Keep It Simple, Stupid. That acronym has served to inform web designers the world over for nearly a decade. As the mobile web takes over and more users browse on smartphones and tablets, the need for websites that are easy to browse, aesthetically pleasing, and resource-light has never been greater.
It’s no surprise, then, that minimalist web design has enjoyed such a renaissance – to the extent that some people contend it may have gone too far.
“The issue with flat design is that it has become too powerful,” writes Usabilla’s Oliver McGough. “We’re at a stage where creativity is being stifled in preference of sticking to a template that ‘works’. Where sites are becoming generic, sites are conforming. Usability is being sacrificed because… flat design works, right?”
He’s not wrong. But he’s also not seeing the full picture here. Sure, a minimalist design taken too far is a bad thing. But such a design principle itself doesn’t stifle creativity – not in the least.
Because here’s the thing – minimalist design isn’t just isolated to the web. It’s actually been around a lot longer than computers. A lot longer even than electricity.
Smashing Magazine’s Nick Babich points to Japanese art and culture as one example of minimalism’s origins. Look at traditional art and architecture from the country – it favors balance and simplicity. It relishes in the elegant beauty of minimalism.
Are Japanese works of art less creative because they’re minimalist? Is Japanese architecture inferior to its Western cousins because it’s simpler? No. So why is a flat website less ‘creative’ than a rich one?
At its core, minimalism is about the effective use of negative space. It’s about focusing exclusively on the essential elements of your site and positioning them as effectively as possible. It’s about striking a balance between simplicity, functionality, and visual appeal.
That word – balance – is key. And Nick Babich offers some excellent advice on how to manage it:
- Have a single focal point per screen. Don’t try to fit more than one element on a page. Each ‘page’ on your site should serve a single purpose, and serve it well.
- Provide excellent content. Minimalist design means you can’t simply flood users with content – you need to offer them only your best. Your best images, your best blog posts, your best pieces of advice…put your best foot forward, always.
- Simplify your navigation – and shape it to how your users browse. Pretty self-explanatory, this one.
- Understand that minimalism doesn’t work for every website. A minimalist aesthetic works well for a portfolio or a landing page, but it’s less functional if you’re hosting an event or a digital storefront. Use minimalism appropriately – and understand that it’s not the be-all and end-all of web design.
So, to get back to our original question. Is there such a thing as too simple? Sure – but if you understand the best practices and principles behind a minimalist design, you won’t need to worry about it.
Max Emelianov started HostForWeb in 2001. In his role as HostForWeb’s CEO, he focuses on teamwork and providing the best support for his customers while delivering cutting-edge web hosting services.