveying the feeling of simplicity and a primary focus is really the purpose of a minimal design.

However, saying that it requires less work couldn’t be further from the truth. Minimal web designs are strategically stripped of excess features and gimmicks in order to deliver a clear and concise message to the target audience.

A Minimal Mindset

In order to properly execute minimalism in your design, a focus needs to be established. Being able to present a clear message to your visitors is the core function of a minimal design.

Trying to execute a broad scope of information while still maintaining a minimal style can have pretty disastrous results, so before you dive into the actual design process, having a project plan and narrow scope will go a long way.

Take the time to consider what this site is going to be about. Not all sites can afford to dedicate themselves to a single mission and if this particular project is one of those sites, a different method of design may just be the best way to go.

If you have a clear focus, the next step is to consider what bits of information are going to be vital to your design and structure them in order of significance.

You may be surprised at how little information really needs to be presented to the user at a time in order to get your point across.

The Art of Taking Away

French writer Antoine de Saint-Exuper once said, "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Designers are often praised for the ability to create. Starting from a blank screen or canvas, we sculpt beautiful works of art — often from scratch.

Because of these trained skills, the art of taking objects away from a design can be a hard one for some to master.

Designers love to invoke visual stimulation anywhere they can, which usually spells out bad news for minimal designs.

Sometimes the best practice can be to design out a full site — and once the design feels complete, start removing all of those objects that don’t fulfill a functional need for the site. True, this can be a painful and time-consuming process, but if done right, the results can be stunning. Practice the concept of reductionism.

Smarter Color

Minimal web designs are notoriously black and white, but that certainly isn’t a rule written in stone.

Minimalism in web design does not imply a lack of color; instead it calls for an intelligent use of well-planned color palettes.

Wilson Miner

With that said, when it comes to colors, black and white do tend to be the weapon of choice. This is because it leaves the door wide open for pretty much any accent color, allowing designers to match an existing brand image.

More unique color options can be just as effective. The key here is not just that you use color, but rather, how you use it.

In a minimal design, a continuous background color can be used to set the tone and emotion of a site while an accent color is used to capture the viewer’s attention and highlight the most important features of a web site. A properly used accent color will be used sparingly and never draw the user’s eye to more than one bit of information at a time.

Authentic Style

The colors embedded in a minimal web design play a huge role in the feeling a site conveys. From sleek and sophisticated black and white designs to vibrant and bold colors across the spectrum, minimalistic web design is not prejudice to any color.

Typography

Designs that have been stripped of all the unnecessary bells and whistles place extra emphasis on the content. Naturally, this magnifies the importance of well thought out typography.

With fewer distractions for the user, it comes down to the text to maintain attention and develop the flow of the web site.

Finch

As the internet grows to embrace more flexible options for typefaces, the art of typography is finding a major foothold in the hearts and minds of web designers. Minimal designs are some of the best ways to showcase what can be done with well-selected type, as they should be.

The typefaces that you decide to use — and the way that you implement them — will leave a lasting impression of your design. Typography has the power to convey structural importance and will add a lot of personality to any site. The basic choice between using a serif or sans serif font can be anything but a simple one.

Be sure to embrace the variety of text styles available to you. Going beyond changes in size and color and into leading, kerning, weight and style will open up a wide array of possibilities for your content to help build up your site structure.

Brian Hoff

Layout Structure

Having a minimal design does not always imply a simple site structure. Oftentimes, dialing back the visual overload of a site means turning up the effort put into an intelligent layout.

Not many things can destroy the effectiveness of a minimal web design quite like a poorly thought out site structure.

Is your logo in a relevant location? Is your site navigation easy to find and convenient to use? These are huge questions that will make or break the functionality of your site without over-the-top graphics to back these important elements up.

Corporate Risk Watch

If your design requires users to think about how they should use it or look around for the content they need, then you are breaking one of the cardinal rules of web design.

Even though we see many well-executed minimal designs are brilliantly easy to navigate and visually index, they are not inherently that way. Instead, a massive amount of effort and great visual sense is required to pull off such a natural flow that seems effortless.

Jason Santa Maria

Negative Space

The art of properly spacing content will separate the men from the boys in any area of design — and when the goal is to make less mean more, negative space becomes one of the most powerful tools available to designers.

Go To China

Varying amounts of negative space acts as a subconscious visual guide, giving us important feedback on what items on the screen are the most important.

Simply put: The more an item stands alone, the more attention it is going to get.

Additionally, negative space is used to group similar bits of information together which helps to solidify the structure of a design.

The empty space between these information groups gives our eyes and brains a needed break from information. As a designer, it’s easy to want to fill this space with graphics and pretty doodads to look at, but acting on these urges will quickly result in a cluttered and disorganized design.

Genocom

Find the Balance

With all of this talk about taking away and avoiding graphical gluttony, it may seem as though images are the enemy here.

On the contrary, a minimal design allows images to hold even more meaning. The increase in negative space and the use of simple color palettes in a minimal web design provide images with a real opportunity to shine as true focal points of the screen.

Sofa

An important concept to remember when placing graphics or images is the need to maintain a balance. Does your image work to support the content at hand? Avoid placing images for the sake of consuming space or displaying color, make sure they hold relevance to the content and support what your users are reading.

In some cases, elements such as infographics, charts or pictures can serve to clean your site up even more. They say "a picture is worth a thousand words" — and if you can use a picture to replace a thousand words, then do so!

Angus Parrilla

Along the same lines, charts and graphs can be a more intelligent way to display information and actually be less sloppy in your minimal design than several paragraphs of verbal explanation.

What to Take Home

At the end of the day, it is most important to understand what goals we hope to achieve with a minimal web design. If you are building a minimal web design for the sake of trying out a new trend, then you have all of the wrong reasons.

More than just another trend, minimalism transcends the medium of the internet or the computer and holds a place in art, architecture and even philosophy. Minimalism is the practice of putting forward only the most important message and removing unwanted distractions.

Having an entirely minimal design will not always suit the needs of a design project. As a matter of fact, more often than not, you will find that minimalism will not be the right fit for the task at hand. However, it is always important to underscore the principles of communicating information in a minimalistic nature.

How About You?

Have you tried to express minimalism in your projects? Or have you found some of the theories behind minimalism important in executing parts of more traditional projects?

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About the Author

Jason Gross is a freelance web designer focused on creating clean and user friendly web sites. Jason currently lives in Indiana and can be found on Twitter as @JasonAGross or on the web at his personal blog and portfolio.

63 Comments

Mladen Berakovic

August 23rd, 2010

Really great article mate! :) Good job.

Bea

August 23rd, 2010

Thanks for the post!

I will have agree with you that minimalism doesn’t necessarily have to use black and white alone. It’s the smart way of using color to create harmony in the simplicity of the design. And it’s probably the balance in the design that makes minimalism great.

Bryan Barrera

August 23rd, 2010

Great Article.
I find minimal design to be very visually pleasing…Less is more.

Joel

August 23rd, 2010

nicely written!

Ben

August 23rd, 2010

Love minimalism, that GoToChina is really nice.

Check out my attempt at minimalism with my portfolio (http://www.ehhwhat.co.uk).

ed.inc

August 23rd, 2010

nice!!!! keep it up!
next time i oso like to create a website like this.
thks alot.

Jamie

August 23rd, 2010

This is what i love, and is also what i tried to go for with http://www.twitgeek.net – inspired somewhat by google somewhat i guess – kings of minimalism for a homepage!

Jamal

August 23rd, 2010

Nice article!

Sarven Capadisli

August 23rd, 2010

I think designers more often than not blindly worship the quote: “perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” It is a design principle that should be used only where appropriate.

The article suggests to “start removing”, however, doing and undoing (or removing) is a time suck, and can be inappropriate when least expected. In my opinion, a better approach would be to simply add when it is a must. One should use their intuition as a guideline.

I wrote a little bit about Edward Tufte’s 1+1 >= 3. It highlights the relationship between negative space and the quote above.

Wdp

August 23rd, 2010

i love negative space!

Gerhard

August 23rd, 2010

Thank you for a great article.. I am not a designer by trade, but I do find it a very interesting field. (I’m a front-end coder)

I wish I had this artcle when I designed my site: somebigideas.com

Marius

August 23rd, 2010

This article just came in right place at the right moment. I’m in need to build minimal design site, so will use the guidelines and hope to end up with outstanding results.

Rupnarayan Bhattacharya

August 23rd, 2010

Great article, the information is really useful. Thanks for sharing.

Exionyte

August 23rd, 2010

I love Minimalistic design, its ‘simpliticly’ is great to look at! thanks for the share

AnthonyE

August 23rd, 2010

I really enjoyed the Negative Space Example!!

Edwin Ortega Bu

August 23rd, 2010

Awesome post…. sometimes : “less is more”

Matthew

August 23rd, 2010

Thanks for sharing this great article.

I had an attempt at minimalistic design by designing http://www.jquerypop.com

Max Luzuriaga

August 23rd, 2010

Great post, Jason!

I really love minimalistic web designs, especially the type-heavy ones.

In addition to looking great, minimalistic designs can really do wonders for your User Experience!

Jennifer R

August 23rd, 2010

Nice post man :)

el desalmado

August 23rd, 2010

Great links. We went that mininal line here http://www.lalonchera.es

KK

August 24th, 2010

Always big fan of minimalism in web design. Great post!

Rozi

August 24th, 2010

Minimalism really a great way to simplify design. Sometimes, people get bored with cluttered design. Minimalism give huge empty space and free reader mind.

Eric Rowell

August 24th, 2010

Excellent! I’m glad to see articles like this that help redefine what “web design” really is. People often times associate “web design” with the process of making original, artistic looking web pages. Although this does indeed help with site branding, the real “art” of web design is creating pages that are functional and intuitive. Minimalism is definitely a critical component when creating intuitive web pages. Thanks for the article!

david

August 24th, 2010

I have always been a fan of minimalistic design and that has continued to grow as i have become more and more involved in web design. However, i mainly work on commercial websites, often it’s not really appropriate to present a minimal design to the client.

Really interesting article.

Phil Zeelte

August 24th, 2010

Great Article. For me minimalistic design is to take away everything until you only have the necessary core components and to then not over do them.

Erwin Schro

August 24th, 2010

Thanks for the article. Adding my reference in how to make a good minimalist web design. Tried one at my site but i think there are some part that needs to be adjusted based on what I’ve read on this article.

Daniel Cheeseman

August 24th, 2010

I love finches website, I think its very minimalist, love his logo too. I find it really hard to design minimalist as I alway see little bit that would look good here and there and within a day its cluttered!!! Keep up the great posts.

TheodorosPloumis

August 24th, 2010

The first minimalistic design I created was the one of mine!
http://theodorosploumis.com. I must admire that i was working on it for more than 3 weeks. Finally I used black and white colors and a clean navigation on the top.
I look forward to create more minimalist designs in the future because of the web 2.0 directives…

Kristin

August 24th, 2010

“I jam econo.” (Minutemen style.) To strip things down to the essence – get rid of pretentions, clutter, noise and distractions – is something I try to live my life by, and how I design or illustrate. It’s not always easy. Stuff creeps in, like spiders in your closets, and periodically you have to clean them all out.

I like minimalist design because you have to think very clearly what the message you want to communicate is. You want to focus attention, not disperse it.

Now….if only we could get the rest of the folks we deal with on a daily basis to think this way instead of begging us to cram every spec of space with more more more.

Aidan

August 24th, 2010

Minimalism seems to be hitting the trend these days. Whether it’s in design or even development/coding, this form of art that I perceive as will comes in handy when you need to make amendment in future.

Stu Collett

August 25th, 2010

Really nice article.

Jonathan Wilcock

August 25th, 2010

Prefer the subtly different phrase ‘simplicity’ over ‘minimalism’. Minimalism can sometimes seem cold or too intellectual – depending on your audience of course. With a squillion marketing messages trying to invade our heads every day, simplicity is often the key.

On a related note, think you’ll like this http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2010/08/how-limitations-improve-design/

Theo

August 25th, 2010

I appreciate this article, i love minimalistic design !

Mike

August 25th, 2010

Minimalism is a great use of space. But like all trends and design style they are to be used if its right for the concept. McDonalds probably wouldn’t use that style as they want big bold and in your face marketing.

It’s all in what fits. You see alot of personal portfolios recently following this ‘trend’ but do half of the people think about why they are using it?

I personally didn’t go minimalist for my site (http://mysweetdesign.com) love it or hate i wanted a certain look that minimalism couldn’t give me.

If you go minimalist do it with style!

Lisa

August 25th, 2010

Nice minimalist website guide – Less is more! Great perspective and insight, Thanks. LT

Niubi

August 25th, 2010

Nice article, but minimalism is just the trend at the moment, a kind of kickback against the clutter of geocities 1990s style sites. We need to find a happy medium between the two! I nominate sites like ebay and dubli as the way forward.

David Calhoun

August 25th, 2010

Fantastic article. Very helpful and informative.

Vivoo creative

August 25th, 2010

Great article, I love minimalist work =)

StudioDino

August 25th, 2010

Information over presentation…nice article.

Ujjwal Trivedi

August 26th, 2010

Luvd the Sofa one…

I love this clutter-less approach to design. Gives a lot of impact!

Sakshi Kathuria

August 27th, 2010

hi, I learned some great nd important tips from this article which will be useful for me. Thanks for sharing this inportant article.

Cris

August 27th, 2010

this is strongly negative graphic space in positive energy value:
http://www.kreativehouse.it

Richard Kotze

August 28th, 2010

Excellent article – Designing a site using negitive space is definitely trick and requires some skill.

david praznik

August 28th, 2010

tnx for sharing this useful post.

Lauren

August 29th, 2010

Thank you, when designing, I am not minimally-inclined what-so-ever. I was badly in need of the reminder to resist unnecessary ornamentation, and that negative space can be even more effective

Paul Dukes

August 29th, 2010

Minimalism is something I’ve been struggling with for a while, even before getting into design. This article quickly hits all the high notes and lets me get back to work, a bit more informed and ready to start trimming the fat. Keep’em coming.

Martin Oxby

August 30th, 2010

Really helpful article – thank you. Quick question – does going truly minimal make SEO much harder, or due to the fact that only what needs to be there is there, does it improve SEO due to increased identity within the page? Thanks!

Jason Gross

August 31st, 2010

@Martin

If anything a minimal design improves SEO, especially for sites focused on a long-tail SEO principle. A minimalist design should have a clean look and clean code; search engines love clean code!

The article mentions having clean and organized typography, part of this is to have header and paragraph tags that make sense. When you keep all of these elements in order your site structure is easier to determine for robots.

Thanks for your comment!

Heryien

September 1st, 2010

i love minimalism.
great post.

thanks

Pritesh

September 1st, 2010

I love minimal designs…
by reducing all the clutter you can convey much more in a short amount of time

Dave Ghent

September 1st, 2010

Great summary. I learned a few things from your article. Thank you.

Craig

September 2nd, 2010

I love the simplicity of minimalism. It’s so easy to want to over design something, great summary

Derek Land

September 3rd, 2010

I agree with you points about typography. However, I would add (not arguing) that there is a fine difference between simply stripping away everything but type and then actually designing minimalism – the popular design cliche nowadays is simply a ginormous text header with some preppy wording, which in itself does not make minimalism, and yet many people are doing and sadly, getting featured right and left for it.

There are details of design that go into great minimalism, whether it’s a unique icon set that compliments the look and feel or the precise spacing of a grid-based layout.

Great read. Thanks Jason!

Benjamin

September 7th, 2010

This is a good article.its help me something much.

Volker Schaefer

November 1st, 2010

Wow, great designs!

For me this is the most important message:

“Minimalism is the practice of putting forward only the most important message and removing unwanted distractions.”

Till Kleinert

November 26th, 2010

thank you for your good and informative article on web design minimalist. 50 Beautiful Clean and Simple Web Designs are a great inspiration. Unfortunately, too often the customer says what he wants or does not want :-)

Sam Kitson

February 3rd, 2011

Great article. Making good use of negative space does work wonders for getting key messages across to site visitors. If your canvas is mainly black and/or white, subtle use of colours is also another great way of drawing the eye to the important parts. Top marks!

Swift Creations

March 7th, 2011

Great article. To me it seems when creating minimalistic sites great fonts are very important!

Erwin

March 24th, 2011

Nicely written! I think as a professional, minimalism is the challenge of finding balance between “removing unwanted distractions” and not delivering something that is just plain boring.

Alex

April 25th, 2011

Great Article Jason,

I am fan of Minimalism Design, but unfortunately most of my customers don’t accept that kind of designs, however I am trying to convince them for acceptance as in point of view of usability minimal designs should be most usable!

Thanks for the article!

Fredrik Delin

June 2nd, 2011

This is so true. When we created our agency website (click my name) the guideline was precisely that: “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Crazy to have an agency portfolio minus the portfolio I know ;)

Viron Media

August 9th, 2011

Great article. I’m a big fan of minimalist design, but unfotunately it can be tricky to offer it to clients who want good SEO. Optimised content is such a huge ranking factor, so with minimal content, it doesn’t give it a good foundation. However, you can still achieve great traffic through viral media campaigns and social media.

Sergio

September 15th, 2011

This is one of the most nicely written articles I’ve ever read. Congratulations, Jason.

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