Minimalism is a design trend and school of thought that encourages the most simplistic design possible while still maintaining an appealing aesthetic. Cameron Chapman of Smashing Magazine describes it as “reducing a design to its most essential elements” — in essence, getting to the point (Chapman 2010). But that doesn’t mean that minimalist design can’t still be stylish and attractive. Minimalism can reduce clutter, improve readability or function, and streamline the design overall in ways that are still appealing.
Most of the principles of minimalism are fairly uniform and — appropriately — minimal. The most important pillars of minimalist design are: 1) Narrowing focus to a single or main element, 2) judicious use of color, 3) use of white space, and 4) omission of clutter.
The aforementioned principles of minimalist design can be seen in this reimagined book cover for Thomas Harris’ novel The Silence of the Lambs. The cover is simple but striking, using only three colors — yellow, dark grey, and white — to appeal to the eye. While the original iconic movie poster (which can be seen here) is somewhat cluttered, with many overlapping textures, colors and fonts, this updated version values simplicity over quantity. By taking only a silhouette of the infamous moth from the cover, the book jacket focuses on only one main element. Furthermore, only one striking color is used strategically to highlight the word “silence” and silhouette the moth. This draws attention to these elements and reaffirms the main focus of the cover. White space (in this case, perhaps better called ‘black space’) is used to great effect — the text is small and lowercase and the moth is moderately sized, leaving a large area of blank black space and making the two text elements and one image on the page stand out even more. There is no clutter. The Silence of the Lambs cover redesign is simple, but aesthetically pleasing, and exemplifies good minimalist design.
An example of minimalist web design can be seen in this mock-up of a potential design firm, the fictional “HDP Designs” created for this project. This design is a bit busier than the book cover, and expands the definition of “minimalism” by introducing more colors and fonts. However, it still maintains a simple design by using all of these elements carefully and in moderation. The main focus of this page is the large “HDP DESIGNS” header in an all-caps serif font. This draws the main focus to the name of the company and gives somewhere for the eye to rest, preventing it from restlessly wandering around the page. Additionally, the only color on the page is in the decorative thin banner at the top and in important words or phrases that needed to stand out, like “not accepting.” This occasional use of bright color means that in each instance in which its used, it acts as powerful visual emphasis. This could not be achieved as well if color was used liberally throughout the webpage. The site also uses white space on the left and right margins to simplify the content and draw attention to the main text. Overall, despite the fact that is uses color and multiple typefaces, the simple structure of the layout and the sparing use of emphasizing elements make this website a good example of a clean, minimalist layout. It combines style and content in a clear and readable way and remains pleasing to look at.
Minimalist design is much more than white backgrounds and black text. As these examples proves, minimalism is simplicity with style and can vastly improve readability and comprehension. Basic understanding of the main principles of minimalist design is a skill any designer should have.