Is Responsive Web Design the Right Path to Minimalism?


It is necessary to first point out that by NO MEANS is minimalism a trend! In actuality, it is a design style that emerges to prominent use in accordance when society’s common desire shifts towards excessive wants. If that is the case, what could this guy be talking about?

Well, in recent years the web community has been strongly gravitating toward minimalism as the go-to design approach. Recently some newly popular styles were coming along, the most notable of these being Parallax Design. However, since then, Responsive Web Design came about, seemingly delaying the surfacing of a new prominent design style. The question going to be answered here is whether minimalism was rejuvenated by Responsive Web Design, or not?

Before going into this question, it is important to briefly see how Responsive Web Design sprouted up and where minimalism as a trend was initially heading.

Responsive Web Design’s Beginning

*Image Credit: nickfarr

Ever since the iPhone was first introduced, it put an immense pressure on any web designer or developer without mobile experience to gain some, and quick, before they end up out of a job.

Then in 2010, CSS got media queries introduced and everything changed. Later in the same year, Ethan Marcotte wrote an article for A List Apart, essentially coining the phrase Responsive Web Design. This of course later lead to his eBook of the same name, which is a great read by the way, being released in 2011. This then led to many different articles, tutorials, and frameworks that made the learning curve quite easy. By the time the community was able to truly grasp what was all rapidly happening, Responsive Web Design had already taken off like a rocket.

Where Minimalism as a Trend Was

*Image Credit: caribb

Remember when minimalism first appeared during its most recent stint of dominance? A good estimate would be about 2008, or 2009 I suppose. For those that don’t (and all of those that do) remember can agree that it came at a much-needed time. Before, the web was in a true state of complete over-saturation because of the widespread use of grunge. As far as the eye can see into the deep cyber blue ocean that is the web, the majority of what was being seen was grunge. In the delightful places where grunge wasn’t present, it was all about overly aesthetically appealing designs that added no extra value to the end-user. Some sites like this still remain today, you’ve probably seen one or two this week.

Then out of nowhere the clean, direct, and detail oriented design style of minimalism started to gain prominence. The web would do a 180 degree shift of sorts to the exact opposite of where it just was. Where unnecessary graphical pleasures ruled, the necessity focused design approach took its place.

However in 2010, minimalism as a trend was at a crossroads so to speak. The dominance of the web being seen could easily be gone, or something could happen to revitalize it.

The Connection

*Image Credit: alles-schlumpf

Lets put things into perspective. Minimalism grew to become the go-to design style somewhere around 2008 and 2009, pretty good estimation. Responsive Web Design was first introduced with the addition of media queries to CSS and Ethan Marcotte’s first article on the topic published on A List Apart, both occurring in the year 2010. Now by 2010 minimalism’s reach grew to span the vast majority of sites on the web and this of course led to somewhat of a stale feeling for those that tend to reject complacency. Which would probably be the entire community of web professionals.

Minimalism grew to be too big for its own good in 2010, and Responsive Web Design came out around 2010. Right now both these design approaches have the web in their fictional palms, connection?

How Did This Come To Be

*Image Credit: kat st kat

Some people may be wondering right now about how this connection came to be. Well, that is exactly what we’re going to be looking at right now.

They Compliment Each Other Well

As earlier mentioned, minimalism is a very detail oriented design approach that tends to shun aesthetic additions just for the sake of making things look better. Every aspect has an intended purpose that aids the end user’s experience, and that is what’s most important.

Responsive Web Design is all about being able to have the full experience of a website, but the trick is it has to be able to seamlessly do this on any device and screen size. To do this, the design of the website must be focused around making sure the desired message is clear and easily understandable. Which means all the extra, and unnecessary, aspects may need to be saved for use somewhere else.

They Both Put an Emphasis on Content

The main goal of each can easily be described by calling it one and the same. Minimalism’s main goal is to bring as much attention to the actual content as possible, and then using aesthetic touches to increase its appeal. In Responsive Web Design, the content is king. This is because as the site changes in size, the content becomes a more important factor to the visitor. Of course it is the original reason why anyone would visit, but on smaller devices the content is the only thing that should matter.

Easy Adaptability

Minimalism is a very pleasant visual experience for viewers, and this same pleasure can be found on any device and screen size without any excess effort. This one reason probably does the best job at putting rationality behind why Responsive Web Design clings to it so well. They are both about adapting to their environments, without losing quality or their identity, and both do this quite well.

Minimalism was Popular at the Right Time

It wouldn’t make sense to start using a new advancement in web technology with a new design approach, that is if the already popular one is a perfect match, would it? Of course not, so that is why most tutorials found today on Responsive Web Design will be done with websites using a minimalist design approach.

In Closing

The connection between these two respective design approaches is quite clearly understandable after taking a little look. Both share the same goal and intended purposes with what they want for the websites they are applied to, so of course they would get along. They also do a good job of helping each others trend shelf life, without actually being trends in essence. However while both these approaches are useful and quality design approaches, no trend lasts forever — no matter what the circumstances.

Any Thoughts You’d Like To Add To Better Explain How Responsive Web Design Can be Added to Minimalism’s Current Popularity Streak?



  1. Teresa

    I feel differently. Many designers simplified their site designs because beauty and subtlety would be lost on a small mobile screen, and it was too difficult to translate content and assets across various builds of a website.

    With responsive design, you start by designing your minimalist mobile site, then arrange, add, and embellish as you grow to tablet and desktop sizes. In this way, responsive design has opened the door to complex desktop designs that have rich user experiences, while addressing the needs of the growing mobile market.

  2. I think that minimalism and responsive work very well together. By keeping your site minimal, it’s way easier to make it responsive as well.

  3. Livinda

    I agree with the minimalism. I’m working with usability for mobile web so it must considering the pixel aspects on mobile device.

  4. It is necessary to first point out that by NO MEANS is minimalism a trend!”

    With that introducing line, you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    As you perfectly pointed out, minimalism came back to webdesign when it was most needed. Yet, if someone would ask me I would say that it was there all the time… waiting… for someone to create a mobile device that connects to the internet but wasn’t up to handling high-payload downloads. After all, “stuff on the interwebz gotta look nice” and work as expected at the same time… not using “minimalism” (which never dies as it’s a form of art) would have been like not using my computer to write this comment. If it’s there and it makes sense… use it!

    Say, is it just me or are all of us excited to see what’s next? ;)