Your task is to design a minimalist website. Sounds easy, right? You just need to use a plain white background with a few images and buttons dotted around here and there. Nice and simple.
But how do you convey the website’s main message? Whereabouts should you place it on the page? And how are you going to guide people through their journey?
Obviously you need to keep it simple all the way through, but don’t confuse simplicity with indifference. Whilst the design itself must be clean, an awful lot of thought and organisation must be put into placement alone, amongst other things.
Before you begin, ask yourself one question: “What is the main purpose of this website?”
Our advice is to jot down both the question and answer then, throughout the design process, regularly refer back to them in order to make sure your work stays on track. If you need to, ask yourself additional questions to fine-tune and improve your process as you go along; this will help to eliminate any distractions that may weaken the website’s overall message.
Secondly, devise a list of elements your website should include, but be sure to go through this thoroughly beforehand, eliminating those you want and instead, focusing on those you need.
So, you’ve got your – let’s call them – purposes for the website. But what about the factors that must be included in the final design?
What are the essentials to minimalist website design?
Firstly, establish what the fundamentals are and make sure they’re prominent. A logo, an image, a few lines of text; if it’s necessary to the website’s overall message, then these elements should stand out.
Any area of a page that captures the user’s attention should only do so because you want it to. Cleverly placed colour (such as within a logo, for instance) can catch the eye and draw attention to other important elements on the page, subtly guiding people through a specific journey.
2. Blank space
Sometimes referred to as ‘White space’, clean backgrounds (not textured) prevent websites from becoming too busy. Negative space might sound a bit risky at first, but there’s really nothing to fear.
Black, white or dark coloured backgrounds help to avoid the impulse of cramming information into a page.
Whilst the initial temptation may be to fill this space, don’t! Stick to your guns and keep it plain; the blank space will ensure those areas that are in use serve a purpose.
Making sure items line up correctly might sound like nitpicking but, because we’re going for the minimalist look, it’s more important than ever.
Something that doesn’t quite line up on a page – even it’s only a pixel or two out – could be highly noticeable in a minimalist design and can really throw things off balance.
Play it safe by using a grid or structure that will ensure all elements (such as products) are aligned on the page and that the final website achieves a visual harmony.
When grouping imagery or text side-by-side, horizontal symmetry is vital in ensuring that the entire page shares equal weight both on the left and right hand side.
Similarly approximate symmetry is important when the elements on the page are various sizes as the weight must remain the same. For instance, say you’re using a large photo with smaller sections of text; whilst the individual sizes of each are different, you must ensure they are grouped in such a way that they remain in harmony with each other.
4. Priority elements
Arguably, a minimal website can be trickier to produce than its busier sibling. Take page organisation, for example – with a simple design, how can you get across what you want the user to do next?
Using size and colour to create a hierarchy can help to guide people through a specific path. Do you want someone to sign up to a newsletter or make contact? Tell them by making your ‘Sign-up’ or ‘Get in touch’ calls-to-action prominent both in terms of size and colour.
Before you do this though, ask yourself the following; have you first given the user all the information you want them to have? The last thing you want to do is confuse people; make sure the path is clear and the important information is laid out in front of them.
5. Focus on what’s needed
In other words, remove the unnecessary. Is there anything that currently detracts from the main message? Anything that may be guiding people down the wrong path?
Adding clever elements can produce a great visual effect, but unless they ultimately revert back to the main message, they’re just filling space.
So for this point, it’s time to look back at those notes you wrote down earlier; can you say with absolute certainty that these added elements are important to the overall message? Unless the answer to that question is “Yes”, it’s time to get rid!
6. User experience
A few years ago, good usability wasn’t really necessary. I mean, yes, it was an added bonus, but even five years ago, you could still get away with a website that was tough to navigate.
As design has developed, so have people’s expectations. They want to see more from a website and, if they struggle to find what they want, they will quite happily give up and go elsewhere.
Not only that but with search engines – particularly Google – making user experience part of their ranking factor, it’s even more important. If a website has a bad user experience with visitors continually bouncing or pogo-sticking (clicking back to the search results after landing on a page and not performing any other action), Google will know about it. If their statistics show people aren’t finding what they need, Google may reconsider how they rank that particular website.
That’s not to say you can’t be creative. As long as you maintain the functionality and easy-to-use elements – ultimately delivering your main message – there’s nothing to stop you having a bit of fun, and allowing users to have fun whilst navigating their way around.
Good usability includes:
- Ensuring there is a way for a person to know which page they’re on
- A way to go back
- A clear navigation
- Easy-to-identify and clickable links
- Easy-to-read text
Even though navigation is listed amongst many above, it really is an important thing to think about in its own right.
As a way to combat a seemingly never-ending list of necessary links placed along the top or side of a webpage, the hamburger menu was invented. Much more concise and easy blend in, the hamburger menu almost acts as a drop down, only revealing the full navigation when it’s needed by the user whilst simultaneously adhering to the clean design.
The only issue with this menu is you must know your audience. As it’s a fairly new design, older users may not be familiar with this feature; you may end up hiding vital navigation options and unwillingly frustrating people.
7. It’s not all black and white
Just because we’re going for a clean, minimalist design, it doesn’t mean you’re stuck with black and white. Plenty of minimal websites out there use bold, striking colours as part of emphasising their main message.
The trick is to know how to use colour. If you want to gently push people towards focusing on a particular area, place a logo or image using striking colour directly next to the area in question as a way to subtly draw the eye.
8. Large photography
Depending on the industry in question, sometimes a plain background, coloured or not, can seem a little disconcerting, particularly if it doesn’t fit in with the overall theme of the business.
In these cases, a picture is worth a thousand words. If the business relies heavily on imagery, don’t be afraid to use this within the design. Take, for instance, an image background – the familiarity of a photograph can evoke feelings of comfort and, if the business in question is a photographer, it just makes sense; they take photographs – what a perfect way to showcase this talent with an immediate example.
You don’t necessarily need to go the whole hog of a full image background if it seems a bit daunting. Instead, why not opt for a slightly smaller – but just as prominent – dramatic image placed nearer the top, or a slider to showcase more imagery?
Either way, just make sure you use high-resolution photos – “Minimalist Web Design + Pixelated Photography = Big No-No!”
Not only that, but you also need to ensure the minimal approach is continued within the topic of the image itself – use a busy photograph and you lose the entire simplicity of the design.
9. Get a second opinion
Ok, this one may sound obvious. It may even sound slightly patronising, but don’t dismiss it because asking a friend or family member to conduct a few tasks and watching how they navigate can be a real eye-opener.
- Can they buy a product?
- Can they make an enquiry?
- Can they find out more about the company?
By watching, you’ll be given an outsider’s perspective, together with a great opportunity to iron out the creases.
You may spot that they’re struggling to find something which, in the design stage, you didn’t notice – after all, Photoshop will only allow you to do so much. This is a great chance to you to fix these issues before the website is used by a real visitor.
10. Reach a happy medium
At the end of the day, you may not have full control over the design of a website. If you’re working on behalf of a client, for instance, they’ll get final say. Ultimately, it’s their website, their money so they’ll make the final decisions.
In that case, just do what you can to advise them. Find a balance and show them why you are making these choices. Can you provide them with examples of other websites that are using the same practices successfully? Explain how those websites have benefitted from this design and you’ll effectively be showing them how they can too.
But I’m just not feeling it...
Hey, not to worry! Minimalist web design isn’t to everyone’s tastes; at the end of the day, we’re all different. But you’ll also find that this design isn’t suitable for every application either.
Let’s say, for instance, the website in question will be for an extremely large online shop with thousands of products in their inventory. A minimal look simply won’t work as the business won’t benefit with so many products to browse – applying a minimalist layout would probably involve lots of white space, resulting in endless scrolling for the person visiting the site.
Websites containing advertising are also unlikely to work with a minimalist design as they’re basically going to look messy once adverts are placed on it, especially those using an ad server which delivers adverts based on user behaviour and removed any control the webmaster has over what goes on display.
Ultimately, creating a minimalist website is all about finding a balance; one that conveys a message on a simple design.
We’re constantly hearing the phrase “Less is more” and, as long as it’s done correctly, this statement rings true in web design. A business can make a real impact and leave a lasting impression in just a few short seconds as long as their website is clean and clear.
After all – “It’s the simple things in life that are the most extraordinary”.