The Third Age of Minimalism
A Reaction Against Chaos…
And ‘chaotic’ suitably describes my internal head space, sitting at my computer, clicking crosses, skipping ads… Minimalism is a state I’ve now started to covet more and more. Perhaps you would too, if you spend as much time as I do in front of a screen, traversing a chaotic social media and digital environment.
Minimalism was originally a reaction against chaos, borne out of the harrowing brutality that accompanied World War II. Its roots within the arts are entrenched in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, notably amongst American visual artists such as Donald Judd, John McCracken, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris, Anne Truitt, and Frank Stella. A second significant re-emergence took place in the early 1990s, notably in fashion and interior design; designers such as Celine, Jil Sander, Prada, Helmut Lang and Calvin Klein, providing an alternative aesthetic to the grunge narrative that preceded it. Interiors too looked to a Japanese influenced simplicity, devoid of ‘knick-knacks’ wallpaper and carpet. Now again Minimalism is emerging as a significant trend as we emerge from what has been a very ‘maximalist’ era, influenced by notoriously excessive decades such as the 1980’s and a prevailing bohemian aesthetic.
This collective desire for less, I feel, will signal the emergence of a new dawn of minimalism, not only across fashion and design but including the digital space too.
Back to Basics, Less is More (more or less)
“If the internet was Oxford Street on a busy Christmas Eve, Medium, by comparison, is my white padded cell…”
And Medium is a great example of a new, considered minimalistic approach to design and a maturing attitude to the ‘user’s experience’
It’s a strange logic, I know, and perhaps a contradiction for those desperately trying to ‘capture’ and ‘engage’; but by doing less the user will do more. I lose more time to Medium and am more likely to get to the bottom of the page, as I’m simply left to read. With no interruptions, no hard sell, it feels peaceful and I both enjoy and appreciate that I’m left by my own volition to seek out more, I will do the work for you… I’m engaged.
This is even truer when you equate this to the amount of time we spend on a phone as opposed to full increasingly smaller laptop screens. Simple works in terms of ethics as well as page speed. It is worth noting, a slow website will be an even slower mobile website.
We, as people, are developing an increasingly sophisticated network of internal filters and as a result becoming less and less susceptible to overt advertising. And to be honest, we are all resenting the drain on our data allowance.
What you require from digital web design, at the end of the day is conversion, data capture and for your customers to have a pleasant experience, one which will translate into a returning traffic flow.
A Deceptive Simplicity
The problem is that clients will look at a minimalist site and assume it’s lacking design
“it’s a bit simple” and “couldn’t you just add some more ….”
Flashing images, disco lights, you name it. All of these things, however, neglect the customer experience and core points of conversion i.e. ease of use and, fundamentally, speed. For such a ‘time- starved’ generation, speed must be the priory, not the ‘glitz’.
Beautiful functionality is not easy at all - the opposite in fact. Showcasing better images and content, reducing any complexities that detract from that, whilst presenting the content and features in a simple and direct way, is no mean feat for any design team. Communicating visual clarity requires you to find more innovative solutions to design ‘norms’ and minimalism will only serve to highlight any errors, so you not only have to be retina ready but pixel perfect too.
Social Takes The Lead
I saw quite a few ‘drama queen’ responses to Instagram’s new look; in reality, they have simply adopted a ‘Gallery’ style approach, one of simplicity, one that makes the content, Queen. Those of you using Slack, will no doubt appreciate its deceptive simplicity, in the same way, platforms like Medium, have adopted a minimal approach in order to benefit the user experience.
“What you see is what you see”
Minimalism has the beautiful virtue of stripping away the superfluous elements and discovering what remains; the purpose is always to elevate the content. I’m very much sold. Thankfully it feels that everything is becoming lighter.