Minimalism vs Maximalism In Web Design

This month we we are talking about paid, local and search marketing across our blogs and social media, so you may ask, why are we now talking about web design again? As a digital marketing agency, more times than not, a customer from any paid, local or search campaign will be led to a website and if that website’s no good, the rest of the work is obsolete. So now we’ve explained why we’re about to discuss minimalism vs maximalism in web design, we’d best get to it!

Over the past decade digital interfaces have seen it all: from the realistic, texture-rich skeuomorphic designs of the first iPhone, to the bare bones and unabashedly digital takes like Google’s Material Design or Windows Metro UI. We’ve seen web design trends shift from one extreme to another, yet the flat ‘trend’ seems to have really stuck around. Even Apple eventually ditched their maximalist designs with the release of iOS 7, which replaced the famous iPhone skeuomorphism with flat design and neon colours. Today in 2018 though, that shift to the flat UI happened nearly five years ago, so how much do we have to abide, and where can we break out?

Where flat design works well

“Form ever follows function” – Louis Sullivan

Design doesn’t always need to be elaborate to be effective. Functional and cost effective, flat design has stuck around because it works. Really, it’s hard to go wrong with a design methodology that puts copy and actions first, but that methodology works better for some cases than others.

Dropbox uses large type and bold flat colors to put message, and action first.

Flat design and minimalism go hand in hand, placing focus on the key content means an overall lack of interface decoration. This makes makes perfect sense when our goals are ease of function, or the concise relaying of technical info (think digital services, or industrial products).

Where skeuomorphic design works well

Sometimes, speed of use or concise communication shouldn’t be our website’s top priority. In one industry it may be appropriate to keep things looking corporate and streamlined, but in another it may seem woefully out of touch.

Chamberlain’s Leather Milk uses texture to make things feel ‘real’.

Let’s say you have a business making artisanal leather waxes and oils. Your product sells through the value of honest, real ingredients, as well as the character of maintenance and care to keep what’s old lasting into the future. In a case like this, the website needs to feel as ‘real’ as its product.

In with the old, out with the new. Bold, flat design would feel off-putting, or even seem outright jarring against the storytelling and message of history and craftsmanship. When your brand relies on nostalgia, or the story of craft, heavy use of textures and decorative imagery become very appropriate. We’re not looking to inform the visitor as quickly as possible; we’re building a connection that, thanks to the right design, feels less digital and more human.

Finding the middle ground

In some instances, a purely flat design may feel too impersonal, but a heavy use of skeuomorphism could risk feeling dated. In cases like this it may be time to follow the tactile design trend, which aims to create the illusion of depth and three-dimensional objects in the digital space.  

OTQ Design, and Honu Line both place objects within the digital space to create immersion.

Tactile design can feel more alive than the trends of flat design, opting for a more borderless space, where the visitor can imagine the website extends beyond the screen, and objects can live within it. This is accomplished through the use of generous whitespace paired with high quality photography and consistent use of shadows. The content feels less trapped between a screen, and it becomes more connected to the user.

In Conclusion

The modern website need not follow trends blindly. Interfaces throughout the past decade have shifted dramatically in either direction, but with some time to breathe since the last push for flat design, we can reflect and understand when one visual trend is more appropriate than another.

For technical tools and services, efficiency is key. For those with a human story to tell, it may be right to go for a more ‘real world’ appearance. As time goes on, we’re likely to see more and more websites opting for something in between. The tactile design trend isn’t about just adding some shadows, it’s about finding the balance between the digital and physical worlds, while reducing our barrier to real branding connection.

Curious about which direction to take your own project?  If you want to learn more about website design, feel free to give us a call or drop by our marketing agency in Vancouver!