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Has minimalism gone too far?
6 points by davidork 1540 days ago | hide | past | web | 12 comments | favorite
I am a minimalist at heart, but practicality & utility override any and all desire for a minimal UI.

To a degree minimalism increases usability, cuts down on distractions with other links to other articles,media,etc and lets the user focus on the article or whatever work they're doing if its a desktop app.

To be quite frank I'm sick of websites with three miles of whitespace on both sides of an 80 character wide column article text and no navbar or links to get to the website's homepage.

examples (from HN's top articles about 30 mins ago) http://mkronline.com/2012/10/30/you-arent-imagining-it-the-web-is-a-mess/ http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/10/googles-most-advanced-voice-search-has.html http://joel.is/ I'll admit, to a degree, some of it is bad coding/design using fixed sizes in pixels instead of relative sizes for things (em) so the page renders the same independent of screen resolution.

The same sort of thing is going on with desktop applications, menus and options are getting ganked and hidden. example: http://uberwriter.wolfvollprecht.de/

Eventually if designers/developers don't get a grip on the faux minimalism fad I have a feeling the UI of the future will be a blank (white) page with a single button in the center for everything.

I really can't be the only one who feels this way.

PS: for "minimalism" done right IMO see http://gmailblog.blogspot.co.uk/ the sidebar layout is functional and fairly bare, but it still suffers the whitespace problem on the right side.

First of all, you are quite right for pointing out that the style-de-jour is 'minimalism' for app and web designers. I too feel that there is something missing from the current attempts. It is my understanding that Minimalism is a process, a process of reduction, distilling a design to its core. It is this process that produces the simplicity that often goes hand in hand with minimalist design work. However, I don't see much evidence for this process in the current fashion. I see short-cuts taken to a determined end.

The UberWriter app the OP referenced, to me, smacks of this. It appears that the end design was determined first rather than a process of reduction being made. It appears that features were decided to be unnecessary. I mean, the app requires you, the user, to determine the visual structure of the document via mark-down: the complexity has been moved from the app to the user. All the features of a regular, equivalent word processor are still present in this app, it's just you have to memorize a bunch of special syntax instead of the location of a bunch of special icons. The app doesn't bring the fruits of minimalist design and is far, far from simple.

So in that sense, I am in agreement; the fashionable Minimalist style prevalent at the moment is only skin deep. However, there are some software designers, including myself, who see it as much, much more.

I agree. Minimalism in the "unix" sense (Write programs that do one thing, and do that one thing well.) is beautiful.

Minimalism to get rid of all this useless fluff that no one ever uses is practical.

Minimalism in coding, not using overly complicated structure,functions,etc Is great for your sanity as well as anyone who has to deal with your code.

Minimalism as a feature on a checklist is going to harm anything or anyone involved.

If your obsessive about optimizing and tweaking your project (and try to keep a practical head about you) eventually the line between form and function will merge, that's when you stop.

I think what you are seeing a lot of your examples is a faux minimalism. Basic color schemes, few buttons. But the purpose of a minimalist design is to give greater significance to the thing that matters. Your first link is a great example of faux minimalism[1]. It contains a lot of unnecessary information; 1/4 of the available screen is dedicated to "Top posts". What does "20 stunning pictures from Iran" have to do with the article I am reading? Why am I being directed there? About 2/3 of the scrollable area is comments. I don't understand the point in comments when things like HN and Reddit already exist. Try going back to blog posts from 5 years ago if you want to see how badly they age, mostly due to comment rot.

The page also contains a search (search what?), various "social" buttons (these rot horribly too), and tags (no one uses theses but the authors). It does have 100% font size and decent contrast, so I'll give it credit for not being unreadable like many blogs.

I personally want to see more minimalism on the web. Outlook.com is a good example of minimalism done right. If you pay the yearly subscription ads are removed and there is nothing in the application not about email; with the ads you have 1 annoying thing. Compare this with Gmail which contains:

1) A 30px tall fixed container -- which completely stands out from the rest of the app -- containing links to other Google services like YouTube (why I want to go from email to YouTube, I'm not sure) which aren't related to email.

2) Another persistent container for social networking notifications to a social network I don't use and isn't about email.

3) A chat window which luckily you can minimize (but loads nevertheless).

4) Useful stuff about your email like tags, draft and spam folders are hidden under a "More" submenu!

[1] http://mkronline.com/2012/10/30/you-arent-imagining-it-the-w...

I can't find a specific quote but I know Deiter Rams said that design should make a product useful, or give priority to usability. I've always felt the same and am often perplexed by what is shared around the internet passing for "good design". I've been doing/learning graphic design since I was a little kid (photoshop 7 back when I was 12) I've since moved on to marketing and entrepreneurship (more of an evolution than a transition) but it's only further cemented this idea for me that design should be useful and achieve something not merely be pretty.

Minimalism is awesome, but your right often people take it too far and sacrifice value for the sake of making it pretty. The real crime isn't in designers doing this, but in the community celebrating it as good design.

but your absolutely right.

Whether minimalist or not, what I want is beauty. Although beauty exists in both minimalist and non-minimalist designs, the minimalist one are refreshingly lighter and make reading (the main point of content) a nicer experience. This blog is as minimal as they come, but (to me) makes for a nice reading experience:


Consider also that some people just wanna get their shingle out on the web. Better to whip up a minimal blog and begin posting than to delay because you've gotta have a more intricate, pixel-perfect design that exemplifies your creativity.

I agree with your sentiments completely.

Just wanted to say that it's not so certain that minimalist sites make it easier to browse the site. Look at the most popular sites for the general public: yahoo and facebook. There's nothing minimalistic about them. They are filled with tiny little options and features. And you know something? My parents can handle all these features and use them even more than I do.

Agreed. I find yahoo especially very noisy, entirely too much going on. Its not ideal being that finding something specific on the yahoo homepage requires some ctrl+f for the unfamiliar user, but as you said it is functional enough for "parents" to use.

"a blank (white) page with a single button in the center for everything." -> http://google.com

The 80 character wide columns probably have typographic reasons. The general rule is that everything wider than ~80 characters will make it easier for the reader to lose the line when jumping down to the next line, and therefore make the text harder to read.

I have some sort of eye/brain issue when reading big blocks of text if the line spacing is too tight I'll start reading the next line down in the middle of a sentence, particularly when I'm tired.

more text left to right (@~90% page width) + appropriate vertical spacing (~1.25 depending on font) = bueno for my eyeballs at all times.

sorry, personal preferences.

I'd actually like to see some metrics/research on that.

I know a few websites (google,etc) have done studies with eyetracking and such and tried to quantify what the user was looking at and make some generalized assumptions.

I'm not sure typography optimizations made based on the typical ADD user scanning for one little blurb of information from search engine results, work as well when the user is attempting to "consume" all the content on the page as in the case of an interesting news article or blog.


One word comment. In a discussion about whether or not minimalism has gone too far. I lol'd.

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