The Case For No-Frills UX/UI

Flat design is so 2015. Minimalism is the new poster boy of the UX/UI world. It all started with Airbnb’s UI revamp in 2016. However, Instagram took all the limelight with asimilar revamp a month later the same year. Both of the tech giants’ revamps followed similar principles: plenty of white space, eye-catching headlines and bringing content to the fore.

Look around the mobile and web app spectrum, and you will find most brands getting on the bandwagon, be it Apple with Apple Music, or Lonely Planet’s travel guides.

What Constitutes Minimalism In UX/UI

Just like the Japanese philosophy of minimalism, where the focus is on limiting your possessions to the bare minimum, minimalism in design follows the exact same principles: You strip the user interface to the bare minimum. Every little detail has to serve a purpose. There is no room for flowery design elements meant purely for aesthetic value.

While companies may differ in their approach to conform to those principles, a few common practices can be seen across brands:

  • Flat, universal icons
  • Plenty of white space
  • Bolder headlines, sometimes used with a dramatic font
  • Limited colors

Why Minimalism Makes Sense In UX/UI

1. A Lower Bounce Rate

Studies have shown that uncluttered design helps in lowering bounce rates. How can you tell if your app’s design is uncluttered? Largely, users’ perception of a design being complex or cluttered increases
with the number of elements in a design. Thus, a design with six different elements will be perceived as more complex than a design with only three different elements. This builds a strong case to limit the number of elements in your UX design to the bare minimum.

2. It Encourages Engagement

The purpose of minimalism is to bring one or two elements to the fore while keeping everything else in the background. In the case of Instagram, the focal point is user posts; for Airbnb, it is top-ranked properties; while for Apple, it is playlists and music discovery. In all of those examples, content is at the forefront of the user experience. Users don’t have to search for information. It is right there staring them in the face, which, in turn, encourages people to engage with an app a lot more.

There is also a technical side to the argument. Since a minimalist design only has the bare minimum, websites and apps can benefit from faster loading times. It also makes designing for responsive environments a whole lot easier, since there are fewer elements you need to focus on.

3. It Can Be Used To Stand Out

Minimalism, when done right, can be useful for standing out in a crowded market. Since a minimalist design is so stark and stripped back, it is impossible to replicate a brand’s UX/UI while still being distinguishable. This is especially true for apps vying for the same space. For instance, since Apple Music has gone the minimalist route, it will take some special effort from Spotify to follow in Apple’s footsteps if it plans on being distinguishable. Thus, the move has given Apple a clear advantage in terms of user experience.

How To Design A Minimalist Interface

I have listed certain common practices that are prevalent across minimalist web and mobile app designs. The use of negative space is the most noticeable of the lot. However, if you are taking the minimalist approach to UX/UI for the first time, it helps to keep one principle in mind: Keep subtracting elements from your design until any further subtraction will break the user experience.

Let’s use the case of Behance’s web app for illustration. If I was to make Behance minimalist, I would get rid of the “sign up” button on top. It can easily be integrated into the “sign in” field on the right. The “discover” tab on top can also be removed since it won’t change the user experience. The user can still navigate through curated galleries and best works. The “filter” fields on the right can also be removed since they are not very noticeable anyway.

If you attempt to remove anything else from Behance’s UI, it will probably break the user experience.

A Small Caveat

In order to stand apart, it is easy to get carried away. While rules are often meant to be broken, some conventions are too sacred to a good user experience. For instance, most people expect the “back” button to be in the upper-left corner. The same goes for the company logo, at least in most cases. Similarly, the top right corner is reserved for login.

Minimalist UI Designs For Inspiration

Google can be the biggest inspiration for anyone looking at a minimalist user interface. The fact that Google’s interface has undergone little change since it launched is a testimony to the efficacy of minimalism. Agenda is another example of minimalism done right, with important information at the forefront of the app’s design. Amount manages to carve a niche for itself in the crowded currency-conversion market and its straightforward, no-frills UI has a big role to play in its success.