Professional Web Design Techniques for Minimalist Layouts

by Jake Rocheleau

on November 16, 2012

in design

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Minimalism is a very interesting topic because it is the idea that less is actually more. Designers are frequently thinking about how to trim down excess fat off website layouts. This idea of minimalist design is certainly not brand new, but the traits have been adapting for years.

Additionally there have been many advancing trends along with responsive design which has paved the way for a new minimalistic style. Minimalist designers are able to focus now on beautiful interfaces, navigations, and content displays. The modern era of computing and web browsers has connected the Internet together like never before. I’m hoping these ideas will provide at least some value to web designers who are interested in minimalist techniques.

Reduce the Negligible Elements

I feel that designing a layout is all about keeping focus on the main “idea”, while also offering navigation and alternative methods for moving about the website. The problem is how that main content could pertain to videos, image galleries, blog posts, practically anything.

Midtone Design Agency studio homepage portfolio

The design portfolio of Jonatan Castro is extremely elegant and demonstrates my point beautifully. You are immediately presented with a small slideshow of icons and previous digital artwork from his portfolio. The only navigation seems to be a couple icons in the corner, but as you hover over the logo it will also display further contact details.

Using a technique like this to hide your content off-screen is brilliant. It will save room on the page and makes everything appear less cluttered together. Then it’s super easy for your visitors to open and close the different panels at their own will.

Stick to Designs that Work

I am always using the phrase “stop trying to reinvent the wheel”. It’s perfectly applicable in software development because there is so much information already available. Why should you attempt creating some new flashy layout design which may ultimately flop? Instead build off code that already exists and has been tested for bugs by other developers.

Minimal web design is super easy when you understand what you’re building and how it should be presented. Project Fedena is an open source platform for schools to manage students and class information. Their website is very basic and has nothing more than navigation along with base content.

Project Fedena open source website software development

But what you should notice right away is how their website just works. You can go to the homepage and easily find information you’re looking for. And even more interesting, each webapp is perfectly adapted to run on their website theme. No matter if you’re on the blog, forums, or another alternate page it all looks uniform.

Big Visible Block Content

Typical layouts in this style do not use many flashy graphics or banners. The background is often one shade or pattern, and there are not always dividing lines between page sections. Using large blocks of content is a surefire way to grab attention anywhere on the page.

The example of Haik Avanian’s portfolio is fantastic for this exact purpose. When first landing on the page it is clear how the navigation works and how to go through his portfolio library. Each block is actually a link which leads to an internal project page with more info.

Haik Avanian web design portfolio digital

The design is really friendly and inviting for users. This is the type of design sentiment you want to leave behind with minimalist layouts. You will find the best examples in portfolios, but you may apply these trends onto literally any type of website. Startups, social networks, businesses, e-commerce shops, the list goes on and on.

W+K Tokyo Japan design agency worldwide website layout

If I could point out one more excellent example the W+K Tokyo website. Their initial design focuses on block content around text and headers. But if you visit the portfolio works page you’ll pick up on the block content theme even stronger. This method works so well because every piece looks organized and set in place. Definitely try out some other similar solutions in your projects to see if anything feels right.

Content over White Space

This is a theory which does not have any objective solution, as design trends change based on the project needs. But I do want to say that minimalist designs are not about ultimately removing as much content as possible. Lots of white space is good, but it’s not required.

I think of design agencies like Appex who have created a minimalist layout coupled with large blocks of scrolling content. They are using a fixed header toolbar which scrolls along down the website. Not uncommon and actually works really well to keep the rest of your layout clean.

Appex website studio design agency foreign minimal

But their design also uses horizontal blocks which I love. These are useful to separate key objects in your webpage, such as portfolio entries or user testimonials. The horizontal blocks can be distinguished through borders or background colors. But often you can just leave them alone to cascade down the page nicely.

There is room for white space in the argument, as too much content all together is difficult to read. Designing a super detailed website layout such as Appex requires a common balance. Not everybody can find this natural balance – but don’t be afraid of trying! Minimalism is one of the greatest design techniques for practicing user interface/experience skills on the web. Build a layout that people want to use and your content will sell itself almost organically.

Mini Showcase

It’s difficult to bring up minimal web design without offering a few examples. I have always been a fan of bare minimal web design, and my interest has only grown over the years. I feel that many user interface designers follow this same path.

To wrap up the whole article I have put together a small showcase of minimalist web designs. These websites should act as inspiration where designers can pinpoint good interface ideas. Minimalism is all about improving the user experience with less clutter and more focus on content. Keep this in mind as you peruse some of the items in the gallery below.

Effektive Design

digital agency website layout effektive design

Damian Simpkins

Damian portfolio website layout simplicity 2012

Future Fabric

FutureFabric design website layout homepage

Bodhum Network

Video Game Network fansites Bodhum Final Fantasy

Metagramme

mobile app photos website design Meta Gramme

mmminimal

web design minimal layout whitespace

Matt Hinchliffe

portfolio website design simple layout

Isotope 221

New York City Brooklyn design studio website

Astheria

design agency clean minimal website homepage

Corporate Risk Watch

website layout simplicity minimalism CRW

Jamie Gregory

simple portfolio website studio design

Concentric Studio

agency design website layout

Made By On

minimalist design agency portfolio ON websites

Artypapers

web design portfolio experiment artsy

Fell Swoop

website design user experience strategy marketing

Postmachina

dark portfolio website layout design

Cameron Kenley Hunt

website design portfolio layout Cameron Kenley Hunt

Maqina

dark illustrations portfolio works Maqina

Jonnotie

website design studio Jonnotie portfolio

Yaron Schoen

basic minimal portfolio inspirational layout

ikreate.it

Italian website studio design agency

Card Dsgn

print design business cards branding identity gallery

Teo Choong Ching

creative work website portfolio Teo Choong Ching

Pancake Seven

website agency freelance portfolio design homepage

Finely Sliced

web design agency studio Perth WordPress homepage layout

Startups, This is How Design Works

Startups venture capital minimalism web design techniques

Klim Type Foundry

font face logoface typography web design minimalism

Roven Bashier

simple minimalist website portfolio design

Roland Hidvegi

user interface designer portfolio website

b14

minimalist web design studio agency bureau B14

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About Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a digital researcher and writer on many popular design magazines. He frequently writes on topics including web design, user experience, mobile apps, and project management. You can find him all throughout Google and tweeting @jakerocheleau. Connect with Jake on google+