The most common comments from my clients about their website design is “I want it simple,” or “I like this site because it’s clean,” or “I want it really minimal,” or some variation on these.
Why is minimal web design so popular?
Perhaps it’s because a lot of people are already intimidated by getting a website together, so they see a simple design as one thing they understand. Perhaps they have just always liked to visit clean websites, because the content is easy to read and the design doesn’t obstruct the writing.
Perhaps they’re worried about being listed in a “most ugly websites of 2013” article.
Websites shouldn’t be minimal just for the sake of being minimal. But there are lots of reasons why it’s a good idea. Here are just a few.
1. Don’t make people think
Or guess. Or hunt for the meaning. Or have to use a dictionary to understand what it is that you actually do.
For me, this is one of the most important aspects of having a clean, minimal website. Awhile ago, our very own Melinda introduced me to the book “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steven Krug. This book is essential reading for anyone who has a website, as it clearly outlines the important usability conventions in web design. If you make people think too much about what they need to click on, you will lose them. I hear what you’re saying: rules are meant to be broken! Well, yes, it’s OK to break some rules, but you really need to know what those rules are before you can break them!
2. Showcase content
If you read anything about creating content for the web, you will have come across the phrase “content is king.” Your content might be the written word, a product you’re selling, your company logo or a photograph. While everyone wants a nice-looking website, if your content isn’t good then people won’t stick around. Your website’s design should look great, but a more important consideration is that it supports the content well. Otherwise it’s just fluff.
3. Are timeless
Just like classic furniture design, fashion design or architecture, simple websites hold up to the test of time. I remember the first website I ever created. Like many people’s at the time, it was on Geocities. This was the age of “more is more,” as the web was still pretty new and everyone was putting everything they could on their site. This meant textured backgrounds, tables, multicoloured text, different font sizes and weights, animated gifs, styled mouse pointers and pop-ups galore. These gimmicks were like the shoulder pads of web design: very popular at the time, but looking back we wonder why we didn’t notice when our taste left the building.
4. Are tools for learning
Clean websites are easier to deconstruct than fussy, decorative ones. This is great for those who are learning how websites are put together, as the modules that make up a site are often more clearly designed. Now, as a web designer it might not be your primary goal to make your site easy to pull apart, but it is certainly a benefit for students!
5. Are accessible
Did you know that there are people using the Internet who can’t see very well, or at all? They might be viewing your site in inverse colours, with bigger text, on a special device, or they might even get the content read aloud to them by special software. Don’t leave them out! The simpler your site is, the easier it will be for everyone to be able to access your site.
6. Are scanned more easily
When was the last time you read every single word on a website? Yep, I didn’t think so. Web visitors scan your site just as they scan the newspaper, picking up headlines and keywords to see what they want to read more. Check out some website heat maps to get a better idea of how people scan online content, and make your site clean and easy to scan – your visitors will thank you for it.
7. Have less, but say more
Less is more. We’ve heard it related to many different things, and the Internet is no exception (tell that to Geocities!). Think about making a statement with the simplicity of your site. You could even make it a game to experiment with removing things from your design. How much can you strip away and still retain functionality?
8. Leave room for imagination
You want visitors to your website to contribute in the knowledge-making in some way, not to just passively consume. Minimal, clean web designs leave room for the visitor’s imagination, to feel free to explore at their own pace and not feel like they’re being “sold to.”
9. Are fast
We are an impatient lot, and the web is bursting at the seams with content. So how do we process it all? Like changing channels on a television, most web surfers bounce from site to site, taking in whatever they need before heading off to the next one. So what if yours is slow to load, because it’s bloated with graphics, animations and other bells and whistles? Well, unsurprisingly, people aren’t very likely to have the patience to stick with it.
Google wants the web to run faster – and you don’t want to get on their bad side!
10. Bring some drama
With empty space and design built on a grid, minimal websites often pack a dramatic punch. One central concept or graphic can take centre stage, and the eye is drawn to this one idea. Without a lot of conflicting messages and ads and links competing for the visitor’s attention, simple websites can give their content more drama by directing the user experience.
11. Are easier to change
OK, so you’ve just spent all this time and money on a new design. And now you want me to change it? Well, not necessarily, but one of the beautiful things about the web is that it’s dynamic. A change in design keeps things fresh, keeps people engaged and keeps up with the times. You can change your website as often as you like. But with a more complicated design, you might find it more time-consuming and off-putting to change things around. So keep it simple, and the change will flow.
12. Help to create thoughtful architecture
When a site is minimal, it’s easier to be straightforward with the way information is structured on the site. Remember, you don’t want to make people think too hard about how to get to the information they want, so structure your site in a logical and clear way. Hold off on the tricks: you might think they’re cool, but to the average visitor they are annoying and counterproductive.
13. Aren’t easy
It’s a myth that simple, minimal and clean designs are always easier to create. It’s actually a challenge to distil your design and your ideas down to just a few words of text and a punchy graphic. Good design is edited design. Your favourite minimal website may well have been a lot more cluttered until it was edited and restrained down to its current form.
14. Are inspiring
I’m always inspired when I see a minimal, clean website that does just what it’s supposed to do – and nothing more. It’s fresh, clean and exhilarating, unlike the bogged-down feeling of visiting a site with loads of flashy ads, animations and buttons everywhere.
So, keep all these reasons in mind when you are working on your next (restrained, minimal) web design, and simplicity will be a piece of cake (pop)!