Why Minimalism is the Most Important Design Style to Master

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away
Antoine de Saint-Exupery French writer (1900–1944)

Minimalism is a word I’m sure you’ve heard before. It often gets thrown around on design blogs though sometimes carelessly as though the term just means to put less on the page.

In fairness minimalism can be a hard concept to wrap your mind around and it probably means different things to different people.

I want to explain why I think all web designers would do best to master minimalist design before any other style.

Minimalism, because less is more

What is Minimalism?

I suppose we should start by trying to define minimalism. Here are 2 definitions I found online.

  • Movements in various forms of art and design, especially visual art and music, where the work is stripped down to its most fundamental features.
  • Simplicity of style in artwork, design, interior design, or literature, achieved by using the fewest and barest essentials or elements to maximum effect

Minimalism has also been called ABC art, reductivism, and rejective art and its theories have been applied to lifestyle.

Minimalism aims for simplicity and objectivity. It wants to reduce works to the fundamental, the essential, the necessary, and to strip away the ornamental layers that might be placed on top.

Minimalist designs tend toward more whitespace, better typography, grid layouts, and less color.

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 are saying the same thing. Minimalism is about designing smarter.

Power lines on a cloudy day

Why You Should Master Minimalism First

If minimalism is about designing smarter, doing more with less, and reducing design to the fundamentals, it relies on getting basic design principles right.

You’re working with less so you need to be able to use the tools you have better. You need a solid grasp of:

While simplicity is used to define minimalism, it’s anything but simple to create a good minimalist design. To master minimalist design means to master design. It’s harder to pull off because you can’t hide behind ornament and decoration.

All minimalist designs should not and do not look alike. Minimalism does not mean take everything away until only black text on a white background remains. It means communicating as much as possible with as few elements as possible.

It strikes me that instead of a design being minimalist or not minimalist, it’s more a case of to what degree does the design embrace minimalism. We can strive toward it, but even the most minimalist design could be reduced further.

None of this should be taken to mean that every design should end up being minimalist. Different design styles set different moods and invoke different emotions in your audience.

Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals you can add meaningful aesthetics on top. Ornamentation works when it has a solid foundation to sit on.

Stylistic details won’t save a design that fails to execute the fundamentals.

several lines representing a car

Summary

Minimalism is reducing your work to the essential and using less to do more. In order to do minimalism well you need a strong understanding of basic design principles. When you master minimalism you master design.

I’ll leave you with a few quotes to hopefully drive the point home.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.
Albert Einstein

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
Socrates

Omit needless words
William Strunk Jr. The Elements of Style

Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.

26 comments

  1. Not to be the funny guy here, but couldn’t this article have been cut down a bit to make the point a bit clearer?

    Great article, without a doubt, regardless. ;)

    • I knew someone was going to make that comment.

      Believe it or not I actually thought of that while writing the post. I could have gone with the first paragraph in the summary and left it at that. I did cut quite a bit out while editing.

      However if you read through some of my other posts you’ll realize that for me this post is minimalist. :)

  2. I really like the additions of the quotes, you added in this article. Maybe it help, a lot of people to create minimalism designs. In my eyes this is really the hardest target of a designer.

    • Thanks Erni. I like the quotes too. If you click the link right above the ones at the bottom there are more good ones.

      I agree about minimalism being much harder than it seems to create. A minimalist design looks easy, but it’s not so easy to get right.

    • It definitely takes time to master design principles and design in general. You aren’t going to master it all overnight, but you can study things one at a time and move towards minimalism.

    • Glad to help Michael. More isn’t always better, though it can be at times depending on your goals.

      My main point here is to start with what’s absolutely necessary first and then build up on top of that. How far you build up depends on your goals, but you have to get the foundation right if you want the house to remain standing.

  3. Hi,

    Thanks for this great article. It took me a long time to realise “less is more”.

    I like your writing style by giving value and incorporating philosophical quotes :)

  4. Indeed this is a good article I enjoyed reading it. I like the concept of minimalism because creating more is not always more. Following the principal of keep it sweet and simple has always been a good way to go!

  5. This whole article was very helpful. I agree with the minimalism approach to web design. . . Actually it really applies (to me) in every day life! Thanks for the great read.

  6. I actually am doing a fine arts project and I am going to attempt taking minimalism to a different level (hopefully) :)
    Thanks for the article! Helped me lots

  7. “To master minimalist design means to master design. It’s harder to pull off because you can’t hide behind ornament and decoration.”

    Almost 18 months since last comment! Come on people!

    This is a great article. Excited to share it on social media. A lot of value here and you do a great job articulating such a complex topic. Other posts about minimalism seem to ramble. I don’t see any filler or useless text in this post.

    I agree with Nikhil about the philosophical quotes – such a great idea. I’m totally stealing that concept for my next blog post. Brings a very inspirational feeling to what you’re saying.

    Happy to have found you :)

    Daniel

    • Thanks Daniel. I suspect this article fell of the search engine results pages leading to less traffic and less comments. I certainly won’t complain though if you want to revive it and spread it around. :)

      I have to admit to rambling in many of my posts, but I made a more conscious effort to cut the rambling when I edited this one. I’m sure I could have cut further and further until there was only a sentence or two left, but for me this was a minimalist.

  8. Very nice article and and I got a clear idea about minimalist design. I am not a designer not even a graphic artist. By profession I am an SEO and now running my own business. We launched our website and my designer was telling me about minimalist designs though I was not sure/clear. Now this article and it’s simple writing make it clear.

    But personally, I am feeling that minimalist designs are tougher than others as we have to convey the brand value and message with less colors and strokes.

    Yes definitely less is more as we always say in SEO – quality matters more than quantity

    Thanks for sharing and educating me on this difficult topic.

    • Thanks Sam. Glad I could help.

      Minimalism is hard to achieve. It’s easy to add more to a design. It’s really hard to remove things. I think when something isn’t right our instinct is to add something to it. We’re not as used to removing things to fix them.

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