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Our target as designers most of the time is improving ourselves and our techniques. There are many ways of doing this. You can read books, find an internship or simply learn a lot by example from the internet. But there are some other ways as well. You might not believe it, but by only designing minimalist layouts you will become a better designer. You might ask yourself why, therefore I thought of putting together some ideas to try to convince you that this is also a good way of improving your skills.
Minimalist designs have been with us for quite some time now, emerging from nowhere a couple of years ago. It is easy to spot all over the place as everybody longs for such a design and everybody looks to have it. People pay lots of money for revamping their websites and minimalism seems to be everybody’s direction right now.
I do believe designing minimalist websites improve your skills because there is a reason why minimalism is popular. After more than 20 years of cluttered web pages, Flash animations, large Photoshop graphics and so on, it’s time for minimalism to shine. It is indeed time to only show the information which really needs to be shown. That is if you are a good designer, obviously. Not everybody can properly design in this style – but this is a total other discussion, so let’s get back to our topic.
Minimalist designs bring in a friendly environment without clutter and confusions. Web pages are now easy to look at and are quick to analyze even by an untrained eye. After so much time of the old web era, people kind of had enough with web pages that were nearly impossible to grasp. So there is indeed a reason why minimalism is so popular. But can it indeed improve your skills?
One of the elements which stand out in the new web era is typography. It is also probably one of the most important elements on a website. Text becomes an element on its own in today’s design and all of us have to work hard to achieve that perfect balance. It can be picking the right font, the perfect size or a good contrast – every one of these plus many others are crucially important in perfecting your website’s typography.
Unfortunately, although it is clearly important, typography is something that is often neglected by designers. Choosing the perfect font takes a lot of time and many designers simply do not have it (or do not want to spend time on it), therefore Arial and Helvetica seem to fit every website. Well this might have been true a few years back, it is not valid anymore. Learning to properly work on typography as an element of minimalist design will definitely help you achieve something not every other designer can.
Don’t just choose random fonts. Play with them, have a palette of 10-15 and switch them around until you will get the desired effect.
Another asset of the minimalist design is the main element which is always in focus. As mentioned earlier, there is no place for clutter or any other elements which are not necessary to the website’s target. This makes designers choose only one element and focus on it. Putting the whole focal point on one element is always a challenge, but by doing it many times you will find this is a very useful skill.
Being able to make something stand out, and at the same time make the other things visible as well, is not something every beginner designer can do. If you ask me what a good designer is, then I will tell you that a good designer is the one who can put elements in focus and forget about the rest. Just because you can fill the whole web page with things doesn’t mean you are a good designer.
When designing minimalist sites you need to focus on everything, even if it is a small pixel. Because they are so simple, it is easy to notice flaws in it, therefore designers need to close in on perfection and make every single pixel look good. If there is one element that looks bad on your page, it will stand out. By designing in a minimalist way you will learn to be “pixel perfect”. There is no other way of creating a good minimalist design.
Many minimalist designs are built on a grid system, although it is not always easy to spot it. By designing like this you will also learn to use grid systems while designing and coding. Grid systems are something I am in awe of and I think you should be too. They make your website look so much better and organized that it is almost impossible not to like it.
There is no minimalist design without a lot of negative space (also called “white space”). New designers are afraid of using it because you kind of need a lot of visual experience in order to make it work well. Not every piece of your page needs to be filled in with something, but this is a concept not everybody fully understands. The faster you learn and acknowledge it, the better you will be at designing minimalist layouts – and the better your skills will be.
The reason behind us using negative space is that minimalist pages only contain few elements – so the rest of the space needs to be filled in with something. In this case, because we want to avoid clutter, we fill it with the background color. Why would knowing how to properly use negative space make you a better designer? Because this concept is rather new and being able to properly use it everywhere will give you an edge over the others in the business.
It is not only about being pixel perfect. It is also about incorporating as few elements as possible while also conveying the wanted message to the visitors. This forces us to get every small element right. You do not want anything to stand out from a negative stand point and you want every element to express something. Every element has its purpose and doing a perfect job means you can’t remove any more element without affecting the site’s goal.
By this I mean you should know the work you have done is the best you could come up with. You might meet some clients now and then who, only because there are way too few elements on the layout, are not willing to pay. This is the moment when you will need to explain them why that specific layout is good for them.
Knowing the strong points of your work is a skill you need to learn and designing minimalist layouts will help you achieve it – with a bit of help from difficult clients though. It might not be a skill you will use too often, but it will come in handy in your freelance career for sure.
Only knowing what minimalist design means doesn’t make you a perfect designer, just like only knowing theory doesn’t necessarily mean you can also put everything into practice. In other words, there are some skills which you can get in two ways: the hard way (reading books, spending money on conferences, spending too much time on research) or the easy way (learning by doing).
I have tried this myself and the conclusion is incredible. Learning is way faster when you do it by actually working. By following the advice in this article you will find yourself in the middle of a win-win scenario. You will learn to design better minimalist layouts and will also gain helpful skills for your career.
Until next time! What do you think about the topic discussed here? Do you think it is easier to learn by doing, or in some other way?
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Christian Vasile is an enthuziastic Romanian web designer currently living in Denmark. He is passionate for the industry and writes about design, usability, coding and freelancing and is a regular publisher here at 1WD. You can follow him on Twitter at @christianvasile or visit his web portfolio by clicking on the link above.
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