Elements and Principles for Creating Minimalist Web Design

May 21, 2013 · 29 comments

by Lars


Web Design comes in many flavors, but as you probably have noticed several times minimalist web design can be particularly beautiful and effective for achieving a specific goal. Even though most designer know the strengths of minimalist web design they find it very hard to create designs with very few elements that still look great and that doesn’t tend to be boring. In this article I will go through some of the main considerations designers need to do when working with minimalistic web design and provide a showcase of exceptional examples to be inspired from. In fact it is possible to master minimalism and fundamentally it is about breaking design requirement down to the barest elements necessary for the overall design to work as intended and this way get rid of everything that does not have a function or a purpose. Designers also create magnificent themes for WordPress that can make building a website easier and more effective.



Design Elements and Principles of Minimalist Web Design

Design concepts are typically described using design elements and principles and it is a really good idea to study these to keep the basics in mind when creating designs. Design elements are the basic units of a visual image where example can be Space, Line, Color, Shape and so on. Design principles represent the basic assumptions and rules that govern the relationships of the elements. Examples of principles can be Unity, Harmony, Proportion, Contrast, Repetition and so on. Remember principle are defined to be followed!


Less is More in Minimalist web design

You heard this sentence before I know, but Less is More is important for minimalist design – even though it is probably not really a design principle. The reason is that by removing non essential design elements the important stand out and provides more value to the viewer. By putting focus on the content minimalist design makes it easier for the viewer to interpret and understand and the risk of misunderstandings and confusion is reduced compared to design that is completely stuffed up. I’m going to give some examples in simple designs but before you read on you may want to check out some simple WordPress themes that you can use to create minimalistic websites in a snap. I have collected some of the best themes here for you.

In the example below the designer have left out a lot of details found on most portfolios to direct focus on the art and invitation to view the portfolio. There are no disturbing elements and it is just about showcasing work and giving options for getting connected.


Minimalism “Less” can also be extreme to a point where visitors may think – did this page load correctly? However in this example clicking a menu item makes it fold out and it works quite well.



Minimalist web design very often makes use of strong contrast to separate the building blocks and give more space. This is for example seen below with use of black boxes on a white background and different colors for the boxes in the Bulletin. Contrast is also used to create visual elements of significance that guide the viewer. Lack of contrast can result in a design where all elements melt together making it hard for the user to navigate.



Another way to use contract is to utilize images to get the attention of the visitor.


Contrast can also take form in how elements are organized. In this is seen below where some elements are nicely ordered in a grid while others simply break the order.


Proximity and Similarity in Minimalist web design

Proximity and similarity are two of the four grouping concepts in classic gestalt theory (the other two are closure and simplicity). Similarity refers to elements that look similar and how this affect the viewers impression of grouping. Proximity has to do with how elements are grouped based on placement. A simple example of these principles can be illustrated below. The menu items at the right lower corner are placed in a green box and close to each other and we naturally group them together. Another example is the text below the headings “Client Portfolio” “and Periscope Gadget”. Our brain naturally group the text to the heading above it.



Alignment is a variation of proximity and is an important principle for most types of web design, and essential for creating minimalistic designs. The reason why alignment is worth taking serious is to be found in the way the human brain organize and group impressions. Elements that either look similar or are aligned visually is simply much easier to comprehend. This is one of the reason why grid based design have become so popular lately.

the grid system




Repetition is about repeating some aspect throughout the design. Repetition can be thought of as consistency and it is a great principle to use when creating minimalist web design. Repetition is actually used more or less everywhere in web design, like e.g. menus where button design is repeated again and again. However it is also possible to use repetition in more sophisticated ways like for example repeating shapes and icons even with different colors. Consider the example below and pay attention how the circular shape is repeated all over.


Also in the example below there is an arrow being repeated in different colors. And the design for how Services and Process is organized in an colored box at the left and then a dark box also repeats.


How to create Minimalist web design

Leave out unnecessary elements

Most web sites have a purpose and either serve visitors information or request them to take action. You need to understand the purpose of the content before you start removing design elements to make it more minimalistic. Once the basic functional requirements are know you can use this knowledge to consider what elements that are necessary to support the visitor in achieving what ever goal the site owner have and hunt down elements that may just be disturbing. If a company have an important strategy for improving its presence in the social media space social media buttons may be very important while in other cases they are just distracting the visitors from doing taking the right actions.



Remove elements until the function of the design breaks

With the understanding of what the design goals are you should start removing elements until you are certain the design fails to deliver what is expected. Remember you can add elements again and find a better spot for them as more and more space becomes available. Below is an example where the main page have nothing but a huge navigation. The concept is clearly to make it easy for the visitor to make a decision and get to the right sub page at first try.


In the example below there is no navigation. The designer have probably done this by intention and while you may think – no way! – it actually works fine.



Understand and use the role of white space in minimalist web design

A key element of minimalist design is using white space (or empty space, negative space) to emphasize the elements that have been hand-picked to be included. Leaving space between the elements gives the viewer the feeling that the page is larger than it is and it makes the page calm and easy to digest – fundamentally it is the same principle know from painting rooms. A dark ceiling makes the room “smaller” and in some cases gives people a feeling that the ceiling will fall down on them.




Work with the details of remaining elements

Since minimalist web design is about leaving out as much as possible to make certain elements work better it is very important to focus on the details of the remaining elements. Focus on the details and on how elements in the design can support the overall design goal better is an important part of making minimalistic design perfect. This may be achieved by playing with the typography, adding a different color, changing the size and form of various elements etc.

In the example below there has been put an extra effort into designing the typography for the page title and it is one way to work with this principle.




Use color with extreme caution

Minimalism tend to have room for very few colors and yes it is how it is supposed to be. However minimalist web design opens up for new way to use colors to enforce attention to specific elements. Now this effectively means that there is no colors that should not be used as such you just need to color minimally as well and keep the palette simple. It can have a really strong effect if a single color is used on different elements logo, typography, buttons etc. as in the examples below.




Other related resources

What is your opinion?

Have you done any minimalist web design so far? What is your view on how to create minimalist web design and do you like it at all? Please share your thoughts in a comment below!

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