Advantages of Minimal Web Design

July 7, 2015

During its relatively short history the World Wide Web has already seen several waves of design trends come and go, and some of them come back again. The design of the very first web pages was necessarily minimal or rather non-existent, due to technical limitations and because graphic design was the last of the developers’ considerations. The design of web and Gopher pages consisted of just black text and blue links on white pages that were accessed via the command line — graphical browsers like Mosaic hadn’t seen the light yet.

The very first website published in 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee speaks for itself. The site has been resurrected by an archival team at Stanford University, you can click the screenshot below to visit it.

screencapture w3-org History hypertext WWW TheProject-html

In its initial proposal Berners-Lee stated that the WWW project would aim “to provide a common (simple) protocol for requesting human readable information” and outlines some of the principles that people would probably associate today with minimalist Web Design and specially with accessibility, such as “the project will not aim to force users to use any particular mark-up format, or to do research into fancy multimedia facilities” and “data will be either readable by the world (literally).” Graphic design and other fancies were to be not only disregarded but also discouraged.

But sure enough, as web technology advanced, all of those principles were brushed aside and the web quickly evolved into a broadcast multimedia platform, in which presentation acquired bigger prominence than it was originally hoped for. The web banner was born, and after a period of heavy use and abuse, it came to be inevitably hated. As one of its very creators bitterly reflected, “most [banners] aren’t serving value. They’re in the business of interrupting what you’re doing.”

The incorporation of images and GIF animations were followed by the vector-based Flash predecessor in 1995, and by 1996 we were being served the kind of websites like the one you can see below for the movie “Space Jam”, which is still functional and has not been updated since (just click on the picture to visit it).

Screencapture Warnerbros Space Jam Movie

Dynamic websites started gaining traction after the release of PHP3 in 1998, the first version to resemble PHP as we know it today. Content Management Systems sprouted up all over the World Wide Web, such as the pioneering PhpNuke, PostNuke, or TYPO3, the predecessors of today’s WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. By separating content from presentation these Content Management Systems were able to use PHP to dynamically change the output interactively in response to different contexts or conditions.

Non-technical users could now easily add and modify all kinds of content, placing them into widgets and block elements, and so they did unrestrictedly, leading in many cases to an impossibly cluttered page. It seems that some sites have still to recover from the noxious effects of those early design misuse trends, as can be observed in the examples below:



By 2002 most browsers supported JavaScript, along with other client-side scripting languages like DHTML or ActionScript for Flash, used to control media types and modify the behaviour of interfaces within web pages in response to mouse actions, keyboard strokes, or at specified timing events.

Pop-ups started to pop up everywhere—another example of overused Web Design software whose creators came to regret having invented—together with all kinds of special effects that could not have been possible to implement in the web until then.

Again web designers took full advantage of this new set of capabilities, and again many of them overdid it.

screencapture www-econtent-com

screencapture www-markecko-com

Nowadays the web is exploding with new display technologies that supposedly make web pages more attractive, like the overused Parallax scrolling design that everybody is implementing for no other reason that it is appealing, and thus making it lose its appeal. We also have more than a healthy share of what I see as forced multimedia, because it runs when you visit the page whether you like it or not. It can be argued that some people actually like their browsing to behave that way, but the problem is that if you’re not able to control what you watch, you may as well buy a TV, sit back and be fed with commercials.

Another problem is that from an accessibility point of view, most of those pages are, well, inaccessible. That’s an issue not only for your users; by making your content as accessible as possible, search engines crawlers’ and indexers will benefit too and appreciate your effort, rewarding you with better rankings. Think of those bots as users with disabilities who have difficulties reading through a cluttered page, can’t interpret JavaScript, and can’t interact with multimedia content. There are workarounds and patches to solve some of those those issues, but nothing beats having a well-structured site with a minimal design in place to make sure your content is broadcast in the clearest possible way to every visitor, including bots.

Essentially the idea behind Minimalism is that “Less is more, and therefore Minimalist Web Design aims at stripping down web pages to the barest elements necessary for a design to function, getting rid of as many unneeded elements as possible until nothing else can be removed without interfering with the original purpose of the design.

Have a look at some examples of Minimalist Web Design below, and please do not hesitate to let us know if we can help you create or convert your website into a minimalist design.”

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