Less is more — How the minimalist approach can be powerful in digital design ?
Most recently, the redesign of Google’s G-Suite icons catches people’s attention. The previous quasi-physical icons have been unified into geometric shapes with Google’s rainbow color.
It must be a big decision to replace the icons since they have been rooted in users’ hearts for a long time. Regardless of people’s acceptance towards it, the intention of Google to unify and simplify this detail reminds me again of how minimalism is prevalent in today’s interface design.
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
As a user, I can totally appreciate the simple and elegant interface. The seamless experience brought by minimalistic design always makes me “Wow.” However, as a design beginner, I find myself very tempted to add more elements and features, resulting in a messy and incoherent interface. Therefore, I wish to write this article to help beginners adopt a minimalistic approach to their digital design and even apply the philosophy to a wider field.
What is minimalism in digital design? Why are they important?
In digital design, minimalism is about keeping it simple and calm. It is a harmonious combination of elements on the interface.
Minimalism is more than an aesthetic choice. As Steve Jobs mentioned, most people would consider the simplicity in design as a visual. In fact, it is about how the design works. Minimalism look indeed satisfies the tastes of mass users, but the ultimate goal of minimalism is usability and practicality.
Some researches have shown that what the customers value the most is how easy and quick they can get their content. Minimalism reduces the number of elements to a necessary amount. It provides clarity in navigation and emphasis on the content. Therefore, the whole user experience is empowered to be more efficient. Besides benefiting the customers, a minimalistic website is easy to maintain, too.
From a psychological point of view, a sleek interface can also convey a certain level of trust by showing that the company is confident with what they are providing, as they provide in a clarified way.
What are the essential elements in minimalistic design?
1. Empty Space
The proper use of empty space is state of the art in minimalism practice. More empty space means an emphasis on primary functionalities. Therefore, to arrange empty space appropriately, designers must do a lot of user research to decide on which functions to keep.
New designers like me sometimes neglect the importance of empty space. They are afraid of wasting spaces not to contain visual elements. To help beginners to start, you can arrange the white space from a macro and micro point of few.
Macro white space is taking charge of the whole layout and directing uses on the navigation. It balances out the visual of different components (i.e., button, text, typography) and enhances the page structure. Users can easily identify the functions on the page.
One best example to explain this the Google’s search engine, which adopts massive whitespace. Users do not face any distractions when entering their search words in the text box.
Micro white space is the space to separate individual images and texts. It improves the aesthetics of each component.
White space is set to give ways to real content on the page. Images, colors, and typography are going to dominate the white space. How to use these elements to fill in the white space is another state of art. One effective way to achieve a minimalistic look is to reduce the excessive variation in style and include contrast. The Instagram interface is an excellent example to explain.
In minimalism principle for typography, designers should work with fewer font types but more font style. Whether you have noticed or not, Instagram only uses one system font to display all its information, but they vary in shade (between black and grey) and thickness.
In contrast with the clean font, the curly word mark of Instagram aims to create a focal point on the page. It is very impressive and attention-grabbing as part of Instagram’s branding.
Instagram adopts contrast color black and white, which reduces the distraction to a large extent. It ensures that the background color won’t conflict with any color posted in the image.
Besides black and white, Instagram also has its unique gradient color. The smooth transition of the color from orange to blue symbolizes the change of sunlight from morning to evening. Although the design is minimalistic, it can convey a lot of information. Some internal icons also use this gradient color, which matches the logo.
4. Images and Icons
The icons are traced by single outlines in a minimalistic style. The frame images are in a regular rectangular shape, with a fixed width 1080 pixel. The rules here, standardize the page layout and contribute to a minimalist look on Instagram.
In all, the minimalist look on Instagram makes it easier for users to consume the content. The Instagram frame is designed to highlight the content inside perfectly. Therefore, it is even popular to hold the physical Instagram frame to take photos in events.
In the quest for minimalism design, the above principles, such as leaving white spaces, arranging visuals to highlight content, are also applicable to your personal life. You can “design” your life in a minimalist way.
Although minimalism is commonly seen in modern digital design, minimalism’s wisdom has existed for a long time. Minimalism origins from Japanese artistic patterns. In the mid 20 th century, western artists and architects began to incorporate bold geometrical shapes into their design. Until today, minimalism is not only an artistic movement, it is a lifestyle advocated by a lot of people.
Like designing a minimalistic interface or product, living a minimalist lifestyle is about desiring less and focusing more. It can be buying the thing only when needed. The joy of life doesn’t have to come from the possession of many stuffs, it can be the life experience itself.
At the end of the day, the subtraction ultimately leaves room for addition. Like design, the empty space you leave in your life helps you focus on the real substance. For example, getting rid of what is in the way, getting rid of the procrastination can help you get down to do what you have aspired for a long time.
Especially in today’s quite over-whelmed world, the importance of reducing distraction becomes emerging. How to avoid distractions from mobile phones, social media and peer pressure is the question to think about.
Minimalism Business Management
Besides personal life, more entrepreneurs have realized the benefit of incorporating minimalist philosophy in their business management.
Arranging white space in management means adding a certain level of freedom and flexibility in business. For example, business owners can streamline and automate their business processes and reduce human involvement in routine tasks, such as payment, reporting, notification, etc.
Adding white space in business is also cost-saving and satisfying. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, it has been more and more trending to work from home. Allowing employees to work remotely reduces various onsite work expenditures, and it gives employees more quality time with their family.
“Less is more, excepts when it is not”
In the end, I wish to be honest that, it can be tricky for new designers to achieve an optimal balance in minimalism. The practice for minimalism deisng must be an iterative process and a large amount of user research and user test is required. Similarly, to apply minimalism in lifestyle and business management, a deep reflection and constant refinement are necessary, too.
Start practicing minimalism and let the philosophy brings efficiency, clarity, and quality to your life.
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
— Leonardo da Vinci