by anthony on 07/24/10 at 10:08 pm
The term “minimalist” is thrown around a lot in the design world. If you’re going to use this word at least understand the meaning of it and use it correctly. The first thing you should understand is that simple does not equal minimalist. They are similar like the number 2 and 2.5 are similar, but they are not the same. Minimalist lives at the end of the continuum, where simple does not.
What Minimalist Means
A truly minimalist design would have the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio. The signal is the information that’s communicated, the noise is any extraneous information that dilutes the signal. The key in creating a minimalist design is to shoot for maximum signal and minimum noise. When you do this, you will have reduced user processing loads and established a clear focus on the meat of your information. In minimalist design, removing unnecessary elements places an emphasis on essential information, thus making the signal strong and the noise non-existent. The signal strength also increases when you highlight essential information, giving it even more emphasis and contrast relative to less essential information. Above all, to call a design minimalist it needs to have the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio.
Signal-to-Noise Ratio Comparison
Minimalist is Not Always Ideal
When should you design for minimalism? It depends on how you define success for your design. If success to you is a design that is highly aesthetic, then navigation bar 1 below might be the choice for you. If you’re aiming more towards simplicity, and you just want users to spot your navigation bar and use it, then maybe navigation bar 2 or 3 would be a good choice. But maybe you think minimalism is cool, like things unbelievably simple and love Helvetica Neue Light. If so, navigation bar 4 would be the best fit. It all depends on you and how you define success for your design. However you define it, just make sure that your signal is at least higher than your noise, that way whatever you’re trying to communicate will come out clearly. Minimalist is good, but sometimes simple is good enough.