If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that I’m a big fan of simplicity, usability and removing web clutter.
I recently read A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home at Zen Habits and it had quite an effect on me — and others too, if 2399 Diggs are anything to go by. There are clearly a number of strong benefits to simplicity in the home, but what about simplicity on the web?
This question got me thinking about the benefits of approaching our blogs, websites and content with a minimalist mindset. What follows will be a complete guide to creating a minimalist website. The guide is broken up into individual elements.
Complete minimalism isn’t for everyone but I hope you’ll consider each element individually and on its own merits. There may be just one or two minimalist things you could do to imbue your website with a little more simplicity and clarity.
What is minimalism?
For some, minimalism recalls images of white rooms with no color or features. In other words, reduction for its own case. Its correct meaning refers to the art movement of the same name, but it’s often used colloquially to “designate anything which is spare or stripped to its essentials.”
It’s this colloquial meaning which I’m discussing here. For me, minimalism means:
“… subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.” [Source] / removing any elements or words which do not support your content’s raison d’être / merging aesthetics and functionality / “… consciously choosing to have fewer things, but knowing that what you do have will be of high quality and truly worth cherishing.” [Source] / focusing on what is essential.
What are the advantages of web minimalism?
Most websites and blogs are filled with noise. Extraneous images, widgets, flashing advertisements and waffling text can be seen everywhere. In comparison, websites which focus on clarity and essential features can seem like zen gardens. They provide a refreshing break from the rest of the web and your readers will appreciate this sense of calm.
More importantly, stripping down your website will give more focus and strength to the things you want visitors to interact with most of all: its content, and other vital features.
The elements of simplicity
Saying more in less words. A refreshing minimalist design will not count for much if your content is puffy and bloated. Muhammad Saleem has given some excellent advice on communicating more meaning in less words.
The advantages of saying more in less words is that it increases clarity while decreasing the time investment needed to extract meaning from your content. This will add extra value to everything you write.
See it: [Copyblogger and The Laws of Simplicity]
. . .
Greater focus on content. A minimalist design means there is less to distract readers from interacting with your content. A minimalist design can also mean you need to do less work to make your text look visually interesting. If your website is covered in images and other high-intensity items then text will inevitably look bland in comparison. If the opposite tack is taken and the text is allowed to speak for itself the result can be quite elegant.
See it: [Daring Fireball, kottke.org and JustinBlanton.com]
. . .
Merging aesthetics and functionality. Most websites do both separately, housing content and navigational elements inside images and color arrangements which serve no other purpose than to be pretty.
Minimalist websites, however, do both at the same time, often allowing content and navigational elements to enter the realm of the aesthetic. This can be achieved by using text and fonts to create visual interest, or by using images as navigational elements. Text can also be used to create color and shape.
These approaches ensure visual elements don’t distract from your site’s essentials because they are your site’s essentials.
See it: [Huddle Together, Happy Cog, Bokardo and Readme.cc]
. . .
Make use of whitespace. The empty areas of your screen are called ‘whitespace’. Whitespace is often treated like a space waiting to be filled, or as wasted space. This is not so at all: after all, why do you think the pages of most books have such big margins?
White space helps to frame the elements on the page and focus our eyes. It also prevents the page from becoming so busy that our eyes find it difficult to navigate.
A note: whitespace does not have to be white!
See it: [Airbag Industries, JeremyBoles.com, Design Notes]
. . .
Make graphics useful. If you like graphics and want to use many of them, make sure most are useful beyond aesthetics. Use them to represent something, to link somewhere, or to help your visitors interact with your site. Graphics for their own sake can distract from the central message of your content.
See it: [Extratasty, Mark Bixby]
. . .
Make your content tall. A thinner header image allows more of your content to be seen in the first screen impression of your website. This can help to draw in new visitors to your site straight away, and increase the visual strength of your content.
See it: [Seth’s Blog, Paul Stamatiou’s Blog, kottke.org, JustinBlanton.com]
. . .
Declutter. The most important element of a minimalist website is that it be free of clutter. I’ve written 50 tips on removing clutter from your website which should give you some pointers on where to start.
Visitors do not come to your site for pretty widgets and bells and whistles. They come for the content and the essentials of any website: the comments, an about page, a contact page, archives, categories, RSS link, and a few other creative things. Removing unnecessary elements will increase the strength and potency of what’s important.
See it: [37signals, Coding Horror, Webreakstuff]
Here is a list of 10 minimalist blogs and 27 minimalist websites I drew on for some of the above examples. I also recommend A Guide to Creating a Minimalist Home, which inspired this post. It explains in more detail some of the benefits and principles of minimalism, and this post is respectfully named after it.