Feature
Post

Category
Column


The Marks of a Minimalist Blog

Daring Fireball is perhaps one of the best known and most minimal blogs out there.

Daring Fireball is perhaps one of the best known and most minimal blogs out there.

There a lot of great resources about minimalism and web design which highlight several basic principals:

  • Form follows function
  • Content is King
  • Include only what is necessary
  • More white space!
  • Typography is awesome
  • Use simple color palettes

I wanted make these principals more practical by identifying common design choices made by the designers of some of the best minimal blogs.

Blogs surveyed

I informally surveyed the following 15 minimalist blogs with 23 questions, which I answered by scouring each site until my eyes hurt. They are all fantastic examples of great minimalistic blog design and have been featured on many design galleries.

Here are the reoccurring items that are used, and not used, in minimalist blog design.

Main menu

Inca Un Calator is beautiful and VERY stripped down. No menu, no widgets, just content.

Inca Un Calator is beautiful and VERY stripped down. No menu, no widgets, just content.

Most blogs have a main menu with links to home, archives, and about. Some had a contact page while others had one or two more links total.

  • 86% used a site menu
  • 86% have an archive page
  • 73% have an about page

7 posts on the home page

While some blogs displayed upwards of 50 posts on the index page the majority of minimal blogs averaged seven.

Ditch the widgets

Widgets make it so easy to add all sorts fun stuff to your blog. Before you know it your sidebar will be filled with badges and buttons, friends, and feeds. Most widgets are clutter. In fact in the minimalist blogs that I surveyed:

  • 93% did not use recent comments
  • 80% did not use recent posts
  • 80% did not use related posts
  • 86% did not use a tag cloud

Skellie has a great guide to uncluttering your sidebar.

Avatars, trackbacks, and bookmarks

There a few items that popped up that were barely used at all among minimalist blogs. I mention them because they did come up occasionally. Here is the general rule of thumb for minimizing clutter:

  • No Avatars on comments
  • No trackbacks
  • No Social Bokmarks

The “it depends”

Write Hype strikes the perfect balance between content and design. Where's the logo?

Write Hype strikes the perfect balance between content and design. Where's the logo?

There were a lot of items that turned about to be borderline. These are the “it depends” items. In other words, it depends on your overall goals. Consider function first when approaching these items:

  • Comment counts: If you don’t have comments you don’t need comment counts. On the other hand, a comment count can be a useful indicator.
  • Sidebars: Only 60% of the blogs surveyed used them. Do you absolutely need a sidebar? Why?
  • RSS Links: The holy RSS button turns out to be a little less popular in minimalist blogs than you would think. Since browsers detect RSS Feeds automatically, a link might be redundant.
  • Contact Page: A contact page usually contains a form. In some cases you may be able to get rid of the form and just go with an email address. Many bloggers choose this approach, simply including it in the about page.
  • Profile Links: If you’re trying to cut some fat, you might be able to get rid of all those profile links like Twitter and Delicious. Alternatively you could move them off to a page or blog of their own. Tumblr does this well.
  • Next/Previous links: The next and previous links are commonly displayed on permalink pages. I question whether these are actually useful and would love to see a heat map from a popular blog to prove conclusively whether to keep them.
  • Search: A surprising amount of people did not include a search form anywhere on their site. This is strongly discouraged by usability experts.
  • Post summaries: It may be useful to excerpt posts on your index page. This can help to reduce the amount of space that is used.

Everything else

If I didn’t mention it, don’t add it. Err on the side of simplicity by avoiding any extraneous elements. In general you must approach your blog with an understanding of why it exists. If you can answer that question then your design should follow naturally.


  1. By Andreas Karman posted on March 9, 2009 at 10:40 am
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    Great article. Would love to see more blog screenshots included!

  2. By Daniel posted on March 9, 2009 at 2:10 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    I like to think I have a lovely minimal design, great to see others do it as well. But I had a huge downside of not having a menu, google found it difficult to discover content.

  3. By Zach Dunn posted on March 9, 2009 at 2:16 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    As far as trackbacks go (as guilty as I am for having them inline with comments currently), I tend to like the blogs which offer a tab setup to separate comments from linkbacks. Smashing Magazine has a good example of this.

    I find it relatively unobtrusive, and it’s there if you’d like to see the inbound links.

    Solid write up!

  4. By Dustin Boston posted on March 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    @Daniel Yes, you do have a lovely minimal design! I wish I would have seen it before, I would have featured it for sure! Bookmarked under inspiration :D

  5. By Daniel posted on March 9, 2009 at 7:45 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    @dustin Thanks!

  6. By Leon Paternoster posted on March 10, 2009 at 8:54 am
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    I knew I was going overboard with those Gravatars ;)

    It’s quite difficult paring down a blog: I’ve tried several times. I really like the approach of questioning everything, including a sidebar. I’m not sure I’ve managed it: my blog probably looks too bland.

    Another advantage to going minimalist is that your blog will stand out: for example, wordpress.org won’t accept themes if they don’t accomodate widgets and tags, which means that the vast majority of WordPress based blogs will have widget filled sidebars.

  7. By Dustin Boston posted on March 10, 2009 at 5:48 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    @Leon, great point about wordpress and widgets. BTW, I like your site. I have been having this thought about my own blog (which I am currently RE-optimizing, 3rd times a charm). I think the navigation can go in a drop down.

    In fact, you have the perfect spot for it at the top of your page just above the header. Then you would remove even more “clutter” (I’m not saying that your design is cluttered, it’s not).

    Let us know if you try it!

  8. By Leon Paternoster posted on March 10, 2009 at 10:02 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    Dustin – as discussed, I’m not sure it’s a great idea from a usability POV. I could remove the search from my site and put a navbar up there. But then maybe I lose too much functionality.

    @Daniel – that works really well. I particularly like the sentence as navbar approach and how it incorporates your about, subscribe and category links in two lines. It does take a little figuring out, though.

  9. By Quakeulf posted on March 11, 2009 at 9:58 am
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    I tried hard, perhaps too hard to make a functional minimalist blog without any clutter. The end result was a one-column lay-out which solely focuses on content and keeps all the other bits and pieces where they belong; at the bottom. I would really love it if I could get some help with it to further enhance its minimalism if I may.

    Nice post. I loooooove minimalism in design, especially for online purposes.

  10. By Dustin Boston posted on March 11, 2009 at 4:39 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    @Quakeulf – I really like your blog. I think it looks great. Here are a few comments: I think the main navigation is clever, but “mystery meat.” In other words, it’s a usability issue. I would prefer to see the text next to the icons. I also wonder if you need *anything* below the last post except for your contact information.

    Here’s why: when I go to your site I am interested in your content. I’m not interested in the tags or dates, archives, or rss feeds. The only thing I want is your great posts and information about you.

    I am seriously questioning the use of a menu in general (I think I’m going to post about that today.) BTW I dig the right aligned stuff on the main site and

  11. By Fred Epner posted on March 12, 2009 at 5:11 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    Just put up a site and i love how minimal i was able to be; not every client let’s you.
    http://www.msnewstoday.com

  12. By Adam Singer posted on March 13, 2009 at 12:42 am
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    Great topic – I think minimalist designs are my favorite. Maybe not to the degree you listed but I do believe in the less is more philosophy. Loved this.

  13. By Quakeulf posted on March 13, 2009 at 9:19 am
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    Thank you for your feedback! :3 I know about the “mystery meat”-issue, which I fixed for the rest of my site. The blog is older than the rest of the site in terms of design update, but newer in terms of concept. I will fix that soon I hope, I just need to get some other projects done first. I agree with the removal of certain things on my blog, but I would like to keep the RSS-feeds for my own purpose because it shows what kind of stuff I am interested in without me having to do much else than have it there.

    Regarding the menu, I will keep it there as long as I have site sections. I might drop the “About”-section if I find a better way to incorporate it with my blog or gallery, but for now it will stay.

  14. By aurelio posted on December 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    hello there!

    i was browsing minimalist blogs examples on the web and found this article. I actually have a minimaslist blog myself and I would like to share it with you, since we seem to also share this special kind of good taste.

    thank you and take care~

  15. By aurelio posted on December 8, 2009 at 8:05 pm
    Want an avatar? Get a gravatar! • You can link to this comment

    … and guess what?! All the talking and I forgot to put the link to my blog.

    http://oescritordesonhos.blogspot.com/

    thankies~

  16. TrackbackMinimalist Blog Design - dBlogIt | Dustin BostonWidGet Blog » Blog Archive » The Marks of a Minimalist bBlog/b | DevloungePopular | Popularlinks for 2009-03-10 | This Inspires Mescottberkun.com » Wednesday linkfestSites Without Menus: Do You Really Need a Main Nav? | Devlounge