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minimalism in graphic design

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If you ever wondered what is the most overlooked aspect of design craft, look no further – it’s user interfaces. Good or bad, user interfaces are everywhere: on websites, on mobile phones, televisions sets, wrist watches, airplanes and washing machines.Some user interfaces take two people to operate. Not my cup of tea.Whenever there is a user, there is user interface. Likewise, whenever there is a frustrated user, there’s usually a case of bad user interface.As graphic and web designers, our job is not only create good looking stuff – it’s to create stuff that’s actually easy to use and creates minimum user interface friction. In other words, we need to think how people are actually going to use our websites or apps and do our best to make their life easier.If you think that still involves just a few properly placed buttons and links, think again – some of the highest paying projects on 99designs require solely user interface design, for web or mobile applications. It’s both an art and a science, with very few stars in the arena (Apple being one of them).To get started, let’s take a look on current trends in user interface design.


After years of bells and whistles, user interface design is going back to basics – at least according to some big name companies, including Google and Microsoft to name a few. Glossy icons are replaced by simpler one-color versions or text-based buttons, rich gradients with simple solid color combinations.Minimalistic interfaces are definitely taking off. Top: Windows 8 uses monochromatic icons and simple solid colors for its new interface. Bottom:Pinterest user interface is the ultimate minimalism – apart from user content, very few things take up space on the screen.For majority of users, this lack of visual detail works astonishingly well – the interface is easy to digest and its elements don’t get in the way of the tasks they’re trying to accomplish.When to use it: minimalism is a great way to design a web application which focuses on user generated content – if done right, users will rarely complain about it. However, keep in mind that many clients will find this approach too simplistic for their taste, so you might want to check their preferences before starting your project.


Skeuomorphic user interface design was first popularized by Apple, and then adopted by many other companies. Basically, this design approach relies on imitating the look and functionality of traditional and familiar objects to make the interface more intuitive. For example, using wooden bookshelf with book covers to represent digital content is a prime example of skeuomorphism at work.Although every user interface borrows some detail from the real world (i.e. a button is a real-world concept), some people would argue against borrowing an entire shelf.There is a battle going on in the user interface design community whether such highly skeuomorphic designs are justified or not. Some say it’s actually bad for user experience because imitating real-world objects necessarily means imitating the limitations that come with them, while others say this is a good trade-off for the friendliness and familiarity that comes with skeuomorphic designs.

When to use it: when designing mobile applications, skeuomorphic designs are highly popular and well accepted among the community. In part, due to touch-screen nature of these devices which gives an impression of touching real-world objects. For web apps and projects, skeuomorphic designs are usually not the best path to take, although some elements can be used to enhance parts of the interface.

Laser focus

Laser focused user interface puts visual focus on a single, obvious task to do once a user opens the web application, instead of providing several equally important options. The key benefit of this approach is simplicity – users instantly know what the application is about and what the suggested action is.Top: Google homepage is the prime example of laser focused web application – the search box is prominently displayed, everything else being demoted. Below: Air B’n’B is a great example of a laser focused interface.When to use it: Laser focusing is a great approach for web applications and projects that have a single, most important function to promote. In most cases, this will be some sort of search or browse function but make sure to discuss this with the client.

Context sensitive navigation

Context sensitive navigation came with the rise of dynamic user interfaces and is a great way to declutter your design. Basically, you need to ask yourself a simple question: which navigation elements should be on screen all the time and what can be shown only in certain situations (actions)?Pinterest uses simple but effective button toolbar which appears only on mouse over action.For example, Pinterest shows action buttons only when you hover a pin, as shown on the image above. Gmail shows message action buttons only when you select the message. This way, these applications visually appear much simpler than they really are.When to use it: context sensitive navigation can be used in almost any project. Carefully target buttons and gadgets that can be hidden until the user performs a certain action, such as hovering a link, selecting an entry and so on.

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