Comparing Millennials View on Minimalism And Maximalism in Web Design

In my last research session I came across a very interesting study. The aim of this study was to see if millennials who grew up with minimalism prefer a minimalist or maximalist website design.


Ulrik Söderström

Lovisa Carlsson

Thomas Mejtoft

Minimalist web-design is characterized by portraying necessary information, content, and features in the most straight-forward and clean-cut way. On the other hand, maximalist web-design aims for bold color combinations, different textures, images, graphics, and animations. The year of 2018 was truly the year of maximalist web-design, though, some designers claims that the “less is more” movement is on its way (Söderström, Carlsson, & Mejtoft, 2019) p. 92

Naturally, both minimalist and maximalist webpages should be designed in a way which does not harm user experience and the information intake. In the article “Feature Richness and User Engagement” Jakob Nielsen summarizes that the more engaged users are, the more features an application can sustain. But most users have low commitment. Therefore, especially websites must focus on simplicity, rather than features (Nielsen, 2007).

(Söderström, Carlsson, & Mejtoft, 2019) p. 92

Minimalism in web-design means reducing all (unnecessary) elements which are unimportant for user tasks. A minimalist web interface has a clear hierarchy in elements, highlights the most important ones and gets rid of anything which might disturb the user’s perception. This helps to make important messages clearer ergo: it helps the consumer to navigate more easily on the website (Söderström, Carlsson, & Mejtoft, 2019) p.93

Web design, just like language is defined by the way people use it. As the term “minimalism is used widely, it is often hard to pinpoint the exact features of it. To get a clearer picture of minimalist web design features, this thesis refers to a study of the Nielsen Norman Group. In this study 112 minimalist websites were analyzed to find defining features of minimalist websites. The author(s) included a characteristic to be defining if it was present in at least 75% of the websites (Moran, 2015)

  1. Flat Patterns and textures
    Flat interfaces do not contain any elements like shadows, highlights or gradients or other textures which make the UI elements look three-dimensional. In the survey 96% of the minimalist websites were flat. Removing unnecessary elements totally falls into the philosophy of minimalist design. But: flat design often refers to textures, icons, or graphics of an interface whereas minimalism rather refers to larger content, features, and layout. So, an interface might be flat without being minimalistic. The problem with flat design is that the user often does not see if an element is clickable or not (as all the elements are flat). Clickable elements should be recognizable for the user easily, therefore it might be better to not work with flat icons there.
  2. Limited or Monochromatic Color Palette
    This trend was recognized in 95% of the sampled interfaces. In most minimalist websites color was specifically used to create visual attention without adding additional design elements of graphics. With less visual information, color palettes will stick out even more for the consumer. Many minimalist designs are often monochromatic or are using one bold color. Almost half of the investigated website (49%, 55 websites) used a monochromatic color palette and almost as many (46%, 52 websites) used one or two accent colors additional to the otherwise monochromatic color palette. Of those 55 monochromatic websites, 51 sites were exclusively using white, black, and grey shades.
  3. Restricted features and elements
    These characteristics were used in 87% of the investigated interfaces. In a minimalist environment, designers need to eliminate any element which is not required to support core functionalities or the message. Those elements could be: 
  • Menu items
  • Links
  • Images
  • Graphics
  • Lines
  • Captions
  • Textures
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Icons

As it is often hard to tell which elements are unnecessary a popular mantra of designers is “subtract until it breaks” which means that unless the absence of an element would cause serious problems, they get rid of it. It can be hard to find the right balance between having clean and reduced website and making sure to not make the primary tasks for the user overly complicated or difficult (Moran, 2015).

4. Maximize negative space
Through the elimination of certain elements, negative space, also called white space, is automatically created on a website. A maximization of white space was used in 84% of the examined websites. White space can help the user to absorb the presented information more easily as well as directing the user’s attention. The right use of white space helps to draw the users attention to the important content. 

5. Dramatic use of typography
When there is a reduced number of elements on the webpage, typography can be a great tool for communicating meaning. In this case the typography can compensate the “missing” elements like graphics or photos and makes the minimalist design more engaging. To establish a clear hierarchy on the website, different variations of font size, weight and style are crucial. Of the examined 112 minimalist webpages, 75% used typography to convey meaning of visual interest.

Additional widely used techniques on minimalist webpages which were found in less cases than 75% by the Nielsen Group were:

  • Large background images or videos
  • Grid layout
  • Circular graphic elements
  • Hidden global navigation

(Moran, 2015)

After examining the elements of minimalist web-design, the next paragraphs will look into the key features of maximalist design on websites.

The aim of a maximalist web-design would be an organized chaos of different hierarchies, layers, textures, graphics, typography, and colors. Several attributes of maximalist web-designed could be defined by a number of designers.

  • Grandiose colors: A maximalist web-design should use a large and bold color scheme. Can also contain clashing colors as well as combinations of new and exciting compositions. 
  • Bold Textures: Distinct textures can help to draw attention to certain areas. Those distinct textures could be created by mixing colors with layers of a palette. 
  • Brave combinations: Maximalist websites play with the combination of several elements like images, graphics, animations which contribute to an extreme look.

In the research of Söderström, Carlsson and Mejtoft, the aim was to find out if millennials would prefer a minimalist or maximalist web-design approach. Therefore, two websites were created, both representing one approach. Both websites contained the same content and information and conveyed the same message. The survey involved 16 participants who were classified as millennials. The survey conducted by Söderström, Carlsson and Mejtoft showed that more than half of the participants (62,5%) liked the maximalist webpage the most. 31.3% liked the minimalist webpage the most and 6.2% had no preference between the both pages. 100% of the participants answered that they thought, that the maximalist webpage was the most innovative. Also, 71% of the participants classified the maximalist webpage as “modern”. Participants who liked the maximalist page more described it as more unique, outstanding and that it does create more interest. Many participants perceived that the maximalist design of the webpage suited the content it was made for (an art portfolio). Participants who were in favor for the minimalist page said that the content was presented in a more straightforward way and that it made the content clearer. Further, this party perceived the maximalist page as a bit messy. 

It must be said that it is very hard to measure such a subjective matter like the likeability of a website. Furthermore, there are many ways a minimalist or maximalist webpage can be presented, and this study included just one sample. Nevertheless, the authors suggest that it might be case that millennials perceive a maximalist webpage as more innovative as they are used to minimalist design. It must the highlighted that a webpage, maximalist, or minimalist, must always fit the person as well as the purpose (Söderström, Carlsson, & Mejtoft, 2019) In this case, an art portfolio was perceived as a well fit for a maximalist website design, to convey a creative an exciting message. 

Muji Versus Maharaja: When (And Why) Minimalist Versus Maximalist Design Differentially Influence Consumer Self- Brand Connection

In my last research session I came a cross an article from:

Ngoc (Rita) To, University of Houston, USA
Vanessa M. Patrick, University of Houston, USA

NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 45 | 2017

Here are my most important findings from this article:

In some important aspects of marketing, aesthetics plays a very crucial role, for example in product creation, package design or website layouts. Therefore, the consumers perception of “beauty” can be an important trigger for behavior like product choice, the willingness to pay or the perception of quality. (To & Patrick, 2017) p. 258

Recent studies in consumer behavior ask themselves the question which set of aesthetic features impact consumer’s consumption experience. A current study investigates how a specific design style, more precisely how a minimalist or maximalist design style, can influence consumer self-brand connection (SBC). Minimalist design can be characterized through simplicity through basic geometric shapes, limited decoration, and abundant white space. On the contrary, maximalist design is defined by richness, an abundance of geometric patterns with minimal white space. Although those visual elements are very diverse, brands have been using both styles to convey a luxury appeal. For, example, Apple’s minimalist design stands for luxury and high fashion but so does Versace’s, who’s brand image is full of decorative ornaments.

The authors suggest that certain types of aesthetics like minimalism and maximalism arouse distinct functional attitudes. The theory of functional attitudes proposes that people hold certain attitudes because they are useful, and those attitudes serve important social functions. Those social functions can be for instance, allowing people to express their own values (value-expressive attitudes) and facilitate self-presentation (social adjustive attitudes). Further, the authors propose that minimalist design causes more value-expressive attitudes. When people view minimalist art, the experience is often transformed into a more relatable happening, where the viewer can engage with the work of the creator. This effect also happens when a minimalist design is used in brand communication. Consumers get the freedom to develop their own meaning off the brand instead of just receiving the message. For example, the Japanese retail brand “MUJI” has a brand communication concept of “emptiness” which emphasizes simplicity and white space. In this way, consumers get the chance to develop and their own believes and perception of the brand. Due to the freedom of self-expression, which is inherent in its visual aesthetics, the authors suggest that minimalist design enhances SBC through the facilitation of value-expressive attitudes.

In contrast, To and Patrick hypothesize that maximalist design causes more social-adjustive attitudes, as maximalist aesthetics are often used for gaining social approval. The authors draw here from people’s direct experience with maximalist design which often happens in a specific social context where the goal of self-presentation is often in focus. For example, people often come across complex pattern moldings when they visit a cathedral or a five-star luxury hotel. Therefore, consumers seem to have developed a tendency for maximalist design if they seek to present a desirable self-image. Furthermore, people tend to associate maximalist design with impression-management motives to, for example, signal social prestige. Throughout history, well known figures and personalities often used intriguing creations to represent their stature, for example, the ornate interior in the Palace of Versailles. According to the suggestion that maximalist aesthetics are frequently used for gaining social approval, the authors predict that maximalist design enhances SBC by causing social-adjustive attitudes. Because of the different attitudes minimalist and maximalist design triggers in people, To and Patrick propose power as a moderator for the effects. Power in this context is defined as “asymmetric control over valued resources in social relations” (Rucker, et al. 2012) and can either foster agentic or communal orientations. Feeling powerful can lead people to be more agency-oriented (i.e. focused on oneself). This is because being higher in social hierarchy gives people the freedom to follow their own value. On the other hand, feeling powerless makes people more communal oriented, in other words, more focused on others. This is because being in a lower social hierarchy makes you more dependent on others for valued resources.

Therefore, To and Patrick suggest that minimalist design will enhance SBC for high-power consumer, whereas maximalist design will enhance SBC for low power consumers. These hypotheses were tested across five studies. In those studies, packaging design was manipulated in a way that the decorative elements of the package varied while the other features stayed the same. For relevancy reasons, studies one and two will now be elaborated more thoroughly. In the first study, the participants evaluated a minimalist vs maximalist design of a fictional tea brand. Then, their value-expressive and social adjustive attitudes were assessed. To and Patrick found out that minimalist design causes more value-expressive attitudes while maximalist design causes more social-adjustive attitudes. Very interesting is that both packaging designs were experienced as equally attractive and luxurious. In their second study, the authors focused on the hypothesis about power. The study showed that high-power participants felt a stronger SBC to minimalist design while low-power participants felt stronger SBC to maximalist design.