Mobile: The Web’s New Minimalist Movement

Is it just me or is the popularity of mobile devices pushing a new minimalist movement in web design? Web design trends come and go from time to time: the dancing babies, suckerfish menus, rounded corners and ribbons have all graced the web with enthusiastic glee. But these are all more superficial things, style things. There is a movement growing in the web design community for a more minimal web, a user friendly web, a more semantic web where things have a purpose and reason for their existenc

the web's new minimalist movement

Is it just me or is the popularity of mobile devices pushing a new minimalist movement in web design? Web design trends come and go from time to time: the dancing babies, suckerfish menus, rounded corners and ribbons have all graced the web with enthusiastic glee. But these are all more superficial things, style things. There is a movement growing in the web design community for a more minimal web, a user friendly web, a more semantic web where things have a purpose and reason for their existence. And the new mobile revolution is taking us there.

Minimalism is Not Simple

minimalist movie posters

First of all, minimalism isn’t just being simple. Just because a website has a white background, no images and black text doesn’t mean it’s minimal, it means it’s simple. Minimalism is the movement of presenting elements in their fundamental purpose, it doesn’t mean presenting elements in their most simple form for everyone to understand. The primary focus of minimalism is the purpose and presenting that purpose in a clear meaningful way without dumbing it down.

We Eat Differently

old information

Because mobile devices are, well mobile, they make it possible for users to consume info when and where they want, which means they get really impatient when they have to slog through pages of non-useful junk in order to get what they want. Mobile devices are nurturing a user that browses smarter, knows what they want and is more social (and by social I mean they will tweet to their wife to pass the salt from across the table instead of just saying it). Users are demanding a more focused web experience: a web that is more purposeful, more effective, more useful and a web that will no longer waste their time.

Users are now consuming or eating information differently than they used to just a few years ago. Users can now easily reply to emails, read the latest Wilco album review and tweet about it all while comfortably sitting on their couches, with no mouse or keyboard. The touch screen revolution has made internet consumption fun again – that same feeling you got in ’95 after you loaded your AOL disk and waiting for your modem to connect.

The sheer restrictions of mobile devices (small screen sizes, smaller bandwidth, slower connection speeds) are pushing for a more minimalist web. In order to design a website to be useful to mobile devices it now must respond better to them. Sites now have to be fast to accommodate slower connections and be able to adjust to changing screen sizes.

Just Design Better, Gees

wire framing

So I guess the real question is – How do I achieve this new minimalism? Well, design better. No seriously, the days of poorly executed web sites and apps are over (unless you don’t care about success). No more can you simply just throw together an idea and wait for the Brink’s truck to roll up in your driveway. You need to design a more purposeful, more effective, more useful and more timely web site if you want it to succeed.

Have a Purpose

Before you whip out Photoshop and turn on your 960 grid layout layer – whip out your sketchbook, notepad or pile of sticky notes and clear up the goals for both, the owner and user. Make sure you focus the majority of your design time on the purpose and not on a clever logo that plays on the long domain name. The purpose of the website should be the very first thing – the focal point – the user is presented with and if you design for the purpose rather than the flash you will always maintain control over your design and hopefully your user.

Be Effective

Make effective use of important aspects of the design from color to typography to negative space. Too much color, not enough color, colors that are too bright or not bright enough are all distractions to the user of a mobile device. Use color where it is needed to make the most impact or to drive the purpose home.

Lots of images and icons are a bad idea for mobile devices as well. They take time to load and can be inconvenient to view on smaller screens, so make effective use of type. Well thought out typography can easily replace the meaning of any image and will be easily understood by the user.

Proper negative space (or white space) around text, buttons and links will allow the design to breathe and not be so cluttered. Cluttered site with small print and no negative space are extremely hard to view on mobile devices so make effective use of padding and margins in order to make the user comfy. Don’t worry about cramming everything onto the screen, with one swipe of the finger the user can easily view the entire page.

Make It Useful

Think about how the user will actually use the site when designing, instead of putting up hurdles and stumbling blocks for the user (like my pet peeve: too many options) design your site with an easy, clear path. If the user is able to quickly interact with the site and get where they need to go in one glance, chances are they will stick around to discover more.

And when the user does stumble a bit, make sure your site is ready to catch them and plop them right back on the path. Your design should not make the user feel dumb when they make a mistake, it should provide polite and direct feedback whenever the user interacts with a button, a form or even a slide show.

Quit Wasting People’s Time

Because mobile devices are minimalist creatures by nature, users will be able to consume more with less. Remove all the extra stuff that is not necessary to the overall goals of the site so that users don’t get lost in the jungle. Minimalism is not just being simple or plain, minimalism is a movement of presenting elements in their fundamental purpose, mobile is a movement of consuming content in its fundamental form.

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Patrick is a UX Designer at Instructure (Canvas LMS) by day, freelancer and UX consultant by night. He also enjoys family, snowboarding, sports, bacon and is jealous of your beard.

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Website: http://patrick-cox.com

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  1. 2

    Agree with you completely… I myself have gone almost completely in a minimalist direction now that I want everything to suitable for mobile with @mobile queries. Thankfully I’ve always loved minimalistic design, so I guess I can’t complain!

    But the most difficult task definitely is determining less useful components of the interface or design that can be removed or simplified even more.

  2. 3

    Human nature always feels more accomplished with the complex, yet simplicity always seems to prevail. Look at music, super fast complex guitar riffs are nothing compared to the simplicity of lennon!

    Good post.

  3. 4

    Cory – as a musician myself I totally agree. Simplicity and minimalism is often the hardest to accomplish in any art form.

  4. 5

    This is very nice piece and I couldn’t agree more. However it is a bit like an description of ideal approach assuming that all web users know what they know. Wel, a lot o people don’t know it, so their websites present their actual ‘state of mind’. But I am very enthousiastic about minimalistic webdesign, especialy yours: design it accurately before you built a site.

  5. 6

    Support the idea of minimalism in web design. In my view, minimalism here should be not so much in removing the elements of design as a competent their location. The user has only a few seconds to decide whether there is on this website the information he needs or not.

  6. 7

    I really enjoyed this read, totally agree… I find it’s difficult to juggle minimalism with solid design tho. So far, my responsive designs end up looking pretty bland by the time they are 340px wide.

  7. 8

    Nate Arnold: You should take a look at Ethan Marcotte’s article “Responsive Web Design” over at A List Apart.

  8. 9

    KISS – Keep It It Simple Stupid

    “Quit Wasting People‚Äôs Time”, I agree. We now have Twitter, Facebook, RSS, News, E-mail and other content to read.

    We do experience a new web when we’re on a iPad or iPhone. The internet feels different on a iPad on a couch instead behind a desk in some study room at home.

    I follow this website for mobile website showcases:
    http://www.mobileawesomeness.com

    Also check out the BBC Radio 1 mobile website and
    http://www.mobileawesomeness.com/listings/gallery/brancott-estate/

    Cheers

  9. 10

    Minimalist means, less clutter more content focused for the user. I did some minimalist sites before, but now I decide to re-designed my theme to be responsive, so my site can do well in different browser size.

  10. 11

    Often times a minimalist approach to mobile makes you rethink exactly what you’re doing on the desktop side. Don’t make me think…

  11. 12

    I do belive that minimalism could be awsome, you don’t need to design something really extravaganza to show creativity, you can design something with few elements that can target what you try to say in a design.

  12. 13

    I think a minimalist design can tell you all, there are many advantages of having a clean and elegant design without to many elements

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