Why Minimalism Never Goes Out of Style
A look into UX best practices for keeping customers interested.
And what we can expect for the next decade in design.
“Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance.”
— Coco Chanel
Perhaps the most influential quote from one of the most influential people. Literally — French fashion icon and businesswoman Coco Chanel was listed as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People of the 20th century.
Chanel is widely known for inspiring a shift in feminine fashion standards from the early 20th century “corseted silhouette” to a more sporty chic look. The designer identified essential staples for a woman’s closet such as the beloved “little black dress”, a style unlikely to ever lose its popularity among modern women.
I first came across this quote of Chanel’s in a book titled “Less is more: 101 ways to simplify your life”. The book is a love letter to a minimalist lifestyle, containing advice involving topics such as fashion, health and wellness, and personal relationships.
Many design-based industries, such as fashion, come into minimalism after a long period of turbulent growth. Historically, wardrobe has functioned as a means to communicate wealth and power. Purple and gold were more difficult colors to obtain, thus these bright shades became a signifier of prestige for anyone sporting them. Comfortability and necessity were mainly afterthoughts, if given any thought at all.
In fashion, the question was not always what do we want to do, but what are we capable of doing? Chanel rejected this notion of clothing as a means to express superiority, instead implementing a focus on functionality and sleekness.
Trends in fashion come and go with the decades, but minimalist styles will always stick around.
Modern day technology has experienced a similar growth in its adolescence. An industry with such an unprecedented surge of production for its age, the internet quickly became a playground for excited developers and designers to showcase their most creative and involved projects.
The difficulty is that many of these creators seem to have lost a taste for functionality. Think of the old corseted silhouette — in theory, the style provided a perfect “hourglass” look, however its functionality was much less than ideal, often restricting organ flow and causing lung infections and other health problems among young women.
Today in the UX world, thousands of designers flood groups on LinkedIn and other platforms with their newest designs — big and bright-colored visuals and fancy text, with little focus on substance.
These projects can be a great way for designers to practice or advance their skills, however while “What do I want to create?” is a tempting enough question — “What does the user actually need right now?” is a much more appropriately fitting one.
Ultimately, the point of any design is to cater to a need. For Chanel, the prompting question was: “What do I need to wear to this event?”
The answer? A little black dress.
My Predictions for Product Design
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” — Herbert A. Simon, “The Attention Economy”
UX is still a toddler in the wide spectrum of technology disciplines. However, web design has already experienced a dramatic shift toward minimalism, with many of today’s webpages properly utilizing white space and reducing chunky paragraph texts.
Check out this old Dell page from 2005. It’s pretty unlikely that any user today would want to take the time to navigate this site, considering the overwhelming amount of information and choice they are faced with. As you can see, there is a much more dramatic emphasis placed on text in comparison to imagery. Information hierarchy is not presented well at all either — subsection texts are barely any smaller or less distinguishable than their parent heading (Ex.“What’s New At Dell”)
There are a few different trends involving minimalist UX design that I foresee gaining momentum in the next decade, which I will explain in further detail below.
1. Intuitive Coloring
Color can be a great method for communicating action. Additionally, our associations with color are largely universal (ex. green=good/go, red=bad/stop). As a result, I anticipate that color will be utilized more in apps to increase accessibility by reducing text.
In this example, DoorDash utilized the color red to communicate action and urgency — signaling users to click the “Add to Order” button. By limiting color on the page, users can easily gloss over less important tasks such as the item’s description or “Preferences” and instead be directly led to the action they are anticipating.
There are many explanations behind this. Personally, what comes to mind is an internal thought process when driving. A driver is much more likely to zone out or go into autopilot as they approach a green light, but as soon as we see red our minds naturally alert us to stop in our tracks and register the action.
Color isn’t the only method of increasing accessibility by reducing text. Adding or highlighting imagery within an interface is another approach to minimalism that may be more frequent in coming years, especially in America as we have become such a linguistically heterogenous society. Resources for non-native speakers are beginning to expand in recent years, especially within technological products.
An emphasis on imagery both benefits a wider audience and allows users to scan inform quicker.
Research has shown that visuals are processed 60,000 times quicker than text.
Naturally, humans are drawn to anything simulating real life: pictures, animations, etc. I imagine that in the future, UX writers will begin to see interface text similar to captions in a movie or video: supporting images and providing further information for users whose attention have already been captured.
3. Analogous Color Schemes
An analogous color scheme occurs when you collect colors that are next to each other on the color wheel.
Dropbox does an excellent job of this in the featured landing page, an analogous color scheme of blue, red, and purple.
These types of color schemes are extremely pleasing to the eye as they tend to simulate real life. Analogous color schemes are found all throughout nature — from yellow, orange, and red autumn leaves to an orange, pink, and purple sunset. Additionally, they appeal to user concentration. Combining an array of “unrelated” colors such as blue, yellow, and pink could be distracting for users and cause them to focus less on content.
In addition to the above three trends, there are a few more I’d like to briefly mention:
- Choice Limitation- It’s likely that websites will begin cutting down on choices for users, to limit confusion and promote quicker decision-making. This doesn’t necessarily mean reducing items in stock, but rather reorganizing the way they are presented in a landing page.
- Bold Typography- I see an increase in capitalized and more expressive fonts as sites begin to decrease their word count. These type of fonts can be soothing as well, as it is easier for the eye to register larger texts — additionally, they are much more accessible to people of older age or with visual or learning disabilities.
- An Emphasis on Black- Below, I’ve linked an article to a reading on Spotify’s redesign providing detail into the company’s shift to a darker interface. Michelle Kadir, the director of product development at Spotify, likens the change to a movie theatre experience — when the lights dim, audience members are able to really hone in on what they are experiencing. I think a lot of major companies, especially those in the media, art, and/or music space will follow Spotify’s footsteps here to create a more engaging and concentrated user experience.
Former hokie interested in writing, design, and technology.