By Jacob Gube and Smashing Editorial Team
Minimalism, in the context of design, refers to simple, unadorned designs that embody only the most basic and fundamental needs. In art, it is a movement that has its roots in the post-World War II era, started by highly regarded minimalist artists such as Donald Judd, Carl Andre, and Robert Morris. Minimalism today refers to a certain style (or even a certain attitude or way of life) that transcends different fields, such as architecture, philosophy, law and, of course, Web design.
In this article, we explore the meaning of minimalism in the context of Web design. First, we’ll look at some features of a minimalist Web design in the hope of learning by way of deconstruction. Then, we’ll see a showcase of minimalist designs. Finally, you’ll find some useful resources on the topic of minimalism in Web design.
Showcase of clean and minimalist designs
Though there are different ways to achieve a minimalist Web design, and designers have varying definitions and interpretations of what minimalist Web design truly is, there are certainly some commonalities among what we can consider minimalist designs.
In the review below we’ll consider some common features and attribues of a minimalist Web design. However, let’s first take a look at some truly outstanding examples of excellent minimalist and clean web design.
1. Design is focused on the content
In minimalist designs the focus lies not on the visual presentation, but on the content — the information presented in a “naked”, clean and intuitive way. The property of being minimal refers to the structure of the layout; but it is the main task of every simple design to keep its functionality and communicate the information it is supposed to present.
The content is the focal point of the Web page, whether that content is a showcase of photography, Web designs, or writing. The design provides little to no distraction.
Autumn Whitehurst Illustration
In this Web design, the use of a plain white background and de-emphasized text makes your eyes gravitate towards the artwork.
When viewing this design, note where your eyes look first. Probably, you would have looked at either the large image or the “frieze” logo first.
2. Whitespace is the king…
To make it easy for readers to scan and read the content, minimal designs usually need a lot of whitespace to breathe. In some cases whitespace dominates in the design, taking 60-70% of the whole layout space. In such designs whitespace, while remaining passive, strongly bundles user’s attention on very few site elements and thus effectively influences users’ perception of the overall design.
Rule of thumbs: the fewer elements you have and the more whitespace you have, the more attention will each element in your design get.
Cameron.io uses whitespace as the primary element. Notice how little space is used by content and how strongly your attention is focused on the navigation menu and the blog posts. Please also notice that very calm, neutral and subtle colors are used.
3. Typography is the queen
Typography is used to convey messages to the user. Larger, bold text draws the user’s attention to the intended area. Careful use of color, size and style of text is used in the design phase to underscore important elements and make others less prominent.
i love typography
Notice how the large bold, centered logo on the page manages to grab your attention.
This design directs the user’s focus straight to the “featured” content (in this case, the most recent article of the author). Notice how your focus bypasses the logo, even though it appears before the “featured” content; completely the opposite of i love typography’s design, which directs you to the logo/website name.
4. Color palette consists of solid colors
The in-your-face, flashy, loud color schemes associated with Web 2.0 and vintage/retro design trends are avoided. Usually, designers pick one vibrant color and use it effectively to communicate the most important information presented on the site. Such elements are usually clickable; the number of these elements rarely exceeds 5-7.
5. Plain, solid white/gray or solid dark backgrounds are common
Solid backgrounds are effective especially when the content is vibrant and colorful (such as in design showcases). Plain colors doesn’t fight for users attention; instead, they support the readers and make it easy to actually scan the page when looking for the content. “Minimal” designg almost never have vibrant background images — patterns, textures and vivid colors are used very rarely.
The thumbnail project images really stand out from the solid white background.
The same concept applies to dark backgrounds.
6. A minimal number of colors
Many minimalist Web designs use only one to three colors, and page elements outside the content are often monochromatic. This again reduces distraction from the Web page content.
This design showcases a monochromatic color palette in the foreground.
In this design, page elements such as the logo, navigation bar and sidebar use different hues of gray.
7. Text-based logos instead of illustrative, iconic logos
Again, to uphold the concept of minimalism whereby you strip down the design to the bare, unadorned minimum, the logos of minimalist websites are plain and simple.
8. Clean right angles and lines in use
Very often clean right angles and lines are used instead of rounded and uneven edges. Rounded graphic elements, the main clichée of Web 2.0, and the uneven edges seen in grunge style are avoided in minimalist Web designs.
9. Minimal ? white, gray and black colors
White/black (or dark gray) is the typical color scheme of minimalist Web designs, but others use different colors to achieve the same goals.
10. Use of vibrant, colorful images
The use of colorful, bold images can enrich the visual impact of the design by providing a stark contrast to the muted, solid colors of the minimalist design elements.
11. Use of grid-based designs
Many minimalist designs use a grid-based layout to reflect the structured, right-angled, rigid nature of minimalism.
- New Minimalist in Web Design
A discussion of the “new minimalist” trend in Web design.
- Minimalist in Fashion Web Design
A discussion of minimalist Web designs in the fashion industry and possible reasons for choosing this style of design.
- Design 2.0: Minimalism, Transparency, and You
Learn the reasoning behind a design company’s choice of minimalism for its designs.
- The Anatomy of a Minimalistic Web Design
Steven Snell breaks down the different parts of a minimalist Web design.
- Is Minimalistic Design More Effective?
A showcase of minimalist designs by Adelle L. Charles.
- Administrative Debris
Ryan Tomayko talks about his journey into a minimalist design.
- Minimal Sites
A showcase of minimalistic web designs.