“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”
Have you ever ended up on a site after searching for a specific resource, only to find out that you just signed up for something without even noticing? It’s mind boggling to think about this in hindsight, as say to yourself what the hell just happened? Believe it or not, the designers and/or masterminds who guided you through this concise user journey understood a thing or two about Minimalism.
Delving Into The Roots
This philosophy was established by the De Stijl Movement in 1917, which was then followed by the Bauhaus Movement in 1919. This was a direct response to The Arts & Crafts Movement circa 1860-1910. Shortly after the Bauhaus Movement was established, in 1920, another style was born called Swiss Design. This style of design is also known as the International Style, because of its adaptation that emerged in Russia, Germany and the Netherlands in the Roaring 20’s.
As designers, we should acknowledge some of the greatest influential leaders that helped shape our user experience today. Over the years, designers such as Max Miedinger, Massimo Vignelli and Paul Rand have embraced the limitations and strengths of their works, to evolve and redefine the minimalist design framework as we know it. In fact, CSSZenGarden.com became influential in the early 2000’s by making a game out of embracing those limitations.
So, What Is Minimalist Design?
Minimalist design is design at its most basic form, stripped of superfluous elements, colors, shapes and textures. Its purpose is to emphasize the content, and position it as a focal point. From an aesthetic perspective, minimalist design is meant to be clear, simple and to the point. Logically we can now see how these minimalist design attributes can go hand in hand with a great user experience.
Tying Minimalism To The User Experience
Before we dive into UX, one thing I would like to make clear, is that there are few known techniques that can accurately and consistently shape a good UI/UX. The reason being, is that most of the time your user experience is learned anecdotally. So instead of overthinking your process, focus on experimentation. A hands on approach is the key to developing a great UX, and here are some steps that I would like to suggest when defining your user experience:
- Narrow down the focus by refining your scope.
- Develop your product as per your refined scope.
- Test, collect and analyze your data for pertinent analytics.
- Simplify, adjust and optimize based on your data assessment.
Let’s take a look at a couple of great search engine examples that follow the steps above, all while implementing minimalist design.
It’s no shocker to me that google is dominating the search engine market. This company has a clear focus on what they want the user journey to be. Their product is solid, unobtrusive, aesthetically pleasing and very minimalist. Google believes so strongly in this minimalist design, that they forgo putting anything else on one of their most trafficked pages. When I use google I know exactly what I want to do. Not only is this product a great advocate of minimalist design, but it sets the standard of how search engines should be designed.
DuckDuckGo, another great example of minimalist design executed right, has no distractions on their site, with a focus that is clear and to the point. We know exactly what needs to be done once we land on this page. Lately this search engine has been gaining a lot of momentum due to their user privacy model. They keep all user searches private, making their user experience more enticing for the privacy conscious user.
Now that we have seen a couple examples of great minimalist designs with clear and focused scope, let’s take a look at the other side of the spectrum, and asses the design conflicts of an unclear user focus.
Although Bing has the right intentions, notice that there is a conflicting balance between the mountain in the background and the search input field. Furthermore, notice the thumbnails just above the footer suggesting things to search. It’s obvious that there is no clear focus here.
Over emphasizing the aesthetic background defeats the sole purpose of this search engine’s functionality. Also, instead of clarifying the user’s main focus, they distract their intended user journey by suggesting options that the user may not want. This design is obtrusive, unbalanced and the user focus is not as clear as it should be.
Ah yes Yahoo… Right off the bat notice the conflict between the hero image and the search input field. They completely overwhelm the user with content. Although this design is actually well gridded, the complexities of its design are not only obtrusive, but they defeat the purpose of the search engine. The bombardment of content is as if they are trying to, either anticipate what you might search for, or present you with a dynamic news feed.
Obviously this is an example of a product that wants to do everything, therein identifying the issue. Of course, Yahoo is not in a position to keep their most trafficked page empty, but by focusing on everything, they loose focus on what their product should actually do.
The user experience is tarnished by offering too many choices at once, which can actually divert the intended user journey. So instead of narrowing down the user’s focus, they expand it, making it easier for the user to get side tracked. Hence if good UX is trying to get a user from point A to point B as quickly and easily as possible, then Yahoo’s method is to throw the whole alphabet into the mix, in hopes that you hit point B along with X Y Z.
Minimalist design can benefit your user experience, because its whole purpose is to focus on simplicity and objectivity. Like UX design, it wants to reduce works to the fundamental, the essential, the necessary, and to strip away the ornamental layers that might intervene with the functionality.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe famously said “Less is more” to describe his aesthetic sense of having every element serve multiple purposes both visually and functionally.
Buckminster Fuller later reworked the phrase to “doing more with less” and Dieter Rams changed it to “Less but better.” All three individuals are essentially saying the same thing. Minimalism is about designing smarter for the user experience that you need.