A few months ago, I was heading down the Chicago River on an architecture tour, and while listening to our tour guide talk about all the brilliantly designed skyscrapers and structures, a rush of joy ran over me as I stared at the AMA Plaza. This wonderfully minimal building was designed by perhaps the most important architect of the 20th century, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
It was Mies who was the first champion of the minimalist design movement in the US, and is first quoted with the saying “Less is more.”
Minimalism is a way of stripping down a design, whether it be architectural, print or web based, to only its essential elements, and thus giving it more with less. It’s design at its most basic. It forces the design of a website to have purpose.
What’s so interesting about very little? Isn’t that easy to do? Over the years I’ve heard these and similar questions when it comes to minimalistic design. While minimalism may appear simple or unexciting from the outside, a lot of thought, practice and time goes into the development of a minimalistic website.
Here are some important things to consider when thinking about a minimal web design.
Less is More
Like Mies said, less is more, and even though that was a long time ago, it still rings true today. If your webpage has too many components, the user might be confused about where to look, or misinterpret the priority of each component. A minimalist design brings the focus squarely on the content.
White Space is Your Friend
White space is maybe the most important element tied with minimalism. No matter how creative you are with it, a minimalist design without loads of white space is not really minimalist at all.
When a website has more white space surrounding elements, it creates less clutter and a modern, open feeling. The white space is also used to help balance the few elements that appear on the page.
Balance & Alignment
The relationship between visual elements such as photographs and type font is very important. A good design often guarantees that no one element vastly overpowers the other without a good reason. Minimalism pairs simpler images with the large and important copy, while taking the more textured and intricate images with small pieces of body copy, which helps fashion a balanced concord between each element on a given page.
Contrast is King
High contrast ratios are essential to a minimalist design. The bigger the contrast, the better. High contrast designs help put your site’s content and visual elements in the foreground, which provides the user with the most important content first.
Figure Out Functionality
Minimalism can extremely helpful for functionality. A clean, clear and uncluttered design can make navigation and legibility a walk in the park. Minimal design and the clear typographical hierarchy can make the navigation of a website quick, simple and functional.
Truly Direct Messages
Minimalism allows and forces (by having less copy in general) the user experience to be extremely direct with the user. With bold, engaging text, you have the opportunity to communicate strategic, pointed messages about your company and its services.
It’s a Timeless Design Trend
Minimalist design within your site creates a sense of timelessness. When there are fewer elements to the design, the less risky they are, and are less likely they are to go out of style or lose their functionality.
Some examples of this are Apple and Google – they have both had a few small changes over the years, but the white space, the emphasis on the content and imagery, and the decisive minimalism of the websites has kept their designs timeless.
Websites don’t need as much as we initially think. Over-designing can become a bit of a nasty habit for people, designers and non-designers alike. Fewer icons. Fewer colors. Less content. These are the decisions that lead to clean, airy and effective websites.
When something doesn’t feel right about your site, take a moment to step back and figure out why your website feels off. Perhaps it’s cluttered, hard to navigate or loud, and the right changes can help immensely. If you find yourself thinking, “something is missing”, it’s best to first remove things and see if that helps.
Thinking back on Mies’s AMA Plaza, its beauty and simplicity isn’t just for architecture, but can be seen and used in all forms of designs, including web design. Embracing a cleaner and functionally sound design direction can not only help create a gorgeous look and feel, but also give your site a truer, more strategic purpose.