The Case for Minimalist Web Page Design

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With the increased affordability of web space and bandwidth, the growing use of high speed modems, and the abundance of implementation technologies like Flash, audio and video, comes the temptation to overuse them in web page design.

One important characteristic that has always differented good web designers from bad ones is the restrain in embracing every new technology that comes along. Good designers focus first on functionality (making sure that the web page achieves the objectives for which it was created) while bad designers rush to make gratuitous use of elements like graphics, flash animations and javascript, just “because they can” or because “it looks cool”.

Today, approximately ten years after the Internet started its exponential growth, and in spite all the technological developments, minimalist web page design still wins big over fancy, flashy, confusing design.

“Minimalism” is an term coined in the art and literature circles to describe a movement towards extreme simplification of form and color. Extrapolating the concept to web pages, it refers to layout, color scheme and other presentation aspects, to which the usability dimension has been added.

Minimalism is functionality and esthetics working together. In web design, minimalism involves removing all unnecesary frills, focusing on the user, and creating an interface that is at the same time pleasant to the eye, easy to navigate, intuitive, and effective in helping the user achieve his goals quickly and effortlessly.

Minimalism applies to many aspects of web design. For example:

The actual coding of the pages: when it comes to writing code for web pages, the use of cascading style sheets is a good excercise in minimalism; by concentrating the style definitions in one external file and then linking to it from each web page, we reduce the amount of code in each page, and, as a consequence, the pages will be smaller, will load faster, and will be easier to maintain.

The use of graphics: To use graphics only when absolutely necessary is another good example of minimalist web design. Graphics should add value to what is being presented, instead of being just decoration. Also, graphics should be optimized and be as lean as possible. Using relevant graphics, and using them sparingly, will eliminate clutter on a page, will make the content easier to understand, and will allow for quick page downloads, giving users what they want, faster.

The use of color: good web designers use color to separate the page into different categories, and to emphasize what is important. For example, each section of a navigation menu can be given a different color to indicate that the tasks are related. Also, the use of bright colors for buttons that we want users to click is a good way to emphasize the importance of that task. If everything on a page has color, nothing will be emphasized and the page will be a mess.

The use of ample white space: some web pages resemble those car dealership ads that we see in the Sunday paper: they’re so busy and chaotic that they make us want to scream. Reading from a computer screen is difficult, so we must strive to make it as easy as possible for our visitors. We can improve on-screen readability by separating the different sections of the page with plenty of white space. That is going to make our visitors more comfortable, and they will tend to hang around our site longer.

Legible and big-enough fonts: minimalism doesn’t mean making your fonts as small as possible. A good, minimalist page should use a screen-friendly font, like verdana, in a big enough size to be read effortlessly. Also, the number of font types per page should be limited to two or three: one for the headlines, one for the copy and possibly a third one for the navigation buttons. That’s it. The use of more fonts will make the page look busy and unattractive.

Search Engine Optimization: search engines don’t recognize images. They recognize text. Text is the favorite food of search engine spiders. Search engines also have trouble with Flash and Javascript. If you want your pages indexed quickly and have a better chance of doing well with the search engines, remember to design them with minimalism in mind: keep things simple and reduce as much as possible the use of Flash, Javascript and images.

By now you may already have a good idea of what we’re talking about. To illustrate it, we would like to conclude by presenting a random list of links to pages that we like, which have been designed with a minimalist web design approach:

Hewlett Packard ( http://www.hp.com )
Key Bank ( http://www.keybank.com )
In-Formation Design ( http://www.in-formation-design.com/services.html )
Nitrogen Interactive ( http://www.nitrogen.net.au )
Apple ( http://www.apple.com )
Jongrah Graphic Design ( http://www.jongrah.com/index.cfm )
Paypal ( http://www.paypal.com )
Interspire Software ( http://www.interspire.com )
Clean Page Marketing and Advertising ( http://www.cleanpage.com )
Newark1 Web Design ( http://www.newark.com )
Affinity New Media ( http://www.affinitynewmedia.com )
Kianta Web Design ( http://www.kianta.com )
Lancome ( http://www.lancome.com )
Hilton Harbor ( http://www.hilton.org.uk )
Nylon Technology ( http://www.nylontechnology.com )
Novastar Mortgage ( http://www.novastarmortgage.com )

Mario Sanchez publishes The Internet Digest ( http://www.theinternetdigest.net ), an internet marketing content site packed with useful articles and resources, and SEO Tutorial (http://www.seotutorial.info) where you can learn the basics of search engine optimization in four easy steps.

The Case for Minimalist Web Page Design
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