Art and Design Websites

Defining visual minimalism

Replied to What Is Too Minimal? – Carl Barenbrug (Carl MH Barenbrug)

A product designer and creative director at Minimalissimo

A minimalist design approach adds only what is needed, and takes away what is not; that doesn’t mean it must be devoid of ornament or color.

Typically, people want their website’s branding to:

  • be distinctive and memorable to visually distinguish the brand, so visitors know without checking the URL or byline whose work they’re seeing
  • present text so it’s easy to read
  • convey a vibe aligned with their mission

Color and ornamentation may be key to those ends, in which case, a minimalist design could incorporate both, though using the least needed to provide function, establish a brand feel, and accomplish their goals.

Which colors raises many questions; our cultural vision of a neutral minimalism has coalesced around black on white or white on black. With minor changes in styling, these simple pallettes can become classy, chic, brutalist, academic, anything really. But I think too often black and white websites are underdone; they are often not visually distinct.

That’s where color comes in, and another discussion point about minimalism: is it about the number of elements or the feel of the design? A hot pink and yellow website would feel loud, but only have two colors, so might qualify as minimalist if simplicity is the intent. If minimalism is more vibe than construction, that begs the question of whether all vibes count as minimalist — are certain moods inherent to minimalism, while others are excluded? Perhaps it’s a matter of sensation: should a minimalist website provoke our senses as little as possible (e.g. avoiding loud color combinations or bold colors like bright red)?

In short, is minimalism an aesthetic or a philosophy?

It’s possible that someone could intentionally create a website that’s visually difficult to read (please don’t), or that they don’t care about taking credit for their work and don’t care about distinguishing their brand. Yet to choose no styling is a design decision — arguably not a good one for readability (at least set a max text width!), a decision nonetheless. Unstyled is more of a philosophical statement than a visual neutral in the context of today’s web.

Via Leon.

By Tracy Durnell

Writer and designer in the Seattle area. Freelance sustainability consultant. Reach me at She/her.

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