Minimalist design: an offer you can’t refuse

Marketers like to dig through the internet trying to find the secrets of the Google and Bing search algorithms. Ironically, they are working to become more like you. A human. Most humans are just looking for something to help with a problem or add some value to their lives. But that’s an easy thing to forget when you are designing your website. In this article, we’ll show you the hallmarks of good minimalist design, and show you that you have little choice in the matter. You need to adopt a minimalist design.

If you are just trying to make a quick buck on a niche site, then this information may not be right for you. However, if you are trying to build something with long-term value, help people and build a brand then look no further.

The tragedy of the commons

Tragedy of the commons – “Individuals acting independently and rationally according to each’s self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource.”

It’s tempting to go to a competitor’s website and see a fancy, eye-catching design element and think to yourself, “why don’t I have that?” Everyone adds the new design element and the audience quickly becomes resistant to it because they see it everywhere they go.

I’m actually starting to wonder if these fancy things like pop-ups and social share buttons are more optimized to entice marketers to put them on their sites, rather than evoke a response from the everyday web visitor.

Minimize or others will do it for you

If you’re unconvinced that a minimal design will benefit your business then consider this:

Search engines have started to penalize sites crammed with ads, buttons, and low value content.

But search engines aren’t the only thing working against cluttered design.

A new app called Readable that cleans up cluttered content on any site has been growing in popularity. It was recently acquired by Evernote and re-released as Evernote Clearly.

With the click of a button, Clearly slides over the site and gives you an alternative, removing all ads, links, and navigation. It increases font sizes, adds padding between lines, and uses an off-white background that’s easier on the eyes. With multi-page articles, it stitches them together into 1. Once you’re done reading, you can click again and go back to the normal view to continue browsing.

clearly_click2

Evernote has just made you an offer you can’t refuse… Clean up the blog, or they’ll do it for you. With over 100 million users as if May 2014, this is not something you afford to ignore.

The essentials for a good minimalist experience

A good minimalist design will put your best foot forward with your visitors and give you a fast and agile site to keep the search engines happy.

Good content

Start with good content. Your content can only be as good as your understanding of your audience. If you are creating content that adds value to people’s lives then extra bells and whistles on your site won’t be necessary.

“Your content can only be as good as your understanding of your audience.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

Example: Markmanson.net

Mark-Manson-web

Mark Manson’s blog is an incredibly popular site with over 2 million monthly views. He has slowly built his audience over several years with great content. His blog design supports that content by making it easy for a new visitor to jump right into the articles. When you’re reading an article, there’s no sidebars, pop-ups or ads that disrupt the experience. There’s no need for these extra elements when you focus on good content.

Related: 15 essential elements of our most engaging content

Legible font, readable design.

Pick 1 or 2 legible fonts. The right fonts can give your site a good deal of character, but remember that typically the more “unique” a font looks, the less legible it is.

“Remember that typically the more “unique” a font looks, the less legible it is” (CLICK TO TWEET)

Readability is a matter of design. It’s giving your text room to breathe. Use elements like images, bullets, and headers to support your body of text and make it easier for the reader to immerse themselves in your content.

Example: Degordian Academy

degordian academy 2

Degordian academy does an excellent job with a mix of clean fonts and keeping the design readable and appealing. They leave a lot of space for their text to breathe and have a gentle transition from titles to subtitles to body text that is easy to follow and keeps you scrolling.

Related: Lessons learned reviewing 300 websites in 2 weeks (how to build a decent website)

Good quality images – Not stock photos

Choose images wisely. They can bring your site and content to life, clarify complex ideas, and convey emotion. Images should be used deliberately for these purposes, not just as an afterthought. Stock photos rarely add value, and we don’t recommend using them.

“Choose images wisely. They can bring your site and content to life, clarify ideas, and convey emotion.” (CLICK TO TWEET)

Related: 12 ways to increase engagement through visual content

Example: Dishoom

Dishoom-web

Dishoom’s design uses images in a way that almost makes you feel like you are entering their cafe, sitting down at your favorite table, and browsing the menu. With only a handful of images, you feel like you know the place.

Navigation

Navigation should be simple and intuitive. The best place for a horizontal navigation menu is the top right corner of your page, though many artistic websites are successful with a vertical menu on the left side of the screen.

Example: Nua Bikes

nua-web

As a boutique bicycle company, Nua Bikes recognizes their customers’ interest in the hardware that makes up their bike. They set up easy navigation so you can jump between different parts and get a closer look at the details.

Minimal colors

Colors have a powerful impact on our experience with a website and can direct our attention, as well as our emotions. Pick just the right accent colors and use them only to make the critical elements of your website stand out. But use them sparingly; each time you use a color, you diminish its impact.

A few good places to use an accent color are:

  • A USP for your site
  • Navigation
  • Your name or logo
  • An offer or call to action

Example: 450GSM

450

450 GSM makes great use of only a few colors. The simple origami crane is immediately eye catching. The subtle green in the text and call to action draw your attention to the company and the next step.

Negative space

This is an often overlooked and poorly understood element of design. Negative space is critical for directing a visitor’s attention to the value of your site. People don’t want to sift through a heap of pointless content to find the value they are looking for.

“Negative space is critical for directing a visitor’s attention to the value of your site”
(CLICK TO TWEET)

Negative space is used by big brands as an indicator of sophistication and wealth. You can see it in Apple’s design on their homepage and product pages, and most famously in Google’s homepage.

Example: AYR

ayr-web

This boutique ecommerce store leverages negative space to create the same sophisticated effect. It does not overload you with information, it makes a bold, simple statement and invites you to start shopping.

Cut out needless things

Get rid of anything that does not contribute to the content or the function of the site. Bad design elements not only make your site less useable, but impact the enjoyment, learnability, memorability, and conversion rates on your site.

How much to take out?

A good rule of thumb to see if your website is “minimal” is to keep removing things until it breaks. Keep taking things out of the site until you are 1 step away from the site being unusable.

To make your site minimalist, remove things until you are 1 step from the site being unusable or breaking” – (CLICK TO TWEET)

Things your site does not need

I hesitate to say that you should remove any or all of these things from your site no matter what, but most people are overusing them.

Pop-ups and aggressive subscription fields – I imagine soon companies like Adblock Plus are going to see this as an opportunity and start targeting these scripts.

Sharing buttons – You don’t need a share button to every social media outlet. And they don’t need to be blocking the view of the content. Pick 1 or 2 outlets that work best for you, and place them at the top and bottom of the article.

I’ll admit I love a few good “click to tweets” inside posts, but I do my best to keep it tasteful.

Sliders – Sliders are more distracting than helpful on most sites. I have seen many where they switch between slides so fast you can’t even read them, adding frustration to distraction. They often are filled with unoptimized images that slow down your site speed and hurt your rankings in search engines.

Ads – Ads are designed to be distracting. The extra revenue is rarely worth the damage it does to your own brand.

Tracking cookies and all sorts of analytics – They slow your site down, so only use them when necessary.

Tag Clouds – This may be the worst way to navigate a site ever.

Minimalism: it’s not limiting, it’s liberating.

All that’s left when you cut out the non-essential are the details that define you and your brand. These few, yet crucial, ideas will be what stands out to the visitor. It can be modern, clean, rugged, refined, or whatever you want based on those critical few details.

Minimalism is not a “1 size fits all” design, but a custom tailored experience that will feel like a breath of fresh air when your visitor lands on your page. It will be a breath of fresh air for yourself as well. You won’t need to worry about ad placement, keyword density for search engines, or the size of your free offer banner. Just a good experience for your audience.

Minimalism is not “1 size fits all”, but a tailored experience and a breath of fresh air for your visitor. (CLICK TO TWEET)

For some further reading on minimalist design I recommend:

Principles Of Minimalist Web Design, With Examples

Using White Space (or Negative Space) in Your Designs

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your site design, check out our website review template. It will help you discover ideas for how you can optimize your copy, design, content and SEO.

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About

Kyle is the founder of Conversion Cake . He is the author of "The College Entrepreneur" A book for students who want to break into entrepreneurship. Follow him @kylethegray

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