There’s a new trend seen in recent user interface design – currently, it seems to be all about “minimalism.” Minimalism brings across a clearer, less cluttered experience for the user. There are fewer colors, well-organized groupings, a concise focus on the tasks, more gutter space and more white backgrounds.
I still remember the user interface that Hotmail and Yahoo brought forth on their email platforms a decade ago; I thought they would be the best ever created. However, things changed when Gmail arrived on the screen. It was a struggle at first. It took me a while to get used to Gmail, since it was such a departure from the traditional email screen. I had to put more effort in differentiating and identifying content blocks and icons – as it has less color usage and more white background – and the interface took some getting used to. However, slowly but surely, just as many, many other internet users did, I started to use Gmail as my primary email (thanks mostly to the gigantic amount of memory space Gmail provides).
The sparse-but-functional current design of Gmail falls squarely into the concept of minimalism, just as many other popular user interfaces do. Windows 8 and Pinterest, for example, are also very good examples of minimalism. The conventional glossy icons are replaced by simpler one-color versions or text-based buttons; rich gradients are now solid color combinations.
This lack of visual detail appears to be working well with the majority of users – the interface is easy to learn, and more and more tasks are getting accomplished with the minimalist design.
Minimalism is also the preferred method for designing web interfaces that feature user-generated content – social media websites, for example. However, it might not be a good idea to implement this strategy for e-commerce websites (although Amazon.com has done it, to a certain extent). Bringing minimalism to a website where users are well-versed with the existing interface could be a shock to the system and to the business. Imagine a sudden change to bestbuy.com; users would be confused with the new look, and might take their business elsewhere. Consumers might also find the minimalist approach “too simplistic” for their tastes. Be sure to check their preferences before starting the design.
So, what is the success factor for minimalism? Success with this approach primarily depends on the information architecture, navigation flow, and mix of intuitiveness, consistency, and aesthetics that allow users to accomplish each and every task quickly and accurately. Be sure to plan and test carefully on every UI element, from minute to major, when implementing this minimalist style.