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 you should understand what it means 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’re not the same. Minimalist lives at the end of the spectrum, 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. In order to call a design minimalist, it needs to have the highest possible signal-to-noise ratio.
Signal-to-Noise Ratio Comparison
Too Minimalist is Not Ideal
There’s a danger when your design is too minimalist. The image below shows the spectrum of aesthetic and minimalist navigation bars. As the navigation bar gets more minimalist, it starts to look less like buttons and more like page text. This can cause users to confuse the button labels with page text.
The ideal amount of minimalism is one that’s balanced with aesthetics. Users need to be able to identify buttons and links from text. Too much aesthetic and you could create too much noise. But when you find the right balance, you could create the perfect design.