The Art of Simplicity – Designing Minimal Website Interfaces

You’d think that building a clean and minimal interface for your website would require less work, because it’s simpler, right? Wrong. In actual fact it requires a lot of discipline, ruthless decision-making and commitment to achieve clean and intuitive web design.

In this post I want to share a few things you should bear in mind when designing a good minimal interface for your website, as overloading your pages with information will have your users running for the hills. Getting the balance right depends on timing your content. Think about it like reading a book – the story is broken up into sections and reveals information over time, it’s not all presented to you in one hit. Staggering it like this lets users digest information gradually.

There are 3 key ingredients that will help you achieve this when you begin designing a minimal web interface.

1. Subject

What’s the most important thing on the page? And is it effectively keeping your users engaged and focused?

2. Usability

What things burden the user experience (UX)? What’s missing that could enhance the experience?

3. Balance

Do your pages have the appropriate visual hierarchy? And do elements and components have the correct visual weight?

These three elements should be used as a reference point at every stage of the design process, in order to help you assess whether any component of the web interface, be that navigation or a graphic, are absolutely necessary.

Create Space.

One of the first things to look at is the site structure and how this fits together. Can you combine categories? Can you strip any away? What’s irrelevant? By removing all superfluous content we are lightening the load when it comes to designing the actual layout of the content. We’re creating space, and the more space we have the more beneficial the overall experience will be.

Sketch and Wire frame.

I would always suggest making basic sketches or wireframes of any web design or web interface. It’s a very easy way to visualise the content in blocks so you can ask yourself what’s really vital to the overall design, then start to strip back things that really just don’t need to be there. By doing this you will now start to see what it is you’ll be designing. This process may feel like a waste of time but trust me it saves a lot of heartache in the long run. This is because you’re not being guided by aesthetic design, you’re being led by content. You can now start to ask yourself whether you need a news feed on the homepage, and if you have all the important links every visitor will need to navigate your website. Put yourself in the shoes of your users and think about what it is they actually need.

The Use of Colour.

You will notice that with most minimal websites the design generally revolves around three colours, black, white and grey, which are commonly held together with one or two primary colours. When you start designing or even wire framing using a basic colour palette will allow you to focus on the actual content. The use of colour should be held within your work / products, services or calls to action (e.g. buttons) which allows them to be amplified by the lack of colour surrounding them.

Keep Your Navigation Simple.

Your users shouldn’t have to think too hard. They should understand how to navigate the website within a few seconds of skim reading. You should keep the number of top-level links to a bare minimum – ideally below seven as a rule of thumb. Think about how you could maybe use icons to simplify and clarify a title link, or how you could use your sub navigation better with tabs, drop downs or toolbars. Using fixed headers or footers can also help keep navigation visible at all times so your users don’t have to scroll to jump out to other pages. All these techniques can help you strip your design back to a more minimal approach.

Images and fonts.

In a minimal website the most important element is the content. Since there’s less of it, it has to be at its best. Make sure your images are sharp, engaging and relevant. Make use of Google web fonts and use some stylish alternatives to native web fonts.

The Copy.

So what’s staying? What can you get rid of? How can you say it in a less words? Can you do it with no words? Maybe icons or images? In a minimal interface the copy is more important than ever, so you need to make sure it’s 100% streamlined and as engaging as possible.

And so…

Hopefully this post has given you some tips on how to best approach this kind of website interface design. Essentially, it’s all about putting yourself in your users’ shoes and thinking about your design from their point of view to create the best results. It can take a while to master this way of designing and thinking but the results will speak for themselves.

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