Minimalist design, white space and visual hierarchy are discussed in today’s post. Stripping designs down to the bare essentials, a refreshing concept? Read on for more on this.
We believe that good communication boils down to keeping things simple and when it comes to communicating your ideas online, we think that white space is a great place to start. We’re reaching that time of year again when many of us will pay homage to our favorite department stores and eat, drink and be very merry! But is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Well, in the spirit of enjoying things in moderation, today we’re talking about the philosophy of minimalism and when less is more.
We have a lot to say, we always have and probably always will. Bestselling author, Cassandra Clare, once wrote that “we live and breathe words”. So is it really possible to convey our ideas in a simple and concise as well as complete way? We think so. Read on to find out how!
The art of having just enough
The concept of minimalism is achieved by condensing something down to its most essential elements. The phrase “Less Is More” is one of the most well-known of the minimalist movement, popularized by 20th century German-American architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. In interactive design, the less is more concept is achieved by including only the elements that are absolutely necessary to a given design, while still maintaining usability and good user experience.
“Minimalism is not the lack of something. It is just the perfect amount of every essential thing.” (Sumit Jaiswal, UI/UX Designer at Inkoniq Design)
Making something minimalist, breaking it down to its core, is easier said than done. You can’t achieve minimalism by simply removing elements from an existing design – no – you have to rethink the design from square one. The concepts of minimalism and simplicity have tricked us into thinking that it’s always about less, but we at Justinmind think it’s really about having just enough. After all, functional minimalism relies on the notion of emptiness, but not nothingness. First things first: you need to have a thorough understanding of your design purpose and establish the key message. If you can summarize your core concept(s) without compromising on value, you’ll be able to better communicate these ideas to users who are constantly on the go and trying to do a bunch of things at once.
One of the pillars of minimalist web design is negative, or “white” space. White space is the area between elements in a composition, serving to guide the user’s visual flow. As a general rule, the more negative space around an element, the more the eye is drawn to it. White space is a controversial design element – in fact, one of the greatest design myths is that white space is simply a waste of space. As many designers overdo it with the white stuff, we’re here to show you how it can be used for the greater good.
Stripping down to the bare necessities to improve user retention
As a tool to avoid clutter – in terms of content and design elements – and create distance between different elements of functionality and content themes, white space allows easier readability and scannability. Getting back to basics, that is, grids, typography, spacing, proportion, and colors, and fitting them together with white space appropriately, is essential. Avoid the frills, noise and redundancy, and you can improve user comprehension and retention of your webpage or mobile application.
“It’s all about removing the unnecessary.” (Jonathan Ive, Design Vice President at Apple Inc.)
White space makes copy appear less intimidating and more readable. By displaying the right balance between content and white space, you are providing the user with digestible, bite-size chunks of information that are much more manageable for the user than streams of text, with no gaps in between – making it easier for the reader to come up for air.
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Paying attention to spatial relations
Understanding spatial relations in the brain is key to understanding spatial relations between parts of a web display. Science explains that spatial properties, such as location and size, are processed by different portions of the brain to object properties, such as color and shape. With this in mind, the proximity principle is the idea that elements placed close to each other are perceived by the brain to form a logical group. To this end, establishing hierarchy between elements, placing of labels next to relevant fields and grouping related topics together in lengthy input fields can make for a better readability. White space allows for more comprehensive organization of these elements, preventing the design from overwhelming the user. Negative space is especially useful for detailed interior webpages, where the space needs to accentuate, highlight and grab the user’s attention and focus it in the right places.
When we talk about white space, we often picture endless fields of white. But it’s not so much about uninterrupted space as it is about creating balance and harmony between elements, in various forms:
- Active white space is space that is intentionally left blank for a better structure and layout. It also emphasizes the content area and leads the reader from one element to another.
- Passive white space is empty space around the outside of the webpage or blank areas inside the content which forms part of the layout process. It helps to create harmony and visual comfort between elements.
- Macro white space is the space between major elements in a composition.
- Micro white space is the space between smaller elements: between list items, between a caption and an image, or between words and letters.
Then there’s the difference between visual, layout, text and content white space to think about. Oh, and remember, white space doesn’t have to be white!
Brand positioning and attracting the right attention
The way you place elements on a webpage can determine how well they’re seen, so find a suitable framework for your website or app. We believe it’s a lot to do with directing the right people to the right places, and white space can help to centralize user focus. The foundation of a minimalist interactive design framework is a solid backbone: a strong grid, visual balance, and scrutiny of alignment. And with smart use of white space, you can arrange elements in a way that communicates and defines the purpose to the user. For example, generous amounts of negative space can create a sophisticated look and draw attention to the most important items on the page.
A note on space and rhetoric: it’s not only what you put on the page that matters, it’s also what you don’t put there. Here at Justinmind, we’re all for breaking records, but when it comes to creating effective and efficient interactive design, we also understand knowing our limits and sticking to them.
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
And remember, the principal goal of white space is to draw attention to the content itself: it’s the supporting act. After all, what is design if not a means to communicate?
Managing the user memory
We all have our limitations, and as complex as the human brain is, it does have its shortcomings. For instance, the way we read content on a screen versus in a book is vastly different. In his study on the Magical Number Seven, the brilliant George Miller declared that “there seems to be some limitation built into us either by learning or by the design of our nervous systems, a limit that keeps our channel capacities in this general range.” That is to say, we are limited in our capacity to process information, and after a certain point, our ability to focus becomes inefficient and passive.
Miller explains that by organizing, and reducing the cognitive load that our brains have to manage, we will have more luck in keeping focused. He goes on to talk about how “chunking”, or grouping relevant information together that can be located and scanned quickly, has had a positive effect on our ability to retain focus on a given task, such as memorization and processing large amounts of information.
“By organizing the stimulus input simultaneously into several dimensions and successively into a sequence of chunks, we manage to break (or at least stretch) this informational bottleneck.” (George Miller)
With the sheer volume of content and competition on the Web nowadays, hierarchical organization or “chunking” seems like a good solution. The typical web visitor’s activity begins with the most general overview of the site – the home page – and continues down through progressively more explicit sub-menus. But chunking isn’t just a case of sub-categorizing large amounts of information. It requires the use of white space to break up text into small, self-contained modules, each of which generally reflects one user task – focusing information on user tasks, not products.
So love your white space ♥ and fuel your creativity! We don’t believe that white space is wasted space, but we do think there is an appropriate time and a place for it.
And what better way to test out white space than at the prototyping stage of your design process! Using white space is a simple and easy way to make grids more appealing and clean cut for the end user. For instance, you can increase or decrease whitespace between the cells in your Justinmind DataGrids and use it to define their structure and style.