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.
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.
- Binary Bonsai
- Daring Fireball
- Inca Un Calator
- Indie Labs Blog
- Jon Tan
- Justin Blanton
- Maniacal Rage
- Root Apex
- Shaun Inman
- Wilson Miner
- Write Hype
Here are the reoccurring items that are used, and not used, in minimalist blog design.
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”
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.
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.