Minimalism is not only a rising trend because it’s great to look at, it is also a very effective tool for improving user experience. We’ve all seen the stunning clean and minimalistic portfolio page or weather app, but it’s not so clear how this simplistic design approach could be implemented in complicated enterprise/business applications. As a designer, I am often faced with the difficult task of striking the perfect balance between having a simple and clean UI while displaying the necessary information to the user.

The goal for every designer and company is a more functional and usable application. Minimalism is a way to help achieve this goal using simplicity and clean design to communicate information effectively to users. In this article I will outline some of the key principles of minimal design and how to apply them to any design regardless of how complex.

1 | Clear Goals & Hierarchy

The very first step for ensuring a clear and effective design, especially for complex applications, is to set clear goals. Every single design decision should help achieve these goals. This means without have a clear idea as to what the users and the company need to achieve, you cannot effectively create a minimalistic design. These goals will set the foundation for every design decision you make.

TIP: Often-times it takes initial research and user interviews to determine what goals and information is most important to both the company and the users. Below is a few examples off of our recent project for JB Hunt. 

How to Apply Minimalism to Complex Apps

2 | Show the Essentials

Anything that does not help to achieve the top goals of an app/screen should be hidden. This allows for the important information to take center stage. For complex business applications, you must be VERY careful when it comes to deciding what should be hidden to the user. Productivity could decrease by showing too little or too much information. It also helps to set up a clear hierarchy of information.

TIP: Hierarchy is commonly displayed on a screen using size, shadows, fades, and blurs.

3 | Spotlights and CTAs

It is important to call the user’s attention to the most important information on a screen. The user should naturally be drawn to the most important content and/or action area on the screen. The same goes for any call-to-actions.

TIP: You can create a spotlight or click to action (CTA) by using an accent color, increasing size, adding animation or audio to highlight content and make it the center focus. Here’s an example of our design for Valacta & CanWest DHI Dairy App.

4 | Negative Space

There is something magical about whitespace. Large amounts of negative space is probably one of the most recognized characteristics of minimal interface design.

TIP: Try doubling the amount of space and you’ll undoubtedly see a cleaner, clearer, and more modern design emerge.

5 | Limited Color and Fonts

Color is an important factor in clean minimal design. Simple color schemes not only make for clean visuals, they actually improve usability. If you are having trouble with making a design look simple, try reducing the amount of colors you are using. The same goes for fonts. Using many fonts can confuse the user and make an app look messy. Sticking to the idea that “less is more” you should try to limit the number to 2 fonts max.

TIP: Try using a monochromatic color scheme and one simple font to create a modern minimalistic look. Check out to create a simple color pallet (try using monochromatic, complementary, or shades.) Also, an example of a couple screen with monochromatic color scheme we did for AC Moore.

A.C. Moore

6 | Reduce Clutter

The simplest way to help a design look more clean and modern is to reduce visual clutter as much as possible. If the point is still clear without a certain element, then remove it!

TIP: One popular strategy in minimal design includes removing borders and lines and using space to group or separate elements.

Essentially, minimalism is one of the most effective ways to communicate with users. Although most apps will never be able to reach the minimalism of Google, many complex applications can be made more effective by applying the principles of minimal design. If you consistently take away elements until nothing else can be removed except what is absolutely necessary, you will find that you have a more user-friendly application for customers or employees to use. It is a balancing act, but one that is simple to learn.

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