“Exploring Minimalist Thought and Expression in Contemporary Web Design”
Welcome to our ongoing series of articles exploring minimalism in modern web (and graphic) design. With this post, we continue our exploration of the Web’s most inspiring and intriguing minimalist presentations. Staying true to the spirit of minimalism, each showcase will be kept as clear and concise as possible, focusing on tangible and practical aspects of each featured site. We will discuss aesthetics and functionality on both sides of the browser, examining elegance and simplicity within a Web-Standards context..
For our second review, I have chosen the tenth incarnation of Shaun Inman’s personal site, ShaunInman.com. As anyone involved with web development is aware, Shaun Inman is a true master of design. Shaun continually pushes the envelope of modern web design with inspired vision and innovative creations. Examples of Shaun’s work include sIFR, designlogue, Mint, and of course ShaunInman.com, which is the focus of this review..
The current version — si10 — of ShaunInman.com serves as an exquisite example of practical minimalism, employing three fundamental design elements to their maximum potential. On the surface, Shaun’s site is immediately satisfying, with its deliciously dynamic duotone palette, rhythmically flowing Helvetica, and lavishly spacious composition.
In true minimalist fashion, Shaun focuses on the essential aspects of design while reducing their synergistic complexity to harmonious proportions. Here, color transcends mere ornamentation to provide chronological context, subconscious dialogue, and organizational cohesion. Regional differentiation is subsequently achieved via distinctly formulated compositions and generous application of whitespace. Further, by limiting typefaces to Helvetica and Univers 59, Shaun reinforces presentational cohesion throughout the entire site. But that’s just the surface — let’s dig a little deeper..
Before diving into the interview, let’s examine a few of the site’s outstanding features and key elements..
- For this design, Shaun uses color as the primary design element through which content is organized and presented. Throughout the course of each year, page color changes with each passing day, gradually traversing a seasonal spectrum of color. The saturation level for each of these 365 colors remains highest for the current year, and then quietly diminishes as the years pass. In this way, Shaun uses color to establish a tangible representation of time throughout his site. This chronological relevance is emphasized by the duotone color palette, which also provides a stylish focus on site content. First-time or occasional visitors will revel in the site’s savvy, sophisticated design aesthetic, while more serious readers will appreciate the full scope of functionality provided by Shaun’s masterful use of color.
- As mentioned, Shaun’s si10 design employs the Helvetica and Univers-59 typefaces exclusively — Helvetica is used for all non-heading text, including paragraph, list, footer, and link text. Heading text is dressed sharply in Univers 59, serving as a strong sans-serif, uppercase complement to the otherwise ubiquitous Helvetica copy. This deliberate restraining of font styles results in a clean, sophisticated appearance, suggestive of complete and uniformly integrated content. Those familiar with his work simply grin and nod at Shaun’s (arguably predictable) selection of Helvetica as the design’s primary font. Helvetica is well-known for its aesthetic neutrality and stylistic ambivalence, thereby focusing attention on content while quietly disappearing into the background. Further, by styling all text in pure
#FFFwhite, Shaun dramatically increases clarity, focus, and thematic cohesion.
- Given the uniform styling of text and the duotone presentation of content, different types of pages would be practically indistinguishable if it were not for Shaun’s use of distinctly organized layout for various types of page views. For each type of page — Home, About, Archive, search, single, etc. — Shaun presents the content according to an intuitive order that facilitates comprehension, navigation, and recognition. For example, the Home page consists primarily of two columns, one listing the secondary “Elsewhere” content, and the other highlighting the primary site content. Directly beneath the recent post headings is a nice summary of current comment activity unfolding throughout the site. Enveloping and separating each of these sections is a generous helping of compositional whitespace. Throughout the site, different types of pages are cut according to their inherent purpose. And of course, the entire composition flows consistently within a tightly controlled design grid.
- Thus far, virtually every aspect of Shaun’s si10 design encompasses the essential — each design element operating in blissful cohesion within a strongly unified presentation. And then there’s the waves. With each visit to the site, visitors are confronted with the irresistible presence of full-width, Flash-generated waves rhythmically shifting at the top of the page. According to Shaun, the waves represent the “steady, forward rhythm of time,“ and happen to fit perfect with the design’s chronological theme. As a visually dynamic element, the flowing waves suggest the immediate passing of time in a way that is less obvious than, say, a giant, ticking clock. Interestingly, the waves were not a part of the original si10 design, but rather were added at a later date. The waves now serve as potential point of contention among loyal patrons, who seem mostly enchanted with the concept. Personally, I find the waves to be a metaphorically fitting aspect of the design: content flowing, visitors surfing, and time passing..
Mini-Interview with Shaun Inman
As a part of each minimalist web review, we present a “mini-interview” with the producer or designer of the site. In this brief question & answer session, Shaun is kind enough to share his thoughts on the pros and cons of his site’s current design, as well as some insight into minimalism in general..
Q: What are strengths of your site’s design? What do you like about it?
A: I find the whitespace (or whatever the current color du jour is) most satisfying. The hierarchy, built atop a very tight grid, is reinforced by ample gutters. The lack of ornamentation beyond a few simple horizontal rules requires that the content be allowed to breath. The restrained, duotone palette also helps keep the design simple and visually digestible.
Q: What are the potential weaknesses of your design? What aspects could be improved?
A: By design older content on the site fades away. If you are unfamiliar with the site it can be difficult to find the “Toggle high contrast” link on the oldest articles. But, it is a personal site, that content is arguably no longer relevant and that’s why browsers have back buttons.
Q: What does minimalist design mean to you? What are your thoughts on minimalism?
A: Minimalism is not an aesthetic. You don’t ornament a design with Minimalism. Minimalism is an artifact of a design process that favors the rigorous distillation of content. Content is King and Minimalism is the emperor’s new cloths.
In appreciating great design, it is always beneficial to emphasize a few key “take-home” points. Shaun’s design teaches us how minimalist design principles may be applied to create beautiful, contemporary sites that deliver an extraordinary user experience. Minimalist presentation of content requires a clear understanding of the essential. Shaun demonstrates this by focusing on three fundamental design aspects — color, text, and composition — and through restraint, employs them to their fullest potential. Everything else — gradients, drop-shadows, decorations and other fluff — is quietly left behind.
The final result is a minimalist design that doesn’t “look” minimal, yet functions with exquisite lightness and simplicity. Definitely a worthwhile goal for any modern website.
I have to admit that I really didn’t grasp the full depth of Shaun’s design when I first contacted him about the interview. Having studied his site in-depth for the article, I now appreciate the sheer brilliance behind Shaun’s si10 design. Thank you, Shaun, for sharing your work and taking the time to participate in this edition of the Minimalist Site Review — Cheers! ;)