Yorrick is a freelancer by profession and currently writes for WebFirm, a website development company.
Whenever he isn’t busy, he enjoys spending quality time with his nieces.
Web design, much like any form of design, follows trends and fashions that dictate what’s hot and what’s not. Of course the prototypical site changes over time in response to technology, but at the same time it also changes simply because we change what we think looks good and what we expect from a website.
A perfect example of a current trend in web design is minimalistic design. There was a time when it was ‘trendy’ to stuff a website with as many graphics and animations as possible (the Geocities era… and later the Flash era), but then Apple came along and suddenly everything became much sleeker and minimal.
Designers began applying a kind of ‘Occam’s Razor’ to their work, and the new credo was simple: if your site can say the same without it, then you don’t need it. In fact, a saying in design generally is ‘communicate, don’t decorate’, meaning that every element on a page should have a clear purpose or it shouldn’t exist.
This makes sense for websites. It allows them to load faster, it helps visitors to know where they want to visit, it works for touch interfaces and small screen sizes, and it can often look very elegant and beautiful.
But I don’t like it. I don’t like it … I don’t think it’s always necessary, and I miss the old days when sites had a bit more detail and decoration. Read on to find out why, and to be convinced that your website needs more… more … more.
My first complaint with minimalism is that it is limiting in its very nature. If you have a minimal design then your blank space will take centre stage and each element you include on your site will take on more importance and only exist if it absolutely has too. So what do you do then when you want to stick an advert on that page? Or when you have more than one link you want to link to? In some cases your own minimalistic web design will mean that you simply can’t add the touches that you want to – and surely it’s not right to be limited by the site that you built in the first place?
Another problem is that minimalism is quite bland and quite impersonal. When you create a site you will no doubt be proud of it and you will see it as an expression of your personality – yes, even if it’s a business site. But if your site is mostly white, just like every other site out there right now, then what does that say about you as a designer?
How can you put across a sense of who you are? When you add decoration and when you add more controls, you’re adding personality and you are adding things just for the fun of it. And what’s wrong with adding things for the fun of it? Especially when websites are supposed to look good? As an added bonus, these ‘extra bits’ will help to make your site stand out from the millions of bland white sites, which means people will be more likely to come back.
Experiment with a spinning logo in the centre of your page and people will say ‘huh, it has a spinning logo in the centre of the page’… and ‘hey, what was that site with the spinning logo in the centre of the page?’
I would also argue that complexity can also be incredibly beautiful. I mean, no one has ever criticised the Sistine Chapel for being overly complicated. Would it be as compelling if you removed half of the detail? Complexity adds depth, gives you more to look at and is generally more interesting, in my humble opinion.
I’m not saying that every website should suddenly start filling its pages with unnecessary embellishments, and I’m not condemning those sites that chose to go the minimal route. All I’m saying is that sometimes having a bit more detail can work in your favour. And crucially, you shouldn’t feel like you can’t add elements because you’re afraid of breaking the current minimalist chic. Sooner or later this will go out of fashion again anyway, so why not lead the pack and dare to be different? That’s how trend-setting is done.
Ed’s note: Yorrick brings an interesting question to the table here. Should designers be concerned with trends? Can they inject some of their own artistic personality into site design these days, or is it all about the branding? Design should of course be customer-centric, because without that, clients won’t be satisfied with the outcome, but web design is a creative process of course and so a good designer will want to inject creativity into a site in order to give the best to the customer and their creativity.