Minimalism is the design concept where you build interfaces using only the most important elements. These websites often come out looking very clean and intuitive for users. The style has been adopted in many different fashions and today influences much of the modern web.
I want to share a few design tips towards building minimalist user interfaces. A cluttered web design harbors resentment in the eyes of many visitors. Too much information overload and you’ll send people running away! But with just the right balance you can put together exceptional user interfaces which are easy to build and even easier to use.
Plan for Necessity
When designing a mockup for a web layout be sure to plan each element in advance. Make sure your website is utilizing each bit of space with important details. A clean interface will happily leave extra open white space if this is beneficial to the overall experience.
I suggest making a sketch first of all the components your website should contain. Ask yourself if each area is really vital to the overall design. Do you need a sidebar section on the homepage? Does this contain important links every visitor will need to access? There is no right or wrong answer as it varies between project.
But you should have a keen internal sense of what feels right and what feels wrong. When you can understand which page elements are necessary then it makes your job a whole lot easier. Each small page section should fit into the bigger picture like a puzzle piece.
Paint with Basic Colors
This isn’t a hard and fast rule to follow but it does help during the initial design phases. When you look over other similar clean web layouts you’ll notice many of them cater to a specific color scheme. Black, white, and grey are very commonly held together with 1 or 2 other primary colors.
When you can start designing or even wireframing on a simple color scheme it leaves more room to focus on content. There is always a chance later to change colors and append new styles. But focusing primarily on the clean interface will always bring out your most talented work.
Make Navigation Simple
Simplicity is another word I like to associate with clean design. Users on your website should feel like it has been baby-proofed for non-techies. All page text should be fairly large and easy to read from a great distance.
Even your navigation links should be very straightforward and easy to pick up just skimming the page. I lean towards using extra styles such as tabs, toolbars, dropdowns, and other fancy design methods. This can become one focal point on your page and it works brilliantly paired with a navigation scheme.
But alternatively you could employ minimalist ideas into website navigation. Links formed towards the top or bottom of the page naturally draw attention from wandering eyes. People are conditioned to expect a top and/or bottom navigation. Putting on any additional colors or textures is really just to please user aesthetics.
Clear Out Redundant Areas
You may find yourself looking over a design to pinpoint a few areas of duplicate content. In some situations like a sidebar or footer block this redundant setup is helpful. Users don’t always want to scroll towards the top just to access specific links.
But your page space is likely small and there isn’t room for so much content. Almost everything you are displaying should be unique, and oftentimes links to other web pages(blog posts, press releases, videos…). Filter out the redundant ideas and replace them with newer more useful ones. Your visitors will get much more out of the experience.
Match your Page Elements
Using the new CSS3 properties it’s so easy to create many of the difficult effects we all love. Box shadows and rounded corners are two of my favorites – but there are so many others to list. When you are styling default HTML elements like forms and buttons you should pay attention to consistency.
I like cleaner interfaces which keep the default styles in-tact. This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy a customized layout. However I find that between Windows/OSX/Linux there are many differences in browsers and rendering engines. Unless you can test your site everywhere the majority of your audience will appreciate a linear experience.
Plenty of options are available for web developers looking to customize these elements. Form input fields are a great example because it’s difficult getting a consistent design between text inputs, dropdowns, sliders, radio boxes, and textareas. Check out our article on streamlined CSS properties and how you can incorporate these into your design.
Hopefully these tips can get you thinking with a minimalists mindset. Designing a clean user interface is actually a lot more work than it appears to be. You have to put yourself in the user’s shoes and see your website from their eyes. It can take months of practice but the artistic direction is phenomenal. If you have similar ideas for designing clean minimalist websites let us know your thoughts in the post discussion area below.