Many people are familiar with minimalism’s core doctrine: “Less is more.” But implementing that tenet can be difficult. Case in point: In a series of eight experiments by researchers at the University of Virginia, when presented with a problem, most people considered what they could add to solve it and overlooked what they could remove.
Minimalism is a popular strategy in the digital design landscape. This approach aims to eliminate superfluous content from a website or app, making the most critical elements easier to navigate and fostering a better user experience. It’s also about prioritizing the interface features and content your users need to achieve their goals, such as deciding what to buy, where to open a bank account, or where to make a medical appointment.
Follow these four minimalist UX design strategies to create streamlined digital experiences that are intuitive and informative.
1. Guide Users With Formal Visual Elements
Formal elements like typography, color, layout, and photography should be more than visually pleasing. They should serve a purpose like directing the user’s attention or conveying meaning.
International Typographic Style had a significant influence on minimalist design. Also known as Swiss Style, the approach originated in Switzerland in the 1940s and 1950s and focused on clarity, employing legible typefaces like Helvetica, Folio, and Univers. These fonts are still used widely on minimalist websites and apps to communicate clearly and keep the emphasis on the content.
Alternatively, some minimalist sites use bold typography, contrasting otherwise limited stylistic elements. When used wisely, a bold and experimental typeface can draw immediate attention to the message you want to emphasize. You can match the color scheme of your text to colors in the images or illustrations on the page to create uniformity. As long as it enhances the product and doesn’t distract from your message, either approach to typography can be effective.
Color helps designers capture a viewer’s interest, but it shouldn’t overshadow the content. Including a limited set of colors can help you achieve that goal. Many minimalist websites use one to three colors, but color schemes don’t need to be monochromatic, grayscale, or neutral. Pops of bright color and contrast can grab and direct attention.
In addition to minimal typography, the Swiss Style relied heavily on the grid system, an organizational strategy that designers use to help them align content and create layouts that are consistent across pages and screen sizes. Using grids, designers can establish visual hierarchy and highlight important content—making pages easier to scan and navigate. Three common types of grids used in minimal interfaces are columns, modular, and hierarchical.
Photos and Illustrations
One of the benefits of using minimalist design elements is that their visual simplicity allows photos and illustrations to make more of an impact. Additionally, grid systems supply built-in padding that creates an aesthetically pleasing buffer between images and UI components.
A wide range of image styles harmonizes with the nondescript interface features found in minimalist sites. But when choosing an image direction, strive to complement the site’s overall tone and remember that every photo and illustration should serve a purpose and support users’ goals.
2. Strike a Balance Between Form and Function With Each Component
Using myriad graphics, animations, or videos can slow performance. On mobile, 53% of people are likely to close a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. The conversion rate of a website that loads in one second is three times higher than that of a site that loads in five seconds. Balancing form and function with each component, pattern, and interaction makes digital products faster, which creates a better user experience and boosts SEO ranking.
For example, in older interfaces, you might remember buttons appearing raised or browser tabs looking like physical folder tabs. These techniques—making UI elements appear three-dimensional by using effects like highlights or shadows and creating digital objects that resemble those from the physical world (known as skeuomorphism)—helped users learn to operate computers and mobile phones. Now, most people don’t need those cues.
Instead, the majority of digital products use flat design, a style in which UI components are two-dimensional and don’t mimic physical items. In one analysis, 96% of minimalist websites were flat. That’s because flat design elements load faster than those with 3D and skeuomorphic effects, and they offer improved contrast, which often leads to better findability of crucial UI components. It’s also easier for users to comprehend flat design iconography.
Removing extraneous effects helps supports minimalism’s goal of emphasizing essential elements. However, flat design isn’t necessarily minimalist. A page could be overcrowded even when composed of entirely flat components. And it’s important not to throw out anything that does indeed serve a function. For example, Nielsen Normal Group asserts that flat design lacks signifiers for clickable elements and recommends using an approach between flat and 3D design: flat 2.0, also known as neumorphism.
3. Harness the UX Power of Negative Space
Perhaps it’s unsurprising that space is one of the most integral minimalist elements. The area between components on a screen, known as negative space, adds emphasis to the content.
Negative space improves UX and offers several benefits: It creates breathing room to avoid overwhelming the user with information, emphasizes significant elements such as calls-to-action, and guides the reader through the content. For example, negative space makes it easier for users to read headers and copy on the page. Additionally, negative space enhances usability on mobile devices, where touch interactions—already imprecise—can be complicated by overcrowded UI elements. All of these outcomes result in a smoother experience for the user.
Although negative space is sometimes described as white space, it doesn’t need to be white. Many websites and apps employ full-color backdrops effectively.
4. Limit Product Options on the Page
In addition to carefully selecting the visual elements and components on each page, don’t forget to apply a minimalist lens to your product offerings. People tend to be overwhelmed if faced with too many options and too much information at once. Minimizing product options helps users avoid choice overload and makes desired actions more intuitive–creating a better experience for users and a more efficient sales funnel for brands.
Behavior analytics tools such as Hotjar and UserZoom offer insight into users’ interactions with webpages and content. Are there options that almost no one is clicking? Are there specific steps or pages where users are leaving the site? Digging into this data can help you determine if adjustments are needed.
When you can’t remove content entirely, breaking it into chunks or using progressive disclosure is another way to reduce cognitive overload. For example, on a page where people sign up for a bank account, you may be unable to remove information. In these cases, breaking the account-opening process into a few manageable steps and communicating progress can help users better absorb information and follow through on their goals.
Minimalism Is More Than an Aesthetic
In the digital world, where technology continually evolves, designers aim to create an extraordinary experience for users with frictionless design. Blending utility with visuals makes that experience happen.
Although visual elements can go in and out of style, the principles of minimalism are fundamental to creating user-friendly digital products. Minimalist UX design reduces cognitive overload, creates faster websites, and enables users to find what they seek. Minimalism isn’t just an aesthetic: These strategies create a better user experience that inspires lasting engagement.