Minimalism has been a mainstay in website design and UI/UX for a few years – yet it’s still at the top of prediction lists for trends in 2018.
There are a few simple reasons that drive this “trend”. First, neuroscience supports the claim that users prefer visiting sites where they instinctively know where everything is.
Cognitive overload is a major turnoff for users, and a cluttered design directly correlates with higher bounce rates. Conversely, high levels of fluency make users feel comfortable, minimizing mental effort and decreasing click-through rates.
If you have one goal for 2018, it should be to make your website more functionally minimalist. Let’s explore why it’s so popular and how you can leverage it for an improved user experience.
What Is Functional Minimalism?
Web designers sometimes and mistakenly consider minimalism a purely aesthetic choice. While minimalist design does add an artistic flair -one that has developed roots in interior design, architecture, and art for centuries- it also serves an important functional purpose.
Minimalism is a powerful technique in the realm of UX and web design and grew in response to visual complexity in older web design.
Think back, for a moment, to the Geocities sites of years past. They were cluttered with graphics, cartoonish fonts, and were generally hard to navigate. In the 1990s, a beta engine called Google introduced a simple search interface. Its homepage was dedicated to a large search function.
Aside from the branding, there was no other design element present. Its function was immediately clear, and users ditched Metacrawler and Ask Jeeves in favor of this new, minimalist design. Soon, other companies were following suit, and a minimalist movement in web design was born.
The reason for the shift is simple. The first is the notion of “cognitive fluency”. This principle states that the brain would rather think about things that are easy to think about. It’s why we naturally prefer sites where we know where everything is and where you’re supposed to take action. This ties directly into the theory of “mere exposure effect,” which essentially means that the more you’re exposed to a stimulus, the more likely you are to prefer it.
This is why most websites are prototypical. E-commerce sites all have large, attractive banners and attention-grabbing photos. Blogs have opt-ins on the right sidebar. When users are conditioned to expect one thing, but your website features another, you’re increasing cognitive overload and decreasing fluency. This affects your bounce rate and conversions.
The other relevant principle behind minimalism is that of chunking. George A. Miller of Princeton famously coined this theory, which states the adult brain can hold onto five to nine chunks of information within its working, or short-term, memory.
Working memory temporarily processes and stores information, but only for a matter of seconds. These chunks help you make decisions and focus your attention on the most important aspects of information.
In a website, “chunks” might be a product description, a CTA, a price, or an offer. If these chunks are easy to digest and you present them in a prototypical manner, users are more likely to take the desired action. Chunking, cognitive fluency, and minimalism all go hand-in-hand.
Making a Prototypical Minimalist Website
The guiding principle of minimalism is deceptively simple: less is more. Stripping a design down to its most basic elements and getting rid of the rest is the basic strategy behind functional minimalism.
Stripping a website down to its barest elements makes what remains stay at the forefront of a user’s mind.
A good minimalist design never detracts or distracts, but it also doesn’t hide useful content for the sake of aesthetic. This is a thin line to tread, and achieving balance requires a deliberate approach.
Secondary content, like primary navigation, can help create a minimalist feel while helping your users access information.
There are several different design elements that make websites functionally minimal. Some of the most common include:
• White space: Unsurprisingly, one of the most common elements in a minimalist design is whitespace or negative space. The more whitespace around an object, the more a user’s eye will be attracted to it. There’s a reason, for example, that Google’s home page is a plain white background with a brand and a single search bar.
• Flat texture: A minimalist design interface often utilizes flat graphic elements, icons, and textures. Shadows, color gradients, and 3D elements can be distracting and keep a user from completing a desired action.
• Simple yet effective use of color: Minimalist designs must still create visual interest. Minimalist designs typically use fewer colors in their websites, but creating an engaging visual hierarchy is still of upmost importance. Minimalism should never be boring.
• Typography: Using bold fonts automatically draws your user’s eye to your content. Some of the most effective uses of functional minimalism leverage visually interesting letterforms and bold typefaces. A caveat: make sure your content is meaningful enough to be worthy of such information.
• Photography: Building on the idea that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” minimalist designs often utilize dramatic images to create emotional connections and set a desired mood. The key to doing this effectively, however, is choosing photography that also evokes a minimalist feel. It wouldn’t make much sense to choose a busy photo that distracts a user. Opt for simple photography that evokes authentic emotions.
• Meaningful contrast: Since there are fewer design elements in play, designers must use their creativity to establish a visually interesting hierarchy. You can achieve this with effective use of contrast. Minimalist websites use contrast to great effect.
Simple Tips for Beginners
Want to increase your conversions, establish cognitive fluency, and make your website more attractive in 2018? Try applying some simple best practices that apply functional minimalism:
• Start above the fold. Just like a newspaper, you want your “above the fold” content to intrigue users. Put your high-level, dramatic content above the fold with plenty of white space. Your content density can increase as users scroll down.
• Limit yourself to one focal point per screen:Let each landing page focus on one concept, and center it around a single visual. Simple, easily digestible information improves your site’s fluency.
• Keep copy crisp. Explain your content without frills or flowery adjectives. Say only what you need to get your point across.
• Keep navigation simple. Good websites are easy to navigate. This is one of the hardest concepts for beginner designers to understand. Don’t hide your navigation for the sake of a minimalist aesthetic. Visible navigation options are a must for your users, so try something different than a hamburger menu.
Minimalist websites simplify the user experience by stripping a website down to its most basic elements and eliminating anything that’s unnecessary or doesn’t support a user’s goals. While following the “less is more” philosophy seems simple, it actually requires thoughtful execution and a lot of deliberation.
When executed well, a minimalist design combines usability with an aesthetically pleasing and usable design. Simple designs can be an incredibly effective form of communication, driving conversions and decreasing bounce rates.
To avoid confusion, try incorporating some of the basic elements and experiment with others as you grow more comfortable with the idea of minimalist design. Try applying some of these principles to your website for a more productive 2018.