Design Trends: Minimalism in the Age of Mobile

The more stuff in it, the busier the work of art, the worse it is. More is less. Less is more.
— Ad Reinhardt, fine artist (1913 – 1967)

No Kid Hungry Sample

These samples illustrate minimalism in web design for nonprofits. There is a definite theme in three of these samples, in that they all feature large, mobile-responsive slideshows in the masthead and little else in the way of design embellishments.

As the number of mobile web users continues to boom, many brands are finding increased success with a more minimalistic design approach. Because such layouts are easier for the eye to scan, load quicker, and render with more fluidity and better reactivity on a wide range of displays, and within a limited amount of visual space, minimalism is becoming the latest trend in many online designs.

Minimalism is a long-established technique used by graphic designers, fine artists, architects, and industrial designers. The philosophy behind minimalism is that by reducing a subject down to its core, stripping it down to its most necessary elements, a designer (or artist, architect, etc.) maximizes point of view and creates visual and emotional clarity. And although it’s not a new idea, of late there’s been a major resurgence of its use in graphic design, especially online. Major brands, such as Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and Google — long recognized for setting the standards for brand design — have been steadily paring their visuals down to the barest of bones. And they’re not alone, more and more brands are turning toward minimalism in their overall marketing — especially in regards to their online presence. We’re seeing the decline of heavy-handed, visually weighty layouts, laid thick with the skeuomorphism (illusionary textures and lighting effects) that’s become fashionable over the last few years. In their place are layouts featuring a cleaner, more metropolitan look that makes use of subtle gradients, limited color palettes, sharp edges, clean and crisp font faces, and bold use of white space.

World Wildlife Fund Sample

Because a minimalist design removes any extraneous clutter that can potentially distract or confuse a user, they can be moved to act — and act quickly — with just a glance. And mobile users, in particular, can do so without having to wrestle with a non-responsive page or get hung up on one that renders slowly. Users are less likely to abandon a page if they don’t have to sift through too much visual input or do a lot of scrolling to find what they need. And they are more likely to act because call-to-action renders properly, and in plain view, on their mobile device.

There are other benefits to using a minimalist design, besides their tendency to display well in both the mobile and desktop environments. Minimalism also helps to keep a brand consistent. In order for a brand to be taken seriously and even to be remembered, it must remain uniform. When a user goes from an email to a landing page to a donation or checkout page, having a thoroughly consistent design helps a user feel confident and makes a brand look more professional and, thus, taken more seriously. By removing clutter and stripping an online brand of anything that might be disorienting or extraneous, a core brand shines through and stays steady and stable in a perpetually fluid digital environment.

Charity Water Sample

Unfortunately, many people think that minimalism must mean boring or shallow. Conversely, if approached correctly, minimalism often creates some of the most beautiful and eloquent (as well as functional) visual results. Think of minimalist design as a sort of Zen rock garden; peaceful and elegant, a harmonious place to reflect and relax the senses. And, in our increasingly busy and distracting lives, how could that kind of tranquility NOT be a beautiful thing, and powerful in its own right?

As mobile web use becomes more common, we are definitely going to see the trend toward minimalism grow and evolve. The growing need for web pages to be fully responsive to a wide variety of screen sizes, to cut through the clutter of the increasingly complex digital sphere, and to inspire with potentially limited visual space will only continue encourage simpler, more tranquil, and more elegant designs.

Less is definitely more and less is definitely better in the current mobile-ready environment.

Further reading:

Minimalist Design – Just Creative

White Space and Simplicity: An Overview – Smashing Magazine

Why Brands are Leaning Towards Minimalism –Webdesigner Depot

Keep It Simple, Stupid –Digital Web

Anthony Blair Borders is the senior web designer at Donordigital, the online fundraising, marketing, and advertising company. Contact: anthony@donordigital.com or (510) 473-0368.