Sometimes less is more

Over the past several years a major trend in graphics for websites has been a move towards more minimalist designs. These generally have fairly complex code behind them and may include a variety of visual effects but will have a simpler, more orderly appearance, with limited colour palettes and an emphasis on directly presenting content. Other common features of this style are a flat design, use of negative space, limited user interface elements, and dramatic typography, the latter especially intended to make content stand out against a simpler background.

The main inspiration for the minimalist style of web design lies with the post-war artistic and architectural movement of the same name, which began in part as a reaction to the chaos of abstract expressionism. Similarly, minimalist web design developed out of the clutter of the 1990s-early 2000s internet, where many sites were little more than exercises in fitting as much as possible on a single page, often including gratuitous graphics and flash animations. The general idea is that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, and that while flash animations and the like have their place, many sites don’t need them. Google was an early adopter of this style, and its simple, utilitarian home page has barely changed since its first incarnation during the 1990s, despite the addition of more and more features as the company has grown. Moving forward, more orderly and simplistic designs for sites became more and more common through the mid-2000s, reaching a point where today the vast majority of recently developed sites are moving towards a minimalist feel. Similarly illustrative of the current popularity of minimalist designs is the interface on newer versions of Apple iOS and Microsoft Windows, from iOS 7 and Windows 8 onwards.

While more chaotic sites can at times look like the virtual equivalent of a bargain booze or a petrol station shop, with adverts, offers, and bright colours covering every inch of available space, most professional designers will be capable of creating an attractive, functional, and ‘maximalist’ website. But as so many recent successful site designs show, minimalism is what customers want. There are a number of reasons for this, the first being the increasing importance of getting the message of a site across as clearly and efficiently as possible, given the average user spends only around 10-20 seconds on a page.  A minimalist design works to make content stand out by framing it without dominating it, and means that content has to be polished and precise with no space wasted on unnecessary elements. This may appear to be a limitation, but by forcing the designer to think consciously about what features and content to include and where, it ensures that the message and unique selling position of a company are portrayed clearly and simply. Minimalist sites can also be beneficial for UX (user experience), important both for SEO (search engine optimisation) and for retaining the interest of visitors to a site. This is because a simple design focused on clarity makes for easy navigation and doesn’t include too many distractions from the essential information for which visitors will be looking. The minimalist style for a website, if professionally designed, is also generally aesthetically pleasing and likely to leave visitors with a favourable opinion of the brand it represents.

The aim of a minimalist website design is to present essential content and features directly and simply, without distractions. This does not mean that it’s as simple as cutting out a few elements, and it’s important to remember that the idea is not to be as minimalist as possible but rather to create the best possible experience for the user. It’s possible to make a site too simple, not giving enough information and making it harder to find through search engines, this can be avoided by thinking in terms of tasks for users in retrieving information and navigating around the site, and how these tasks can be made simple and efficient without leaving out any necessary features or content.


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