UI design – 10 steps for great user interfaces Pt9-Minimalism

UI design feature images - minimalism

Table of Contents

In previous part of UI design series you learned bunch of stuff about images and how to optimize their use to get maximum boost. In short, to pump up your design with visual steroids. Today, you are going to explore another current big trend and that is minimalism. It is a bit of paradox, but minimalism, as an art or movement, is one of the hardest to master. There is plethora of things you have to learn to be able to work with this style.

Minimalism in design

If there would be any style that influenced design in global degree in the last few years, it would be minimalism. No doubt about it. Minimalism has such an influence on the world, it is impossible to go through day without seeing it somewhere. From food packages in stores, organization of products in shop window to web. All these examples embraces minimalism to some degree or at least try to. All that sounds interesting, but what is minimalism about?

“Minimalism refers to anything that is spare or stripped to its essentials.”

The core idea of minimalism, as the term “minimal” suggest, refers to anything that is spare or stripped to its essentials. The goal of designer / artist is to focus on the essential idea while getting rid of anything that is not necessary, “Black Square” painted by Kazimir Malevich is great example. In the beginning, you have to find the most important message, mood or statement you want to communicate and then relentlessly remove everything else.

This can sound to extreme, but it is what pure minimalism is about. If you want to say A, you will not add B, C and D. You will say A loudly, without any decoration or explanation. Take a look at “Voice of Fire” painted by Barnett Newman. However, this is easier said than done. There is a narrow edge you should not cross to keep the design working (communicating the message, doing some function) while also keeping it minimal. Below, you can find six tips to achieve this. For more, you can dive into the blog archive as well.

No.9: Master minimalism

First thing you can do to communicate your message through the design as loud as you need is to use solid colors. I know choosing the best color and setting up the palette is not an easy task. If you dive deeper into color theory, it can overwhelm you in the first moment. However, if you want to be successful designer, cannot afford to be afraid of colors. In some situations, it might be the client who is holding you back. What to do then?

“Remember, solid colors can be all your design needs to succeed.”

There are two things you can do. First, keep you mouth shut and follow the instructions. Second is to experiment. Work a bit harder, duplicate the file or make a backup with what your client want and then let your creativity play. Try different hues, add a bit of shade or tint here and there, but not too much. Keep the color as pure and solid as possible. That is the way. Be loud and bold! Remember, solid colors can be all your design needs to succeed.

Second step to achieve minimalism is to omit the redundant. Plain simple … If it is not necessary for the design or the function, get rid of it. It does not need to be there. When answering the question of what is the most important, or the ONE, thing focus on the function your design should have. What is the purpose of it? Why should someone use it at all? How it will make someone’s life better?

Remember, it is about omitting the needless to show what’s important.

You are the creator and you should know the answer to these questions before you start doing anything. Every design, be it a product like website, app, device, food or a service, tells some story. Think about it like a book. Start on the first page and guide the user to the very last while removing every barrier or distraction on the way. Try books like “The One Thing” by Gary Keller, “Essentialism” by Greg McKeown and “The Laws of Simplicity” by John Maeda. Remember, it is about omitting the needless to show what’s important.

OK. Everything redundant is gone and now the design is half empty. Damn, what to put there? The answer is nothing. Don’t elements or objects somewhere just because there is a bit of space left. Embrace the mantra “less is more” instead. Understand, just because you showed less than you naturally would does not mean you have to add something else. That would be nonsense. Removing features and options will not lead to catastrophe or a drama.

Remember, less is more.”

Actually, research have show again and again that the more choices you or your user will have, the more difficult for her it will be to choose. Think about this shopping example. You want to buy new shirt. Simple and easy until you enter the store. White, black, red, blue, green, grey, brown, with sleeves, without sleeves, with half sleeves, with collar or without, with picture or withoutGot it? Remember, less is more!

One thing minimalism does great is using whitespace. Since there is nothing redundant and no clutter, elements and objects presented in design can breathe. Whitespace is often misunderstood and even seen as an enemy. This cannot be further from the truth. What’s more, some people even cautiously work toward eliminating it. What they should do instead is to embrace and focus on mastering the whitespace so they can use it as an advantage.

“Remember, whitespace is your friend.”

Few reasons to support this statement … Whitespace will allow the elements breath and communicate freely. It will help you create visual hierarchy that will serve the user as a roadmap. When done right, it will attract user’s attention to places or objects where it should be. It will also prevent the user from being overwhelm or paralyzed by huge amount of information. Remember, whitespace is your friend.

Another thing minimalism is about is being bold. You cannot argue with this. One thing to achieve this boldness is by using big fonts. Listen, I’m not talking about 18 pixels or, God forbid, 24 pixels(!). You need to make it really BIG. For example, let’s say you are working on a website that will include some hero image with text over it. How about to implement a simple and big heading … 42 or 72 pixels maybe?

“Remember, be bold and use big fonts.”

Are you designing a new package for some product or cover for a magazine? Again, use big and bold HEADING to show customers who is this one-man show about (the product on package, not you). Successful design communicate with people in simple, clear and easy to understand words. You don’t have to read any manual go through dictionary to get the point. Remember, be bold and use big fonts.

Last thing that will help you achieve minimalism is using visuals. People will always prefer visual elements over another. They will also catch the attention in the shortest time and can easily stir our emotions. Think about it. What will most likely leave a mark on you? Plain text about something in Ghana in the newspaper, newsflash in the radio about some crisis in Africa or a big photo showing crying mother with baby in her arms running across the street from crowd of armed rebels?

“Remember, use visual elements to support the design.”

You can probably see that picture in your mind like real right now. By the way, photo is the winner. Visual elements will always be the best way to communicate with people in the shortest amount of time. This is why we use icons and symbols so much. Elements such as icons are also universal and easy to understand, language and culture independent. What’s more, visuals can make the communication between design and user faster and less prone to mistakes. Remember, use visual elements to support the design.

Final words

This is the end of part 9 of UI design series. You navigated through the calm levels of minimalism getting some new knowledge along. Let’s summarize it. Solid colors can be all standing between your design and success. True minimalism is about omitting the needless so you can present what is important. You now know that less is more and that whitespace is your friend. Also, you should be bolder and use big fonts. Last, visual elements can be the one thing you design need so use them.

That’s all! Thank you very much for your time and patience spent on this post about minimalism in design. In the next and also the last part of UI design – 10 steps for great user interfaces you will learn some great tips about handling errors.

What are your thoughts about minimalism and its role in design?

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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