Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

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Minimalism is achieved by reducing a design to only the most essential elements. Expressions of minimalism span multiple disciplines, as well as other art forms such as music and literature. For website designers, though, minimalism can be intimidating and difficult to master.

But anyone can master minimalism. Essentially, minimalism is about breaking things down to the barest elements necessary for a design to function. It’s about taking things away until nothing else can be removed without interfering with the purpose of the design. Below are a number of principles of minimalist design, as well as an exploration of current trends and additional examples.

You might also enjoy our previous article “Showcase of Clean and Minimalist Designs.”

[Offtopic: by the way, did you know that there is a Smashing eBook Series? Book #1 is Professional Web Design, 242 pages for just $9,90.]

Less Is More

“Less is more” is probably the most well-known catch phrase of the minimalist movement. It was popularized by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in describing the minimalist aesthetic.

In Web design, less is more is achieved by using only elements that are necessary to a given design. Using less to achieve an effect that’s more than the sum of the design’s parts is the goal.

Examples

North Kingdom
Simple, straightforward typography and a bare use of color make for a design that’s aesthetically pleasing but minimal.

Northkingdom in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Sleepover
A simple design that puts content above all other elements. The simple double-border above and below certain areas helps to delineate the content without cluttering the design.

Sleepover in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Lindvall A&D
The simple line-drawing of a chair, barely visible if you’re not looking for it, exemplifies the “less is more” ideology.

Lindvall in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Your Neighbors
Another simple design, this one with many more graphics.

Yourneighbors in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Sharpenr
Simple navigation and graphics add to the overall minimalist feel here. The graphics are bold enough that they have visual impact without adding clutter.

Sharpenr in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Omit Needless Things

In their book The Elements of Style, Strunk and White coined the phrase “Omit needless words.” It has been adapted to minimalist philosophy as, “Omit needless things.” In other words, don’t include unnecessary elements in your designs.

Think of what’s necessary to the content and function of your website. Then focus on only those things, and omit anything that doesn’t directly contribute to either the content or function. Remember, though, that certain design and graphical elements will directly affect the readability or usability of your website.

Examples

up&onward
A simple gray background, white borders around the images and simple typography are the minimum elements necessary for this page. If any were removed, the website would not have the impact that it does.

Upandonward in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Lachlan Bailey
A single image and vertical navigation are as simple as it gets.

Lachlanbailey in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Sarah Hultin
Another example of a single image and vertical navigation.

Sarahhultin in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Aleksei Dubrovsky
This website goes a step further and omits any images, opting instead for just a header and simple navigation.

Alekseidubrovsky1 in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Subtract Until It Breaks

When crafting an extremely minimalist design, try subtracting elements until the design stops working the way it should. When the website is on the verge of breaking, you know you’ve achieved the most minimalist design possible.

Remember that “breaks” is relative in design. Technical functionality is only one way to gauge whether something is broken. Usability considerations are equally important. Make sure your website is still user-friendly and delivers the experience you want visitors to have.

Examples

Anothercompany
A minimalist design with a single-column body and three-column footer. If any element was removed, the website would be less user-friendly.

Anothercompany in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Works in Silence
The elements of this information architecture, including the borders between sections and posts and the white space between columns, are vital to keeping everything visually pleasing, organized and readable.

Worksinsilence1 in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Brett Arthur Photo
Another great example of using a minimum of elements.

Brettarthur in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Danny Guy Photography
The black background sets this apart from many other ultra-minimalist designs. Notice the full-screen option in the lower-right of the image.

Dannyguy in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Brian Danaher
Another website that opts for a single column and bold typography.

Briandanaher in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Every Detail Counts

In a minimalist design, every detail has significance. What you choose to leave in is vital. A border around an image, the color palette, the white space, every part becomes important to the overall look and feel of the website when the elements are few.

Think of the feeling you want your website to give visitors, and then decide on the details that would impart that feeling. While many designers view minimalism as one size fits all, there is still room for different emotions based on individual design elements. A minimalist website can easily be funky and modern, fresh and clean, reserved and sophisticated, elegant and refined, or anything in between, based solely on its details.

Examples

Executive Edits
Details like the oversized typography in the header and the thin borders between elements make the Executive Edits website stand out.

Executiveedits in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Christine Szczupak Photography
The stylized arrows and subtle drop-shadow are important details that increase the visual appeal of this website.

Christinaszczupak in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Kha Hoang
The effect of the details here—circles, gray box, red typography—definitely add up to a lot more than the sum of the individual parts.

Khahoang in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

The Rules of a Gentleman
Everything from the thick black border at the top to the mix of typography make this website elegant and sophisticated.

Rulesofagentleman in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Ryan Willms
The spacing and arrangement of content here, along with the elegant typography and simple lines, make for a fresh design.

Ryanwillms in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Visual Craftsman
This has more detail than many minimalist websites, particularly with the border and other subtle graphics.

Visualcraftsman in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Electricgecko
The subtle colored box behind the content sets this design apart.

Electricgecko in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Color Minimally

Color takes on added significance in a minimalist design. Choosing the right palette or accent colors is vital. Many designers opt for a simple black, white and/or gray palette, but minimalism has room for any color in the rainbow.

Like details, color becomes critical with fewer elements. Pay attention to the meanings of the colors you choose and how they interact with one another.

Examples

Kyle Sollenberger Design
Subtle pastel colors set apart certain content here.

Kylesollenberger in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Pixelbot Webdesign
Bright colors stand out against this otherwise black-and-white design.

Pixelbot in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

MattBango.com
The shades of blue are subtle but highlight special areas of this otherwise black, white and gray design.

Mattbango in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Second and Park
Muted colors work well in a minimalist design, particularly when combined with gray.

Secondandpark in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Glinga
A simple website with a gray background and colored accents.

Glinga in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Deartoy
Another simple design with colored accents.

Deartoy in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Superawesome
Magenta is a popular accent color for minimalist sites.

Superawesome in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Thinking for a Living
A website with a lot more color than many other minimalist websites, but the palette is well thought out.

Thinkingforaliving in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Nation
Another colorful website with a great palette.

Nation in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

White Space Is Vital

White (or negative) space is the backbone of any minimalist design. What you leave out of a design is just as important as what you put in. White space is critical to emphasizing certain elements over others.

White space “makes” a design minimalist to a large extent. Without it, you’d end up with a grid design or grunge or some other style that’s not truly minimalist.

Examples

Rikcat Industries
Ample space between elements keeps this website from feeling cluttered.

Rikcatindustries in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Straightline
Another example of a ton of white space around elements.

Straightline in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

52 Weeks of UX
Filling every column on the page is not necessary, as evidenced here on the 52 Weeks of UX website.

52weeksofux in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Metro Gallery
The Metro Gallery pays a lot of attention to white space, right down the spacing of letters in its category headers.

Metrogallery in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Blank Studio
Ample white space is used here.

Blankstudio in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Trends

There are plenty of trends in minimalist design. Some have been around for so long that “trend” is probably not even the right word to use. In any case, the following elements are being put to good use in a variety of minimalist designs.

Gray

Gray is fundamental to minimalist design. Shades of it are used for backgrounds, text, images and pretty much all other elements, often combined with black and white or other colors.

Brian Hoff
Gray can be used as an accent, not just for typography or backgrounds.

Brianhoff in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Michael Cronin
Of course, gray also makes for a great background color, and it takes on a cool tone when combined with icy blue.

Michaelcronin in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Ross Gunter
Another very simple design with a gray background.

Rossgunter in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Sort Design
Medium gray allows for good contrast with typography, while also making a stronger impact in the background than light gray.

Sortdesign in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Jack Osborne
Gray lends itself particularly well to gradients.

Jackosborne in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

5-Squared
Combining multiple shades of gray lends visual interest without cluttering.

5squared in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Big Typography

Big typography is often used in place of images to add more graphic interest to a website.

Blake Allen Design
Oversized typography is used throughout this website.

Blakeallendesign in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Kyle Steed
Big typography is a popular choice for minimalist headers. It makes an impact while also conveying vital information.

Kylesteed in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

EndGrain
Another example of oversized type in the header.

Endgrain in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Dunnodt
Combining different-sized fonts is a great way to add visual interest without clutter.

Dunnodt in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Words Are Pictures
Large typography is also popular as an accent, rather than a focal point.

Wordsarepictures in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Ryan Evans
Another website that combines multiple font sizes. It’s a great fit when the page has little content.

Ryanevans in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Tiny Villain
Varying the size and color of type makes for an arresting design.

Tinyvillain in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Division Paris
Another great example of big typography in the header.

Divisionparis in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Background Patterns and Images

Subtle background patterns and bold images can add a huge visual interest to a minimalist design.

Jeroenhoman.com
A subtle grunge pattern gives this design an edgy feel.

Jeroenhoman in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Neiman Group
Keeping the background image in grayscale adds visual interest without adding clutter.

Neimangroup in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

IdeaPaint
A large background image is still minimalist when the rest of the website’s content is very simple.

Ideapaint in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Bunton
The subtle texture and pattern in this background is aesthetically pleasing without being overwhelming.

Bunton in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Francesco Fonte
Another subtle grunge pattern.

Francescofonte in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Caitlin Worthington Photography
This taupe grunge pattern is unexpected.

Caitlinworthington in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Simple Grids

Grids aren’t necessarily minimalist by nature, but simple ones can bring order to a bare design.

Fitzroy & Finn
Simple grids make sense for organizing equally sized images.

Fitzroyandfinn in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Brand New
A simple grid like this organizes without adding complexity.

Brandnew in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Design Woop
A more traditional grid design that has plenty of white space to keep things looking minimal.

Designwoop in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Fortyone
Another great example of using simple grids to organize images, this time including text.

Fortyone in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Things
This simple-looking grid belies the careful thought that went into it.

Things1 in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Corporate Risk Watch
This grid is set apart by the roll-over effects in the navigation (visit the website to check them out) and the subtle grid lines.

Corporateriskwatch in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Positively Melancholy
A simple grid like this works well for organizing different-sized images, too.

Positivelymelancholy in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Circles

Circles can be found on many minimalist websites. I’m not sure whether designers who like circles are more inclined to have a minimalist aesthetic or whether they choose circles because they fit minimalist designs particularly well. In any case, circles are often found in headers and are also used as accents in navigation.

iLTD
A simple circular logo in the header.

Iltd1 in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Simon J Hunter
Another circle in the header, this time with a monogram.

Simonjhunter in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Frank Chimero
Another circular monogram for a logo.

Frankchimero in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Indextwo
And another.

Indextwo in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Leica
Leica’s logo is a bright red circle, used across its products and marketing materials, including its website.

Leica in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

io
And another.

Ioadv in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Bless
Circular badges like this are also popular.

Bless in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Alex Cornell
A circular logo with a more abstract design.

Alexcornell in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Royale
Circles aren’t just used for logos, though. Here’s a great example of a circle used for content.

Royale in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Bonus: Transparency

This isn’t really a trend per se, because it’s not often seen in minimalist designs. But it can make a huge visual impact and should really be used more by minimalist designers.

Slideshow Press
The subtle transparency in the logo gives this design an added dimension without creating clutter.

Slideshowpress in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

More Examples

Here are some more examples to inspire you.

Brancozero
Brancozero in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

FLOWmarket
Flowmarket in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Circus Family
Circusfamily in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Reknit
Reknit in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Dracula Studio
Draculastudio in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Zachary Pulman
Zacharypulman in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Laboixeta
Laboixeta in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

SkilledConcept
Skilledconcept in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Days with My Father
Dayswithmyfather in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

NeueBlanc
Neueblanc in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Winkreative
Winkreative in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Madewithpixels
Madewithpixels in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Acne Production
Acneproduction in Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Further Resources

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© Cameron Chapman for Smashing Magazine, 2010. | Permalink | 91 comments | Add to del.icio.us | Digg this | Stumble on StumbleUpon! | Tweet it! | Submit to Reddit | Forum Smashing Magazine
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