THE HIDDEN COSTS OF MINIMALISM IN DESIGN

Minimalism also comes with hidden costs for consumers.

Minimalism is a movement that has essentially dominated the better part ofthe last decade. Its rise to popularity came as a response to the proliferation of heavy styling that preceded it. It created a clearer and cleaner design direction for websites and interfaces. Web and app designs have become less complex in terms of styling, speeding up production time and resulting in faster loading of digital products.

Minimalism has been around for a long time as a design direction. If you look back at product design and companies like Braun or modernist architects like Mies van der Rohe, designers have always looked for inspiration in simple forms.

More recently, it was the launch of iOS 7 that really moved designers away from the rich styles and effects that we’ve been so used to. Apple was aiming to develop an interface that mirrored the nature of the Apple product hardware itself. The result included buttons replaced by small, vague icons, little distinction between the components, and a general lack of any kind of feeling: strong and serious.

Since then, iOS has made some changes while also going for a course that strips back as much information as possible.

Apple is often an intriguing example of minimalism in general. It poses crucial concerns about aesthetics and user experience. As a business, their revenues are heavily dependent on a reductionist technique. They sell goods through obvious simplicity; they build something that everyone can look at and understand how it works and how to use it. Decisions such as the elimination of the headphone jack, I/O ports and the home button are all long-term decisions to further achieve this goal. That’s what Apple was built on, and why it produced beautiful, user-friendly products like the iMac G3.

But as you begin to look deeper into Apple’s minimalist design direction, it becomes apparent that beauty is by far the most important factor in driving sales and an obsession. Apple’s minimalist approach to product and software design is one size fits all.’ At product and app level, this is at the detriment of user experience. Apple’s mice and keyboards, for example, are gorgeous, but they deliver some of the worst ergonomics ever made. Sleek, low-profile designs cause wrists and hands to lie in uncomfortable positions and can place them under tremendous pressure over time. Contrast this with Microsoft’s offering, which seems like a more balanced design that is straightforward yet ergonomic.

 

You may also look at things like the iPod Shuffle 3rd Gen that removed the pause/prev/next track buttons for minimalism. It totally stripped away its ease of use, replacing it with something that was aesthetically appealing, but without any regard for the end user. It’s not just Apple that can be considered to implement minimalism in such a drastic way. From magazine publishers to car makers, it is present in some form in almost all industries. It is a common style for customers, thereby creating an incentive for businesses to manufacture goods that follow these requirements.

Minimalist tradeoffs in product design are almost the same as in digital product and web design. It has become the standard to drive minimalism to extremes, rather than to offer a more balanced design. This also results in inefficient color schemes, lack of element distinction, low usability and confusing navigation practices.

Primary acts are also difficult to spot, using black/grey and vague symbols with no corresponding text mark. Content typography is often too small to present usability problems to a wide number of users and tourists.

These design decisions become disruptive and can have a deeply negative impact on users, especially those most in need of adequate accessibility considerations.

Minimalism is still primarily about aesthetics. It’s about taking away the design, not adding to it and making educated design decisions. The renowned architect, Frank Gehry, once summed up minimalism as a ‘dead end.’ In this short interview, he points out how minimalism strips away all emotion and feeling, and is still going for the extreme.

It’s a tough job to do as a designer. On the one hand, it’s a coveted trend with a stunning visual direction that can be spectacular when carried out with care. On the other hand, the question is whether aesthetic considerations should play such a large part in the design of digital goods. Optimal architecture for usability and ease of use will rarely fall within the limits of minimalism.

This indicates that it should be limited exclusively to visual areas of design, not areas that have usability at their heart. This includes user interfaces, blogs and physical items. It’s more than anything about finding a balance in design, rather than pushing it either to extremes, be it minimalism or minimalism.