The Anatomy of a Minimalistic Web Design

Judging by the amount of interest created by two galleries, 25 Beautiful, Minimalistic Website Designs and 25 Beautiful, Minimalistic Website Designs – Part 2 , many of you have an appreciation for an attractive, yet simple, design. As a result, I’ve taken a look at what makes minimalistic designs successful and I’d like to share my thoughts here. I know that not everyone likes these types of designs, so your opinions of what is good design may will differ from mine.

If you appreciate websites with a minimalist design style, you’ll love our new gallery site Minimal Exhibit.

Plenty of White Space

One of the keys to minimalism in design is effective use of white space and a distinct lack of clutter. Of course white space doesn’t have to be white, it simply refers to open space in the design, whatever color that may be. Clutter can have several negative impacts on visitors. Most importantly, visitors have a hard time focusing on the most important parts of a page if it is cluttered. White space makes the contents of the page easier to digest.

Finch is an example of effective use of white space.

http://vandelaydesign.com/content/uploads/images/minimalistic/

Effective Typography


Creating a website with very few images and extra items is not that difficult, but creating one that looks good can be more of a challenge. Many of the best mimimalistic designs compensate for using less photos and graphics by making better use of typography. Excellent typography is capable of replacing many of the visual benefits that are lost by not using a lot of images. For this reason, typography is even more critical in a minimalistic design than it is for other styles of design.

Maximizing the Impact of Images

Effective minimalistic designs rely on making a strong impact with the few images and graphics that they do use, rather than making an impact by using a lot of them. It’s quality vs. quantity in a way. By using fewer images, those that are used are able to be more effect and draw more attention from visitors. The added whitespace also helps these images and graphics to stand out.

Effective Use of Color

Color choices are important for any design, but more so for minimalistic designs. With less busyness on the page, the color combinations play a larger role in the look of the site. There is nothing to hide poor color choices in a minimalistic design. Pages and sites that use a lot of images and photographs will get more color from these elements, a luxury that minimalistic designs do not have.

Color can be a very powerful method for helping particular content to stand out. The simplicity of a minimalistic design allow color choices to have more of an impact. Earlier I mentioned the importance of typography and how it can help to replace the need for images. Effectively combining color and typography can have significant results.

Ben Hulse uses a black background and only white and gray text, but the large image and the navigation work together to give the page a nice touch of color (go to the site and check out the navigation and how it interacts with the photo).

Ben Husle screen shot

Clarity of Purpose

One of the biggest reasons for using a simple design is that it is easier for visitors to quickly see the purpose of a website or a particular page, rather than being distracted by excessive things that are going on as well. With this approach you have better control over the message that is portrayed to visitors.

Mark Boulton Design uses the line “beautiful, simple design” to quickly get his message across to visitors.

Mark Boulton screen shot

Elimination of Extras

Minimalism is obviously a lack of anything that is not necessary. By getting rid of what is not needed, what is left has more of an impact on visitors.

When compared with most other news websites, The Morning News presents less to its visitors, which makes it easier to digest its content.

The Morning News screenshot

Focal Point

Many websites have so much going on that it’s difficult for visitors to know what is the focal point of the site, or what is most important. Simple websites have an advantage in that they can more effectively direct the visitor’s attention to the most important content of the page.

What’s Your Opinion?

Do you like or dislike this style of design? What would you add or take away from the points mentioned above?

Dave Walker recently left a comment on another post that I think is worth sharing here:

The use of the term ’simplistic’ worries me a little in the first couple of posts. I’ve always equated ’simplistic’ with a lazy or untalented designer trying to pull off a Dieter Rams design. I’ve had so many students try to describe their designs as ’simple’ or ‘clean’, I banned the term in the classroom.

To me, ’simple’ and ’simplistic’ are two very different terms. ‘Simple’ is phenominally hard to achieve, ’simplistic’ is a crude imitation of ’simple’ without the craftmanship or understanding of design. ‘Simple’ is seen as easy to do because the end result is so perfect. Imitators end up with ’simplistic’.

Things that are simple:

Apple’s 1st gen iPod Shuffle – unbelievably tactile

Paul Renner’s Futura typeface – many imitators, no competitors

Anything designed by Dieter Rams

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39 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Wayne Liew, January 17, 2008

    Simple and minimalistic theme is very eye-pleasing sometimes, especially when it goes hand-in-hand with a lot of contents. Having and colorful theme with a lot of words to digest can be too much for a reader since it is quite swallow two things at once.

    However, I find plain themes with plain typography boring. Take the screenshot that you have placed under Mark Boulton Design for example, if the outstanding fonts there are gone, it can be a lame design by a lazy designer (like what Dave said).

  • Dave Walker, January 17, 2008

    Thanks for the shout-out, Steven.

    I think one of the most important parts of minimalistic design is proportion and balance. Traditional ideas of balance (symmetrical and asymmetrical) are a starting point, but the tolerances in minimalistic design are so much tighter; you have to get it absolutely right or else.

    Proportion is even more important. Scale, colour, type; if the proportion of one of those elements is off in relation to any other element, the whole design is out of whack. Nowhere to hide in minimal design.

    Professional musicians have a saying about playing Mozart: Too easy for novices, too difficult for professionals.

    BTW, Gizmodo had a great article of the influence of Dieter Rams on Apple designer Christopher Ive.

  • betfair rakeback, January 17, 2008

    I’m sure this post will create buzz for your blog.because your design is so nice.and i also learn who can do web design?so thanks for shear with us.

  • Dog Tricks, January 17, 2008

    i am not good on commenting others article but this post is quite interesting. I do leave some comment. Really your designs are so good. Thanks for sharing. Keep up this work

  • Proinvestorsblog, January 17, 2008

    I love the designs you have, and the layout of your website. This article was very interesting.

    Thanks

  • Vandelay Design, January 17, 2008

    Wayne,
    I think a lot of people are with you on the idea that those types of designs can be boring. There’s no question that any website, even one that aims at minimalism, needs to have some type of visual appeal.

    Dave,
    Good point on balance. That’s not something I had really thought about initially, but it’s very evident when you see it. No where to hide is exactly right.

    Dog Tricks,
    The designs that are used in the post are not done by me. They are the work of other designers that I was simply referring too. Thanks for you feedback on the article.

  • Steve Kayser, January 17, 2008

    Question, what’s the best minimalistic (yet elegant) design for an E-zine? A Web Magazine that needs to be easy on the eyes, easy-to-use, but have the functionality to include video, audio, text and images? I publish a B2B e-zine with 135,000 subscribers. My design has spiraled out of control over the last 2 years becasue of the added new media content requirements. I use Veoh.com YouTube, Podcasts, Graphic cartoons, the works, but now it”s like I’m driving driving a 1963 Rambler on the German Autobahn in the fastlane maxxing out at 55 mph. Are there any great designs or looks out there for webzines (e-Zines) that you might suggesst? I’m going to redesign – and have looked , but they must be rare — or I am a terrible websearcher – becasue I haven’t seen much that was appealing. Best — Steve Kayser

  • Rob, January 18, 2008

    Nice article. I think typography is one of the most important areas of good web design. Get the text layout wrong and the images etc won’t matter.

  • Vandelay Design, January 18, 2008

    Steve,
    I don’t read any E-zines so I really don’t have any examples. It probably would be beneficial to look at some minimalistic blog themes since I would think they could be similar. I haven’t done any posts specifically on those types of blog themes, but I know others have. A Google search should find several lists of minimalistic themes. minimalism is difficult and almost impossible if there are going to be so many elements in the site itself. Most of the examples in the 2 galleries are fairly small sites, which are a good fit for this type of design. One that you might want to look at is http://www.themorningnews.org

  • David Bradley, January 23, 2008

    Minimalism seems to be a recurring theme in design in all walks of life. Sometimes, however, it can hit you by pure serendipity. I installed a new theme on my Sciencebase site but failed to upload the graphics. When I refreshed the page, before me was this sparse version of what I’d expected. I uploaded the graphics and iconography and it didn’t look half as good. So I removed them again to leave me with the minimalist version.

    db

  • Winnie Lim, January 24, 2008

    Kinda disagree with what an comment above by Wayne. Minimal design is under-rated and under-appreciated. A site like Mark Boulton’s is not just about using that big elegant headline. You take away the nice big headline, you’ll still get a nice minimal site, not a lame design as said.

    The core of the design effort from a site like Mark Boulton doesn’t lie in the fancy colors or graphics, but it’s in the use of white space, visual balance & hierarchy, and carefully set typography. Every little detail counts, from using a grid to the leading of the type. Even choosing a suitable font for the headline takes a trained design eye.

    People think it’s easy to design a site like that but the like many other people has said, one of the hardest thing to do in design is to make something look simple.

  • Dennison Uy - Graphic Designer, January 27, 2008

    Who else Googled Dieter Rams upon reading his name? I did, and boy this guy is awesome. Check out his Wikipedia entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieter_Rams

  • Business Pro Designs, January 28, 2008

    Nice article it is a good web design I really appreciate your thoughts.Keep going to complete the work.Please distribute your knowledge on web design.

  • Paradise Poker Rakeback, May 12, 2008

    Very well made points, plenty of whitespace and emphasis on the key features are the makings of a sticky website.

  • Diseño Web, July 7, 2008

    Agree with winnie.
    Minimalistic designs following usability basic guidelines could improve seriously your conversion (if you are selling products or offering any kind of service) that is directly related in how much time ur site (and of course your design) retains their visitors.

  • Michael C, December 2, 2008

    I have never given typography much thought on designing my websites until now. I’m going to go back and look at some of my sites and see if I can make them better. Thank you for the informative article.

  • Web Designer Abir, March 18, 2009

    Nice article. its good to see well designed websites. I really value your thoughts.

  • Logo Design India, April 28, 2009

    Great post.
    Really, didn’t know about focal points.

  • Diseño web, May 8, 2009

    Less ir more. In this times the minimalism is in all aspects of art: Desing, music, architecture. Sometimes the white space say more than a page full of images and text.

  • JD, July 10, 2009

    We sometimes forget that using less is something more quite often.

  • diseño web, November 4, 2009

    I share your opinion, I like the pages by far air (or space in target). Thanks for post

  • Megha, December 21, 2010

    I really appreciate good work. Must congratulate you for the awesome web designs.

  • bonus codes, February 14, 2011

    I totally agree with you on this post. I am not a designer, but usually go out on the web looking for templates that I can make use. And unfortunately there are so many web designs there that are visually heavy, to many images, colorful backgrounds that IMO do not send a positive / trusty feeling to visitors.

    White background seems to be working the best, with only contrast color in menu (depends on what you want to say) and as few images as possible that should be used a visual aid to what you are saying.