Sometimes, less is more. It's a principle that today's online designers are increasingly coming to appreciate.
With the growing use of mobile devices and the complications of responsive design, minimalism is on the rise online. A style used in visual art since the start of the twentieth century, minimalism brings additional benefits to websites, in the shape of faster loading times and better compatibility between screen sizes. Its simplicity seems attuned to mobile browsing, without harming the desktop experience.
It helps here to distinguish the minimalist philosophy from the minimalist aesthetic, though both can be applied to web design.
The minimalist philosophy centres on the idea that you must design around the content. In web terms, the designer starts with rough content, then builds just enough interface for users to identify their goal and navigate to it easily.
The minimalist aesthetic is the visual representation of that philosophy. Minimalism uses a lot of white – or at least uniformly coloured – space. But don't confuse uncluttered with boring. You must choose your layouts with care, otherwise your restricted palette of design elements will come across as dull instead of elegant.
Below, we've collected 25 of our favourite minimalist sites to inspire you to do more by doing less.
01. iPad mini 3
Apple is no stranger to minimalism. The webpage for its new tablet, the iPad mini 3 uses lots of literal white space to draw attention to the product's sleek design. The clear top bar, also featuring an abundance of space, helps the user to navigate.
02. Bruno Triplet
If we had to choose one example of a minimalist site, it would be Bruno Triplet. Only two interactive elements distract from the hero image, of which one is the hamburger menu — a minimalist site's best friend when it comes to cutting down design elements. Minimalism is especially appropriate here: as a fabric designer, the texture of Triplet's products is crucial. The elegant look doesn't hurt the brand, either.
The lack of borders around the product pictures on footwear brand ETQ's site frees up a lot of space for a more casual visual flow. The corners are occupied with the essential interface functions, freeing up the majority of the screen for the product.
Minimalism is the preferred choice for fashion websites and those selling luxury items, like Italian brand Callens. The style gives an air of elegance and sophistication that lends itself to certain industries.
05. Beatbox Academy
This interactive online drumset is a promotional aid for music DVD collection Beatbox Academy. While the overall experience is fun and engaging, we would tweak the site by allowing it to scroll, rather than forcing users to navigate via arrow icons.
The elegance of minimalism also suggests professionalism, as barristers Derwent & Tamar Chambers demonstrate.
07. The Outpost
Beirut-based magazine The Outpost's site features dramatic typography: an integral part of minimalism. With a limited set of elements to work with, the designer must take full advantage of each one – and since words are almost always one of those elements, attention-grabbing typography is a useful tool.
08. Leen Heyne
Beside its jewellery, Leen Heyne's monochrome logo and company name are the only significant visual elements on its homepage. The surrounding expanse of white space makes it a safe bet the user's eyes will go back and forth between the two.
09. Velvet Hammer
Music management firm Velvet Hammer's site demonstrates the value of composition in minimalism. The two dominating visuals are poised symmetrically, all four corners are occupied, the entire scene is framed by a thick black border, and thin lines bisect the vertical and horizontal halves. At the center of the screen – though not the composition – is the brand name.
10. We Ain't Plastic
Contrast is another useful visual tactic for keeping minimalist designs interesting. German UX engineer Roland Lösslein's website We Ain't Plastic sets up a stark contrast in size between the central image and the text and icons above.
11. Carlo Barberis
Italian jewellers Carlo Barberis take advantage of the high-end attributes of minimalism, with little more than a hero image on each screen.
This screenshot from website-building service Squarespace illustrates the idea of one main point per screen. The site explains everything it needs in screen-by-screen bites, and groups together relevant blurbs on the same screen.
13. Mikiya Kobayashi
Few nations know minimalism better than the Japanese. Product designer Mikiya Kobayashi's site features only his brand name and a call to action asking the user to scroll, placing the focus on the intricacies of the products.
14. Nua Bikes
Nua Bikes' site is deceptively minimalist, because there are actually a lot of elements on the screen. However, by condensing the text and maximizing the white space, the firm is able to draw attention to its product, the bike.
Modelling agency Elite takes minimalist navigation to its extreme, with the focus on only two main pathways, and all the others tucked away in a hamburger menu.
16. Château d'Yquem
Winemaker Château d'Yquem combines minimalism and compartmentalisation in its site. Each compartment follows the minimalist philosophy with only a few elements revolving around a single concept. When combined, the compartments' size and location on screen create a visual hierarchy.
Italian luxury goods brand Bulgari is another company that uses creative techniques to keep its site interesting within its minimal framework. Side-to-side scrolling combines with an ingenious page-turning animation and high-quality photos.
Amusing, if possibly inane, Sendamessage.to lets people customise messages to friends with a hand gesture. The barren black background adds power to the main image and the bold white letters of the text.
The website for double-Michelin-starred Norwegian restaurant Maaemo uses minimalism to create a sense of class. The visual treatment is perfect for storytelling, as the site demonstrates with HD photos of dishes being created.
This black-and-white colour scheme and conformity of typography of this promotional site for sci-fi thriller Ex Machina keep the focus on the text – an interactive conversation with the film's star, the robot Ava.
The site for UK web design conference WXG is fundamentally minimalist. The faded X logo is the only thing to distract from the plain text against an empty black background.
The site for Facebook's Paper app has a layout that's so common, it could be a design trend on its own: a hero image of the product in a real context as a background, punctuated with a value statement and call to action, plus a simplified navigation menu at the top of the screen.
Icon font vendor Symbolset attracts attention to the interactive area in the middle of its site by minimising the competing elements and adding a brightly coloured background.
As an ecommerce site outside the luxury goods market, 'personal environment monitor' firm Lapka takes a risk with minimalism – which pays off in its site's unique feel.
We'll end with a site that's traditionally minimal. Design brand NTN uses the abundant white space, personality-infused typography, and reduced number of elements that the minimalist style is known for.
For a more in-depth analysis of minimalism and nine other modern web design techniques – including their most dominant traits, how to implement them, useful online design resources, and 165 hand-picked examples – check out UXPin's free ebook Web Design Book of Trends 2015-2016.
Words: Jerry Cao
Jerry Cao is a UX content strategist at the wireframing and prototyping app UXPin.
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