Ever think of bringing the Marie Kondo aesthetic to UX design projects? Yes, the same Marie Kondo who stormed the world with her organization tutorials, urging people to adopt minimalism and let go of things that do not spark joy.
Now, let’s take a moment to think what would happen if web designers were to use her advice and retain only those features and elements which bring joy to the user while discarding those that do not?
The concept at the center of this approach is termed ‘minimalism’. Strangely enough, minimalism as a concept is a consequence of excessiveness, wherein we remove products or elements that aren’t vital to our objective.
What is Minimalism?
Minimalism as a design movement came into being in the ‘60s and ‘70s in American visual art. It is a style of design where artists/designers make use of only those concepts and elements which are most essential to the successful operation/execution of the product. This is done by getting rid of any component which may be unnecessary or excessive.
– Creating a minimalistic design involves the reduction of form, colors, and space to attain a level of utmost simplicity.
– True minimalism is achieved when all of the excesses have been removed, with only the absolute essentials being retained.
Minimalism in UX Design
Think ‘minimalism’ in terms of digital design and the odds of Airbnb’s homepage popping into your mind are freakishly high.
Every element of this page conveys a necessity and you can’t see anything which shouldn’t be there. The interface appears clean, with lots of whitespace. Airbnb has optimally applied minimalism to lay emphasis on the calls to action and the content, which has been successful in converting visitors to customers.
Minimalism asks for stripping the design clean of all components except those that are vital to its very functionality.
If any element were to be removed from the final design, it would end up malfunctioning. As a consequence, the effort and mindset needed to build an effective minimalist web design tend to vary slightly as compared to generic design practices.
Adopting Minimalism for Enterprise UX
Minimalism, with all its “bare necessities” attributes, has rightfully made a mark on B2C apps and websites. Users of sites like Nordstrom or Pinterest appreciate their no-nonsense design which conveys ease of use.
However, on the other hand, we have enterprise applications like ERP, HRM, or CRMs – these virtual behemoths with multiple users, multiple needs, and multiple outcomes. They contain and handle volumes of data that users perform varying activities with, including searching, editing, documenting, and more. At the very least, the basic requirement of these data- and operation-heavy software is that the users should be able to seamlessly maneuver through them and arrive at the right decision or perform the right action.
Can minimalism be applied to designing enterprise UX software? The answer is both, yes and maybe.
In principle, the minimalistic approach is all about making the user experience simple. Indeed, most enterprise software products need to shed their complexity in favor of a more uncomplicated, user-friendly appearance and functionality. However, applying the principles of minimalism to merely add an aesthetic value can yield disastrous results for the hundreds and thousands of users who use these software for varying purposes.
Minimalist design has to be organized, precise, and high on usability. What really makes a minimalist concept inspiring is when the usability factor is melded with a refined functionality and appearance. This perfect combination is a worthy goal that any designer can aspire to achieve, and here are a few ways to go about it –
Know really well what is absolutely essential
… And what is okay to eliminate. Minimalism harps upon eliminating all those elements that are unnecessary, but this rule has to be followed with utmost care while designing enterprise software. Thus, begin with setting clear goals as to what user needs and stakeholder needs are, priority-wise. Effective minimalistic design will result from fulfilling this list of prioritized goals. These goals will help you take the right design decisions. For instance, customer service agents must have easy and immediate access to any customer’s purchase history to enable the right response – this data cannot be archived in an obscure place which can result in delayed responses.
Audit the data
An in-depth audit of the data will help in determining the data density that goes on each screen. As designers, it is important to talk to the users and understand the flow of information, it’s importance and priorities. Enterprise applications are laden with data which could be obsolete – for example, information or workflows on defunct services. This is considered redundant or repetitive and is a factor contributing to its clunky functionality. Therefore, organizing the data based on user inputs will help maintain a content hierarchy that is easy to scan and access, and still very useful to all. Make use of user inputs to –
- group the data logically,
- hide or eliminate what is redundant,
- and ensure that the data used to perform regular tasks is easily accessible.
Use visual elements judiciously
There obviously isn’t a rule of thumb to follow in this case, as designers have to rely on their judgment to take a call on this one.
Minimalism dictates that there should be as few lines, boxes, dots, and other guide rails as possible on the interface while presenting information.
By this, it means that designers need to give deep thought to which visual elements on the interface are purely lending aesthetic value and eliminate those, and retain the ones which build the logic and visual structure of the interface.
A nice way to implement this would be to develop a UI that progressively becomes less intrusive with increased usage. As an instance, some apps make use of a transparent page overlay to new users, highlighting the key elements on the page and providing a brief explanation about them. There is also the option of creating a tour which takes the user through the functioning of the entire system. As users begin to get increasingly familiar, the need to provide long labels diminishes.
Highlight the CTAs intelligently
The top highlights or goals of each page have to be indicated as clearly as possible. Colors and typographical elements can help draw the user’s attention to the most important information on the screen like action areas or call-to-action buttons. Minimal design makes optimal use of negative space, therefore, the important actions have to be highlighted intelligently to enable quick actions and split-second decision-making. A few extra clicks or keystrokes to get a job done is a crucial area of concern for a user who uses an application several times a day.
Maintain usability above all else
Enterprise projects might call for upgrading existing systems or developing a new product from scratch. While working on these, designers would have a natural inclination to create clean, threadbare designs that look sleek and work fast. However, they must keep in mind that a lot of enterprise users are victims of habit – as are most humans. Any sudden change in appearance or under-the-hood functionality can wreak havoc with their everyday tasks. A good way to ensure efficient usability is by restricting functionality to match user needs. By creating a role-based user interface, a particular user is only exposed to the functions pertaining to his/her role.
Minimalism should never take precedence over usability. While designers may shift their focus to stripping down the components to its essentials, they have to ensure that the usability does not suffer in any way.
Minimalism involves trying to make each design as simple as possible, but never simpler than it really needs to be. In enterprise products, minimalism has more to do with functionality and usability than appearances. And to successfully do this, designers have to base each decision on user needs and communicate all actions and information with utmost clarity.