Why every website should embrace minimalism

Written by Tom Greenwood - August 14, 2018

The word minimalism is often associated with qualities such as clean, calm, modern, simple and stylish. It’s been around in concept for a long time and some believe it to be rooted in Japanese Zen philosophy, but minimalism gained widespread appeal in the 80’s contemporary art and architecture scenes, and more recently as an antidote to the stress, waste and clutter of modern consumer lifestyles.

Despite its benefits, minimalism has some negative connotations that limit its widespread appeal. Many see minimalist design as cold, stark, sterile and even boring. Sure, they may embrace the minimalist design of their iPhone, but it’s often a token minimalist accessory in otherwise non-minimalist lifestyles. It seems that many of us like the idea of minimalism more than we like the reality.

Minimalist web design

And so it is with websites. We might love the idea of less is more, but when reality kicks in, the desire to please everyone and have everything can often make more is more the most appealing philosophy.

Perhaps minimalist web design is really only appropriate for brands and products that are aimed at people who already love minimalism. Perhaps minimalist web design is just a design aesthetic that appeals to some people and not to others.

Screenshot of Apple.com (United Kingdom)
Apple’s products and websites famously follow a minimalist philosophy and aesthetic

This might to some extent be true but I believe that all websites should embrace minimalism. Not as a predefined aesthetic, but as a design philosophy. We must separate our preconceptions of minimalist style from the true design principles of minimalism. They may sometimes come together but they are not the same thing, in much the same way that wearing wooden sunglasses is not the same thing as being an environmentalist.

Even if your brand aesthetic is the antithesis of minimalist – perhaps warm, textured, intricate and detailed – there is still a lot of value to be gained from minimalist design principles.

Screenshot of beargrylls.com
Bear Grylls’ website is immersive, textured and layered, yet embodies the principles of minimalism

Here are 3 minimalist principles for all websites

1. Purpose

Minimalism requires the removal of anything that doesn’t have a purpose.

“Is it useful?”

“Who is it for?”

“Would they suffer if it wasn’t there?”

The answers to these questions are highly subjective and will vary depending on the audience and the scenario, but the discipline of justifying the existence of every design element helps to create more refined online experiences that focus the visitors’ attention on what really matters.

If in doubt, leave it out.

2. Space

Minimalism embraces the calm and peace that is created by the existence of space between objects. Commonly referred to as negative space but I prefer to call it positive space. We can debate how much space is the right amount, but we cannot debate that space is a good thing. It allows us to breath, to focus and to absorb information.

There’s a word for resisting the preservation of space – hoarding. Just as few people would want to stay in a bed and breakfast run by a hoarder, so too a few people would want to browse a website crammed with too much stuff.

The human mind has a finite ability to absorb information and when we overload it, we not only dilute the effectiveness of that information but we cause stress and anxiety to the user.

Space is good.

If in doubt, it’s always better to give your visitors a bit more.

3. Simplicity

Humans have evolved to be energy efficient, which is the polite way of saying that we are lazy. We instinctively always seek the path of least resistance to achieve our goals.

Why on earth then would we make things difficult for our users? Sure, we might want a very detailed, intricate aesthetic or to create a sense of interest and excitement, but that should never be at the expense of users fulfilling their goals online.

Whether it’s messaging, navigation structures, sign up processes or page layouts, we should always be striving to simplify wherever we can.

If you’re in doubt,  it’s clearly not simple enough.

Minimalism is for everyone

Minimalism is good for you regardless of whether or not you like what we perceive as the minimalist style. The principles and philosophy of minimalism are good for everyone. When we embrace it we create more meaningful, more enjoyable and more effortless user experiences. They’ll have better engagement and better conversion rates. What’s not to like?