In Defense of Minimal (Digital) Design

Posted 3 weeks ago by Andrei Korchagin

Overcomplicating things is not doing you any favors. Particularly with digital design, there are countless examples that are a loud and complex mess of elements that seem to evade, at all costs, the primary goal of the design itself — to clearly communicate something.

On the flip side, there’s a major trend nowadays with minimal design. Loads of whitespace, small font-sizes, limited color palettes, and generally as few design elements as possible.

To a degree, the style can be polarizing. It’s somewhat easy to get started with, since a designer doesn’t need to create a whole set of complex elements to have a finished product. Due to that, there’s a lower barrier of entry, so the prevalence is high. You can certainly half-ass a design and say that it’s “minimal”. No one will stop you. The result is that you have a lot of poorly thought-out examples, and a lot of excellent examples of this style.

Google’s homepage famously (and effectively) embodies the idea of “Keep It Simple, Stupid”

A finished result can often evoke a question of “well, what took you so long?” I think that’s the wrong way to think — on the contrary, minimal designs can be more difficult and time consuming as it forces you to really prioritize what is most necessary, and you must undergo the difficult process of “trimming the fat”, so to speak.

Taking it too far.

Don’t add extras for no reason

“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Not to argue that minimal designs are perfect just because they are minimal, or to even touch on the topic of perfection, but when you boil a design down to one of its fundamental qualities — to communicate — and you’re able to achieve that with less, then that’s an achievement.

“Less is more.”

When working on a design, I’ve often seen (and myself have been in) the position that a design feels incomplete, or needs something else. Typically, it’s very difficult to determine what exactly that is. I think that this isn’t the right way to look at things. As mentioned above, you shouldn’t be looking for what to add — but rather seeing what else could be taken away without dismantling the entire design.

Clarity is king

A minimal design also has benefits in terms of messaging. User attention span is known to be very low. You’re just one speck in an endless sea of online visual stimulation to them. You’ll need to see how to take an idea and convert it to the easiest possible message to understand — whether it be through wording, visuals, or both. Taking the less-is-more approach here tends to make the communication more straightforward. Clarity is really your ultimate goal, as you’re trying to communicate to users a certain idea, or getting them to buy something.

Don’t forget the technical benefits

If you have less nonsense on your page, it will load faster. If it loads faster, users are happier and they will buy more. It’s a simple correlation that has been proven time and time again. Particularly when considering a mobile-first approach, you need to keep page size down. Some websites nowadays become a monstrosity of effects and dubiously necessary functionality when in reality it adds very little (if anything) to the overall experience of the site.

“Keep it simple, stupid.”

Summing it up

Ultimately, there’s never a magic pill for how you should go about creating a digital design. There are stunning examples of every kind of design style that there is. There are also terrible examples. I think minimal designs can get a bad rap sometimes because they’re just easier to get started with. When done correctly, they can be brilliant in their simplicity. When done poorly, they perpetuate the stereotype. Consider them an elegant solution, used only when appropriate, rather than something that enables laziness.

This article was originally published on Andrei’s Medium page.

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NYC. Looking for what happens at the intersection of digital strategy and beautiful design. Visit me at https://andreikorchagin.com

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