Sculpture by Donald Judd
By Dan Licht (@thedvl)
Barebones, simple, exclusive. These are all words that spring to mind when thinking of minimal design. Minimalism has been around for quite some time. The ability to use just what is needed and nothing more. It’s no wonder that it has been highly utilized in interactive design. After all, the requirements of designing for the web have always been built on a foundation of limits. Back in the ’90s we were restricted to only 216 colors and minuscule file sizes. But minimal interactive design is alive and well.
Minimal design online isn’t new and in the sentences that follow I will dig into the trends, tools and practices that might work for your minimal design.
There are many places to find minimal design all over the interwebs. But before you look, you need to decide if it’s right for you. I am a firm believer in what might work for you may not be best for your users. Not every site will benefit from a minimal approach. But, there are always ways of making things simpler, even on the most robust of applications.
Now that you have decided to take the minimal approach, you have some decisions to make. Colors, fonts, layouts are all a critical part of minimalization.
Colors are subjective. But you must think about the content you are going to be presenting on your site. This is important. If you are going to have a lot of text then you need the colors to work. Why do you think printed literature is black text on a white page? ‘Cause its easier to read and lets the reader read comfortably for longer periods of time, as an example look at A List Apart. This is a great resource for those that build sites, but its strength is its readability. Your eyes don’t get tired and can read through an entire article easily. If, on the other hand, you are displaying images, you can use a sold color background that will not distract from your content. Again, white works very well: think of an art gallery or museum, white walls. But I will say that a nice muted neutral tone will work good as well. Take a site by Andy Gilmore, a talented artist whom I went to school with. He has multiple sites to display his various offerings, but this site is a great example of using darker backgrounds to present his pattern work.
To sum up, you should use at most 2 colors in your design, with an additional color in your background. A patterned or picture background is not recommended since it will just make it busier and busy isn’t minimal.
The next and very important decision you need to make is your font choice. This is actually fairly important, since in a truly minimal site the typography is your main visual expression or design device. Typography is very subjective and many styles work with a minimal design. I would stay away from script, or cutsie fonts (I stay away from cutsie fonts normally, ‘cept when designing for kids). Helvetica is a constant favorite for many reasons. But its brethren Frutiger and Univers also work very well. Slab serifs work nicely as do regular serifs. Though this truly work best in larger more impactful usage. Many favor small pixel or bitmap fonts for navigation or small text usage. http://andychung.ca/ is a good example of this. Andy is a very talented design/artist, his site is very minimal. It has a nice white background, clean typography, you can see he opted for a large serif style font for the main messaging but a smaller pixel font for the top menu. Though I would say that the color he chose makes it a bit hard to look at for extended periods of time.
When it comes to content there really isn’t a correct minimal type of content. It’s more the curation or creation of it. Content in a minimal site should also be… minimal. Surprise! But that doesn’t mean lack of content. It’s more about having a focus. Showing only a few types of content would be best. and making sure your content is created and presented is a manner that makes it fit in your minimal layout.
A great thing to happen to those who love minimal design and are creating online is the blogging platform. These have become for many the de facto method of getting their content online and because of this there are tons of great minimal templates out there. WordPress for instance is one of the top blogging platforms around. There is a whole movement of minimal templates designed specifically for WordPress. I will give as an example my own personal site. I use WordPress to manage the content but I have found and edited a very minimal template for it. Check out: www.thedvl.com to see.
Another great resource if you need to manage a site is Indexhibit. This was designed as an easy to manage CMS (content management tool) for an artist’s online portfolio. Their site www.indexhibit.org houses everything you need to get going. You will need some knowledge of FTP and installing on your server, but you already know all that don’t you? They also have a great section of all the sites using their system, great for inspiration.
So, take some time, think about what you can remove from your design so you only have what you need. Choose some clean fonts and stick with a limited color palette. After all that, make sure you choose the correct type of content, and a platform that might make it easier for you to manage your new wicked awesome minimal site.