A Guide to Simplistic Web Design

Define Minimalism

To start, think about what makes a website the opposite of minimalistic: A lot of color, images, shapes, and not enough whitespace. Also think in terms of content. Simplistic web design also strips the design of unnecessary content, so what a visitor does see, is what the visitor needs to see.

By subtracting the unnecessary elements in a web design, we create more meaning to the remaining pieces. What are those remaining pieces? Portfolio pieces, blog posts, a resume…you name it, it’s important.

Typography is a #1 Priority

Let’s think about what we do need in simplistic web design. Content, content, content. The number one way to dress up content is in the form of typography. Paying special attention to typography in simplistic design can create great aesthetic appeal by adding minor detail like italics, serifs, and defining spacing and proximity.

A List Apart

A List Apart features one of the greatest examples on the web of typography. It is obviously a very basic and minimalistic design, featuring black white, gray/beige and orange. The only image that is used in the logo, which is also minimalistic, and the majority of shape on the design is rectangular.

Looking closer at the design, we can see that the designer spent a lot of time thinking about typography. They first thought about the size of the headers, paragraphs, navigation, etc. relative to all other content. Then, color came into place. Notice how the brightest color on the page, orange, highlights the titles of fresh content.

There are other ways to highlight content with just typography. Bolding, italicizing, size, and font change all come into play. Using correct hierarchy in typography is also a must, so pay attention to proximity and spacing as well.

Boring Color? No. Little Color? Yes.

Many designers want to spice up simplistic web design with bright, interesting colors. However, as a general rule of thumb, a simplistic design should not use more than 2 colors in the actual design. This is because pops of color creates strong contrast, opposed to weaker forms of contrast like change in shape or size.

Janic Design

Janic Design uses two contrasting colors: green and orange. The rest of the design is variations in gray, and uses contrast to get the point across. Also notice that the bulk of the design are in these grays. Those bursts of color lead the eye to what is most important: logo, navigation, and portfolio content.

The only other colors in the design are in the portfolio pieces themselves, leading the eye even more. This strong contrast in color and style creates a design where the visitor sees the portfolio pieces first; this is a great goal for any designer making a portfolio.

An Effective Use of Whitespace

Whitespace is often overlooked as such a big part of web design. Ever wonder why adding a bit of margins on the side of a layout makes it ten times more appealing? Whitespace frames whatever it’s around, meaning side margins frame an entire layout. This gives focus to the whole design.

Experienced designers know how to take the knowledge a bit further. Using whitespace to properly frame headers, intro text, content, and navigation can make for a more effective layout. A good designer knows how to influence their audience with their design, either to read the content, donate money, make a sale, or leave a comment. Whitespace is one of these biggest influences.

Uses of Whitespace to creat feeling

Whitespace is not only used to frame, but to also create a sense of feeling. The more whitespace there is, the lighter it feels, and the more luxurious it is. Luxury can be compared to professionalism, high-quality, and high-price.

The image above is from a very informative article from A List Apart: Whitespace. Mark Boulton goes into what exactly whitespace is, how to use it effectively, and a walkthrough of basic practices when working with whitespace. I highly suggest everyone read the article completely through:

What do You Think of Simplistic Design?

Share your thoughts, practices, and tips on simplistic design.

How do you use whitspace in design?

Do you have any special Typography tricks?

How important do you think color is in minimalistic design?

Written By Kayla

Kayla Knight is a 20 year old college student, part-time web developer, freelancer, and blogger. Webitect is where she spends too much of her freetime, sharing interesting finds and valuable resources. Be sure to check out her portfolio.


  1. Kari

    June 2nd, 2009 at 02:54 pm

    I actually love simplistic design. like, when people pull it off it can look amazing. I really don’t like busy pages with three different sidebars and ads all over the place. I think the simpler the design, the more effective it can be

  2. faye

    June 2nd, 2009 at 03:08 pm

    I do like simple designs to give a more professional look, but not too simple.. It needs a little excitement somewhere I think. :)

  3. Kawsar Ali

    June 3rd, 2009 at 12:50 am

    Hey Kayla, Just wanted to say your articles are really good I enjoyed them. Nice one on Smashing Magazine. Will follow up on your writings

  4. Denis

    June 3rd, 2009 at 01:03 am

    I like simplisti? design and hate oldstyle 3 or 4 columned layouts. it`s terrible.

  5. Akashrine

    June 5th, 2009 at 06:19 pm

    I’ve written an article on minimalism and whitespace (in French) with showcase maybe you’ll find it interesting. 5 pages.

    By the way i think you could have been a lil further, nice writing.

  6. QuoterGal

    June 5th, 2009 at 06:19 pm

    I’m a big fan of simple, minimalistic web design, and these are good points – but I did want to say re: simplistic – I do not think that word means what you think it means. ; >

    “Simplistic” carries with it the onus of being *overly* simple. You can just say “simple” and it will do the trick.

    I post this not to be a grammar-nazi – but since it’s in your title, it detracts at the very beginning from the very good points you make about web design within your article. Folks might not think you have as much to offer as you obviously do.

  7. Jim

    July 15th, 2009 at 11:10 pm

    Great article, thanks.
    Oh, yah – and I would also like to note that the writer is really hot … It’s really rare in the IT industry – ESPECIALLY in my area of software development.