The Art of Clean Code – Less Is More In Design

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As developers, we rarely perceive ourselves as designers, yet interface crafting is an integral facet of our craft.

Be it shaping an intuitive dashboard for data analysis, architecting an easily navigable API, or constructing straightforward web interfaces for blockchain applications, a grasp on basic design principles separates the forgettable from the functional.

💡 This chapter examines the impactful principle of minimalism in design and user experience (UX).

👉 Previous Chapter: The Art of Clean Code — 14 Unix Principles

Transformative Minimalism in Tech’s Evolution

Reflect on the mobile phone’s trajectory—from the cumbersome ’80s bulk to the sleek smartphones of the 21st century. Through Nokia’s iterative shedding of weight and size, and the eventual rise of the iPhone, a pattern emerges: elegance in tech aligns with the pursuit of less.

Milestones in the evolution of mobile phones

This narrative is not exclusive to phones. Google’s search homepage offers a masterclass in minimalism—billions of users are welcomed daily by simplicity incarnate.

In stark contrast, competitors like Yahoo muddied their interfaces with ads and news, a move that cost them users and market dominance.

Google’s Material Design philosophies reinforce this commitment to intuitive, minimalist interfaces that resonate with users through familiarity and ease of interaction. These design choices aren’t solely about aesthetics; they are strategic, optimizing the most valuable resources:

  • user time,
  • interface space, and
  • financial investment.

Crafting Minimalistic Design: Principles and Practices

Material vs Non-Material Design

Prioritizing Whitespace

Whitespace may wrongly be deemed wasted space—when it’s quite the contrary. Google and Apple leverage it to maintain user focus and clarity. An uncluttered interface may be the divider between retaining users and losing them to confusion.

The figure shows a simple design idea for an online pizza delivery service. The whitespace supports the focus on the main thing: getting customers to order pizza. Unfortunately, seldomly will a pizza delivery service be bold enough to use whitespace in such an extreme way.

Whitespace also helps increasing clarity with text:

The left side of the figure is far less readable.

The right side injects whitespace to improve readability and UX:

  • margins on the left and right around the text block,
  • indentation of paragraphs,
  • an increased line height,
  • top and bottom margins around paragraphs, and
  • increased font size.

The costs of this additional space are negligible: scrolling is cheap, and we don’t have to physically cut more trees for paper when the publication is digital.

On the other hand, the benefits are very real: the UX of your website or application improves significantly!

Eliminating Redundant Elements

In the quest for simplicity, question every element’s utility. Discard the superfluous, maintain the essential. The goal is not just good design; it is great design, one that prioritizes user needs over decorative features.

Here’s how you can think about it:

This shows an idealized editing process in which you classify each element according to its importance regarding the UX.

For example, does a menu item referring to your company’s blog help the user in the checkout process when ordering a product? No, so it should be classified as not important.

Amazon has stripped all unnecessary design elements from the ordering process, for instance, by introducing the one-click buy button.

🧑‍💻 Story: When I first learned about this method in a scientific writing workshop, it completely transformed the way I thought about editing. Removing unimportant and less important design elements guarantees improved usability with little risk. But only truly great designers have the boldness to remove important design elements and leave only very important elements. Yet, this is what separates great from merely good design.

Here’s another example where many design elements have been successfully removed to accomplish greater quality and superior design:

Remove unimportant elements. Left: Unfocused order page with many design elements. Right: Focused order page with unnecessary design elements removed.

Cutting Down on Features

Just as an author must kill their darlings, a developer must curb feature creep. The success stories of tech—think of Microsoft’s apparent bloated offerings—are actually narratives of ruthless feature prioritization.

But you don’t see the features that have been removed or not pursued further. To keep learning about this, check out our lesson on MVPs:

👉 The Art of Clean Code – Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

Streamlining Design Variations

Cognitive ease should guide design choices. Limit font variations, color uses, and sizes to reduce complexity. Consistent, focused use of these elements leads to a more coherent user experience.

Consistency Across Interfaces

Uniformity across app interfaces isn’t merely about aesthetics—it’s about creating a cohesive and instantly recognizable user experience. Adherence to brand guidelines ensures this consistency.

The Future of Design: Simplicity Reigns

As we look ahead, the essence of minimalism in design seems poised to deepen with advancements in voice recognition and virtual interfaces.

The trend suggests an evolution toward even more streamlined user experiences. We’re moving towards an era where the ultimate design may well be an ‘invisible’ interface, integrated seamlessly into our daily lives.

Through examples from giants like Apple and Google, we’ve observed the powerful impact minimalism has in the tech world—a realm where the simplest interfaces are often the most successful. As technology continues to evolve, one truth remains clear: in the world of design, less indeed proves to be more.

Stay tuned for the next chapter, where we conclude with focus—its critical role and impact in the realm of programming.

👉 Advanced Reading: For those eager to delve into the principles highlighted in this chapter, detailed insights can be found in Google’s Material Design guidelines (https://material.io/design/introduction/) and Apple’s Interface design documentation (https://developer.apple.com/design/human-interface-guidelines/).