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Minimalist Design: Why It's the Web Design Trend to Watch

Despite sometimes feeling like a new trend, minimalist design has been around for a long time — but it’s only in recent years that it has been widely embraced as a standard design choice for big brands.
Stephen Meehan.
Stephen Meehan November 2018
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It is especially popular with web design right now, and this is one trend that is not going away for a while to come.

Here’s a detailed look at minimalist design, including why it’s so popular and how you can use it in your own website.

A brief overview of minimalist design

Even if you don’t know exactly what minimalist design involves, you must have seen it, because it’s been around for a long time. In fact, it’s a fundamental part of design — the concept of “less is more” — that gets used without thinking about it.

Minimalist design is characterised by space and simplicity. Its focus is on stripping layouts down to the vital elements and not allowing anything else to get in the way. Everything about it emphasises clarity, from the colours to the typography. Once the basics have been covered, additional elements are introduced very carefully — if at all.

Why is it so popular?

Minimalist design has long been popular, but it’s become even more so recently. In short, it’s popular because it works so well, and it has many benefits — especially when it comes to web design.

Minimalism in web design is about emphasising the content of the site instead of the design elements. When a user lands on a minimalist site, nothing gets in the way. All the focus is on the content of the site, and they are not distracted by anything else.

It takes a back-to-basics approach to create a timeless appearance that is simple and clean. This helps to get the message across, which is the purpose of good design. For some great examples of how pervasive this trends is, try looking at online businesses for sale and their ranges of products — notice anything they all have in common? Yes, you guessed it: lots of spacing, simple layouts, and digestible grid systems.

Being so simple, it can also help to speed up page loading times, which is important for SEO and user experience. As such, a clean design could even help to keep people on the website for longer. It is particularly useful for responsive websites.

How the big tech companies use minimalism

One of the reasons for minimalism exploding in popularity is Google using it for all of its designs. Google Search is a good example of minimalism, and has used a simple interface since the beginning. If you look at the search page, it has one simple function, and that’s essentially it. Everything else was removed or left out to begin with.

Google has since taken this further with its focus on Material Design. This is Google’s take on the minimalist trend, and constitutes a new design language that Google created. Inspired by ink and paper, this is web design distilled down to the basic elements.

Material design dates back to 2014, and it has become Google’s preferred design language. There were some big updates in 2018 to Gmail and Google Drive, which now have a focus on material design.

Flat design is another similar trend. Apple moved from skeuomorphism to this a few years ago, and it focuses on 2D user interfaces that have no depth. This has also proved to be popular over recent years.

How you can use minimalist design

So, all that said, how can you use this design method? Well, despite its simplicity, it takes a lot of planning by designers to create an effective minimalist design.

Decide on a goal for your content. What should people do on the page? How might they have reached it? Once you know what you want from the content, create your design accordingly. Planning is essential, and you must take a lot of care to ensure every element has a purpose, with every font or colour having a reason for being used.

You need to focus on simplifying interfaces and removing elements that are not essential to user tasks. You have to prioritise every element, and only use the ones with the most importance. Get rid of everything else so there are no distractions and nothing decorative. Everything must have a purpose.

But don’t make things difficult for the users. They still need to be able to access the menu, for example, so make sure it is easy to find. Otherwise it defeats the purpose. Make sure they can find the content they need, and focus on making the message clearer rather than creating confusion.

As noted, white space (or negative space) is also important. The design must not feel cramped, and this is one of the most important parts of minimalist design. There should be no shortage of empty space between the elements to emphasise them and show their value.

Regarding colour, don’t overuse it, but don’t stick to black and white either. Use a limited colour scheme relying on just a few colours to get the most out of them. As for typography, sans-serif is most common. The clean lines should be bold to stand out and draw attention to the content.

Contrast is also important. Black and white are popular, but you can use other highly contrasting colours. Try to pair opposing elements together (whether textual or graphical) to make everything pop. You can also use contrast through illustrations and photographs. Make them vivid and stand out, but keep them simple and don’t use anything too crowded.

Final thoughts

Minimalism is big right now, and it’s not going anywhere. It is likely to be an important design trend for a while to come, which is a good thing because it has a lot of benefits. It will change over time, but the basics will remain the same, and it will be fun to watch it evolve.

Could a minimalist website work for your business? It certainly has many benefits to offer, so talk to a designer and see whether you can take the minimal approach when getting your website redesigned.

Stephen Meehan.
Stephen Meehan
I'm a Manchester-based web designer and developer, and the founder of D3 Creative since 2005. My expertise includes collaborating with in-house marketing teams to redesign corporate websites.
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