Scott Cole, a Norwich based Web Designer and Developer, creating brilliant things.

Scott Cole
Web Designer
& Developer

Minimalist navigation in web design – An idea to supercharge your navigation?

Minimalist Navigation on a mobile can help a great deal, but not just hiding menus away off the screen.

In general, what is minimalism?

Well, that depends. Music, Art, the way you live – really, they each have different meanings when it comes to minimalism. I’m a fan of The Minimalists – Their podcasts are great and they have some great tips for most people to live more fulfilling lives, even if you don’t want to own only a bed and toothbrush (I’m kidding, have a read of this page from The Minimalists where they explain what it can mean). Can this approach be beneficial to create minimalist navigation in your website that would benefit the user and goals of the website?

How do we apply minimalism to Web Design in general?

So, minimalism is multi-faceted, but how do we go about applying it to our websites? Now, I don’t only mean in the design, but the content, structure, and how we navigate around those sites. I’ve written a post previous about minimalism in web design in the form of negative space and I won’t go over those points here in detail. Essentially, just look at what’s necessary in terms of content etc. to get your point across and then work on the design from there.

How do we (often) currently apply it to navigation?

I’m sure that if you talked about minimalism in design that would get people thinking about the most obvious aspects – a bold use of space, colour and typography perhaps.

Perhaps it even makes you think about hiding things away behind buttons that reveal more content or links like an accordion of different paragraphs or FAQs.

For navigation, it might make you think of burger menus – those familiar 2 or 3 bars that animate gracefully and reveal a list of links to different pages. To be honest, I do like seeing those menus and the sometimes creative ways a designer makes them transform. I even implemented one on my own website recently – although that process got me thinking. Do we need them All. The. Time?

The answer is no, probably. Perhaps I’m not coming at this from an artists definition of minimalism, harking back to the 1960s and ‘70s art movement. I’m tackling this problem from a “what do we really need for a good user experience, and to provide the user with the content they need at the right time” perspective. (I know that’s such a catchy sentence, don’t all rush to use it at once).

So in what way can we apply minimalism to our navigation menus and structure?

Just as with my other post on minimalism (link to it here) we need to think about the structure of the site. You may already have designed your site from the structure up and have just the right amount of content and pages that lets you complete the goal you set.

Is it necessary to have 100 links to every single product you sell as a business right there on a gargantuan menu? Probably not – you can probably just have a page for each category of product, and on those pages, you have essentially a catalogue of the products you sell within that category. I think most businesses do this now – it’s nothing new.

Now, consider what pages you want your visitors to most easily be able to access. This aligns with your business goals – as a freelance web designer, for example, you probably want to showcase your work and make it easy for the visitor to contact you. Assuming you have separate pages of those things, but also have some other pages such as terms and conditions, you could decide to not hide the portfolio and contact pages. Rather, have them as styled links still at the top of your page, but couple that with a menu that hides away where the visitor can access other links they may need but aren’t as important to that user experience and the goal of the business.

When designing a new website for a business I’ll start with reviewing current content, going over the goals of the business, and build a structure of the website based on some straightforward user personas. That structure is specifically targeted to deal with the goals the business needs to accomplish.

Some things to think about when you’re designing the structure of your websites

  • Is there any page or a few pages that are most critical to the goals of the website?
  • Is there any way you can simplify your navigational structure to make it easier for a visitor to get around your site and find the content they’re looking for (that’s where some user personas come in).
  • Try to get rid of what isn’t necessary to complete the goals of the business (you don’t have to get rid of everything that isn’t a product page – after all, things like blog posts are a very useful tool for engaging your potential customers).
  • When it comes to a hidden menu on a mobile device (or on the desktop version of the website, if that’s the way you want to go) can you have two or three of your most important pages upfront and on the page rather than on that hidden menu? Would making those few links more visible to visitors mean the business may more easily be able to accomplish their goals and get that content in front of the visitor?

Minimalist Navigation on a mobile can help a great deal, but not just hiding menus away off the screen.

Conclusion

Applying minimalism to a website is something that’s been done for a while. I don’t think what I’m suggesting is anything groundbreaking in design. However, apply these concepts to each design stage (sparingly albeit; we don’t want to just have a white page with nothing on it…) such as designing the navigational structure and how the different pages of content fit together.

Consider what’s needed. Use what improves the user experience and benefits the goals of the business.

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