When the iPhone came along and made touchscreen-led mobile browsing truly mainstream, it was a fatal blow to the horribly-complex desktop websites of yesteryear. You might be able to get away with a dense and almost-unintelligible layout on a big screen, but it simply won’t fly on a pocketable device.
And it’s really Apple’s approach to design that has shaped the internet of today.
We all know now that usability is among the biggest factors when you’re trying to keep a user around, particularly on the smallest screens, and minimalism has become the name of the game in the user experience (UX) community.
But what does a good minimalist UX look like, exactly? What do top brands like Google, Apple and Microsoft get right more often than not? Let’s break it down.
An Ocean of Negative Space…
Negative space (also sometimes known as white space) is a catch-all term for the empty space between page elements, and if you go by sheer coverage, it’s the biggest part of every UX journey. It’s the canvas on which the internet is painted.
Back before everyone understood the importance of negative space, websites were built by technical experts with no appreciation of good design. They were packed with functions, stats, information and stylistic flourishes, and nothing had any room to breathe. As such, if you didn’t know exactly what to expect from a website, you weren’t going to have much luck using it.
Thankfully, standards caught up with user requirements, and now any website that doesn’t space out its content is just asking for a high bounce rate and low search rankings. Check the lead image: Google knows you’re there to do a search, so it gives you a search bar and a couple of buttons. That’s it. No filler. No distractions. (They’ve learned a lot from Apple over the years…)
…Dotted With Jewels…
You’re ready to design your website, and you have so many design elements to choose from. There are banners, buttons, paragraphs, tables, drop-down menus, links, slideshows, videos, animations and more. But minimalism demands harsh criteria: if something doesn’t add serious value to a page, it doesn’t get included.
Are you on a product page? Something style-centric like a watch or an item of clothing? Then sure, include a glossy high-resolution product image that dominates the page. It warrants the space. Otherwise, get it out of the way. It’s just taking up space, slowing the page speed down, and detracting from the worthwhile content.
Remember that the X stands for ‘experience’, and you need to deliver an experience that’s good within the context of the purpose of your website. If a user shows up looking for information and they get pretty images, they won’t find them too helpful. Every single section of your site should be something the user wants to be there.
…And Built Around Delivery.
There’s a solid reason behind every intentional website visit. We go to ecommerce sites to order products, forums to discuss topics, news sites to learn about what’s going on, and image sites to look at nice landscapes and dream of beach vacations. With millions of websites available, a site either delivers on its promise or loses your attention.
That’s why the best possible minimalist website does one of two things in every single fragment of its user journey:
1 – Deliver what the user wants.
2 – Deliver a clear route to what the user wants.
It’s very simple, but that doesn’t stop plenty of websites getting stuck wheeling out vanity features and thinking they can dictate what the users want to see. They can’t. It doesn’t work. The moment the user can’t see what they’re looking for or how to reach it, they’ll give up and head elsewhere.
Templates Make Minimalism Easy
Minimalist UX design is difficult to perfect, absolutely, but it’s also incredibly easy to implement well because it isn’t often about adding things— it’s mostly about leaving them out. If you have a website that’s lacking a really important feature, then yes, you’ll need to add it, but otherwise you can move towards minimalism by simply stripping away anything that isn’t needed.
If you don’t even have a website yet, then it’ll be even easier for you because of the proliferation of pre-built templates. You can start setting up a web boutique through a store builder and go live with a free minimalist theme that provides all the functionality you need, or throw together a basic site and pick from numerous great WP theme options that will barely need configuring if you’d rather not put in much design work.
Minimalism isn’t just a must-have design approach for the user— it’s also a massive time-saver for the designer, and a technical win for SEO and web hosting. There’s no good reason not to migrate your UX efforts to a more minimalist standard, so make sure every feature you include fully deserves its place and you’ll quickly achieve greater levels of user engagement.
A huge thank you to Patrick Faster who wrote this Mooketing exclusive Guest Post.
Patrick Foster is a writer and ecommerce expert from Ecommerce Tips — an industry-leading ecommerce blog that offers practical marketing advice so your online store receives the exposure it deserves. Check out the latest posts on Twitter @myecommercetips