Why Not Be Simple? When Web Design Embraces ‘Less is More’

Over the last few years of learning how to design websites I think I have fallen down the trap of having far too much content per page than was actually needed. At least that shows I have a lot to write! These last few months I have been designing two website; my own: http://dspickett.com/ and my Church’s website. Both are very different projects with different requirements and a different audience.

One thing has really stood out to me though, I love simple websites. After doing a lot of research (countless hours of browsing “best design portfolio” lists) I came to two different conclusions about what seems to work for me.

1. When I visit site I would really like to be able to see something that sums up what the site is about. I’ve taken a liking for big fonts and bold text that says exactly what the site is about. Maybe not too big but enough that I can visit and go – o yes – I know what this site is about.

2. Simple but effective. It annoys me when I find a site that takes me a long time to find what I actually want to find out – especially if it’s something like Directions or About information. I like knowing that someone is one or two clicks away from sending me a message or even no clicks away from listening to my music.

With these in mind I’ve tried to design my own site to be simple, easy to use and yet effective. I have a contact form, a music player and lots of links but I’ve designed the site with only a small colour pallet and 2 fonts (if you count the logo and Blog button). That  doesn’t mean it’s perfect at all though. Maybe you’ve got some comments?

Aside from my site, why does being really simple matter? I think it’s a question of what you want your website to achieve. If it’s a magazine site featuring articles (like Design Juices) then having 4 pages with size 72 links might not be the best solution… but when it’s your portfolio or business then maybe having just a few pages obviously labelled is the best way forward. In today’s climate having a site where clients can quickly and easily access your contact details and a brief Bio and Portfolio is a must.

I think http://www.topleftdesign.com/index.htm is a pretty good example. It’s got obvious links and there’s enough content but not too much. The site looks “nice” yet has everything you want within just a few clicks. Simple.

A Google search revealed lots of showcasing sites for minimal designs and I stumbled across http://www.patrickmonkel.nl/index.php again! It’s a really great Simple site with a great feel. It’s, again, easy to navigate and the stunning art work just adds to the site. Both sites get across what I’m trying to say very well both are simple yet very effective. You can spend more time getting to know the designer’s Bio if you’re not working out how to get to it and the colour scheme doesn’t hurt your eyes!

I started off thinking the more content the better and I think the age old rule of quality over quantity can sometimes be forgotten when creating sites. Not to say a lot of content is bad, it just needs to be of a good quality. It will be interesting to see how the web shapes up in future – as we get more devices and more ways of filtering content maybe content will grow whilst site design becomes simpler. Twitter has 6 main navigation Pages in it’s top menu – less than many other sites that have no where near as much raw content.

Good luck with designing your own sites – I’d love to see what simple designs you come up with!

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  • trudesign

    Simple is better….when you can create knowledge and emotion from as little as possible, then you are really succeeding. Everytime I go to play around with my site, I try and figure out what I can remove before i figure out what I can add.

  • http://dspickett.com DSPICKETT

    I agree with you completely, some sites I visit invoke a lot of emotion from just a few words. Glad you liked it.

  • http://jaemi.info Jaemi

    My current project is a redesign of a website I maintain for a really tiny library in a neighboring county. Since they're so small, and their site is as well, my redesign is totally based on simplicity and ease of use. I agree. Simple is better. Especially when there isn't, or doesn't need to be, a slew of content.

  • http://dspickett.com DSPICKETT

    Yeah :) What's the URL? Would be good to take a look!

  • Simplasta

    — “Simple but effective”

    This implies that simple isn't effective while I'd argue that simple is often is more effective than complex. However simple fails when it misses out important elements or things have been simplified purely for the sake of simplifying, not for any calculated reasoning.

    Design comes from the content, it can't be stuck on to content, so if that means a rich busy design is appropriate then cool. If it means a focused minimal design is appropriate then… cool. Do what is appropriate but try not to over design by adding what isn't required, in my opinion.

    If you've not already you should give Dieter Rams' ten principles for good design a read: http://www.vitsoe.com/en/gb/about/dieterrams/go

    John Maeda's book The Laws of Simplicity is also a worthwhile read: http://amzn.to/d4428B – although it's about simplicity in general not specific to web design.

    Or study the current work by master of simplicity: Jonathan Ive.

    :)

  • http://twitter.com/dcalonaci Dario Calonaci

    If you want to see one minimalist website, than follow this one: http://dariocalonaci.ueuo.com/
    My portfolio, I love minimalistic and elegant things. I'll send you a link again when it0ll be ready!

  • http://jaemi.info Jaemi

    Ha…well. It's still in progress, but if you want to see what I've got for the main page so far: http://jaemi.info/tcl/new is where it's at. It's still got some kinks. Mainly the footer and header image positioning. And if you want to see why I'm so keen to redo it, the old – and live – version is at http://tomkinscovelibrary.org

  • http://dspickett.com DSPICKETT

    That looks good! :) If I were you (and I'm not so you don't have to listen) I'd actually remove the header/footer background or shrink it to the width of the main content to make it flow as one piece. So you get a http://www.bevelandemboss.net/show-template.php… like effect because I love the navigation items you've made so I'd want to do them justice. :)
    At least I'd remove the footer background. Good job – e-mail me how it goes: http://dspickett.com/contact-page/ :)

  • http://dspickett.com DSPICKETT

    Sorry, that could have been clearer. I agree “simple is often is more effective than complex” it's just sometimes people think lots more “stuff” makes a better site when it doesn't always; like a small restaurant doesn't need loads of pages.
    Of course, simplifying purely for the sake of it isn't necessarily the right way forward and as I said, magazine sites, businesses etc. will need a different approach. :) I checked out Ram's principles.

  • http://dspickett.com DSPICKETT

    Following you on Twitter, let me know when it's ready. :)

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  • Tahsi_n335

    Nice Article.

  • http://twitter.com/RSWorks Really Simple

    “it’s a question of what you want your website to achieve” – absolutely. And your first two points are spot on too. On the web, where attention is severely restricted, there are very few sites whose first priority should be “wow” factor – there's almost always a more important point to make.

    Of course – and as you mention in your post – a simple, functional design can also carry the “wow” factor when it's done really well, although I think it generally takes more work to make it happen with fewer elements (certainly worth the effort, though).

    I recently posted a walk-through of a redesign using and discussing these exact same principals here

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  • Rask

    But if a website design is simple it shouldn't mean it looks “barren” or empty. Some well executed simple websites can achieve more with great and extensive graphics. Of course too much is too much. Content should never be obfuscated under heavy graphics or other bells and whistles. :)

  • Espreson

    Simplicity always a best practice..
    If website becomes simple..it takes less time to load…Thats a bigger advantage over readers retention..

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